This time of year, late June, they start before five in the morning. The dawn chorus is full on, but the bird that wakes me up is the crow that thunks down on the gutter over my head. He’s a brand new guy. He goes off bleating every few seconds until his mom or dad comes by to jam something down his maw, and then makes with a sort of strangled honky noise and pauses to swallow and then goes right back to bleating again. Something similar is happening in every tree. It’s nesting season, and everywhere you hear the piping and squeaking and beebling of new life.
It’s a strange time to die, but that’s what my friend Tamara did. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I suppose. She got fake cancer years ago. Went in to the doctor for a routine checkup and came out with an unsolicited cancer diagnosis, and not one of your better ones. She got a port installed for chemo that maybe interfered with her tennis backhand but other than that she had no symptoms. For years. She referred to her cancer, when she bothered to do so at all, in the same way you’d talk about your neighbor who keeps parking crooked in your shared driveway. Slightly raised eyebrow and a shrug.
Jesus! Smart as hell, that one. Tamara was one of the smartest, funniest people I know, and my standards are high. Her face comes easily to mind when I close my eyes. Floats right up there like a big “yes” on a Magic Eight-Ball. So this is as good a time as any to mention how beautiful Tamara was. It’s one of the first things you think of, because she had the kind of beauty anyone could agree on. If it was a blessing at all, it was probably a mixed one. Sometimes people blame a person for her own beauty, and how it makes them feel. But she had it nonetheless, and the part I can’t forget is her smile. Often as not she highlighted it with impossible, arrest-me red lipstick, and she totally pulled it off, by the way. But the remarkable thing about her smile is that I do not know what her face looked like without it. I do not. She had that lightness.
Hard to say why. Hers was, by all accounts, the kind of upbringing you have to recover from, but that’s what she did. The smart and the funny helped. Somehow she sifted through the fundamentalism and falsehoods and burdens and weights on the soul, and abandoned them one by one, and pulled herself steadily toward health. She wasted no time. Oh, the occasional whiskey-for-breakfast kind of wasting time, sure, or the read-all-day-in-bed kind, you bet. But she didn’t squander a minute of life on regret, or shame, or self-pity, or guilt, or worry, or taking offense–none of those things that keep most of us mired in self-doubt and distraction. She blamed nobody, including herself. No ma’am: she was moving ever onward.
So it’s a shock, this sudden lack of onwardness.
What else is there to report? The gardens? Fashion? Political engagement? Volunteerism? Sure, all that. But really: the food. Oh my god how that woman loved food. Most people claim to, but most women don’t tuck into it headfirst by the platterful without feeling the need to apologize. Which, she knew instinctively, was a waste of time. And since she loved eating so much, she learned to cook like St. Peter’s sous-chef. She loved to eat, and loved to laugh, and snorted right out loud when she laughed, and really, all that needs to be said about Tamara is that she was admitted to the emergency room on two separate occasions for snorting pasta while eating and laughing. Top that, timid ones.
It was only six months ago that her fake cancer suddenly stood up and stomped on her gut to get her attention, and then she couldn’t eat real food anymore. Another person might have despaired but she just adjusted her lifetime aspirations to being able to get one nice piece of sushi down. She started to dwindle. Only the packaging, not the prize inside. She lost a bunch of weight, admitted to pain if you asked her directly, but otherwise just stayed funny and smart, per usual. Maybe it’s easier if you don’t have a habit of blame, or even a God to blame things on. You move onward, to the end we all share. You don’t waste time.
I guess for people like her the most that is likely to be claimed for her soul is that it’s now free to mingle in the spiritual plane. I won’t say it. I’m not comforted. I want my Tamara undiluted.
So that’s that–Tamara is gone. But I know exactly what she left behind. I can sense it whenever a chance joy settles over me, and I can see it, too, if I shut my eyes. Something sweet and bright, in arrest-me red, stretching wide across the sky.
Oh bugger! You posted this just as I was thinking almost the same about a friend.
Actually, the only similarity is the finality.
And the joy…
You wonder. Where did she go?
A beautiful, heart-felt tribute to your friend. Peace.
You don't often induce tears, but this one did it. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. Through your description of her, she sounds like an ideal to which one can only aspire to — almost a heroine in a novel. I go into theatrics over some minor physical problem, and I wish that I could keep a sense of humor during times when I am sub-par. But the truth is, I don't have that sort of humor that can only come from sang-froid, even at the best of times. Even though I did not know her, she will be remembered and will inspire.
She'd crack up to be referred to as an ideal! Only people who don't try anything don't make mistakes. I'm guessing she made plenty. But onward!
Oh my goodness, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful friend!! So why is it that the best of us always seem to leave this plane of existence way too soon for those of us who need them here…
And, on the other hand, others…
I hope she has found peace!!
My suspicion is she's beyond finding anything. But we all have different takes on the thing, don't we?
I'm sorry for your loss, Murr. Some people are bigger than life. They seem to know how to get the most out of every second. And they bring that to everyone around them.
Nothing better could be said about anyone.
I am so sorry. And love the big, colourful, fun memories she has left in your care.
I'll try to hang onto them longer than I do the other memories!
Why am I crying? What a joyous person to know and what a joyous legacy. I'm crying, because even though I didn't know her, I wish she'd lived a lot longer. I'm so sorry.
She wuz robbed.
Whew! What a beautiful description of your dear friend. Wow! what a life! Where's my tissue?
Oh, I could tell stories.
I'm sitting here looking out the window at the 'big M', in Butte, Mt. I"m a bit older, Murr, not that much, but enough to see a lot of friends leave, and you mention we all do. I think of my dad, gone now near 40 years. Who will remember him when I'm gone? Who will remember Tamara when you are gone? We'll all slip away, I believe, Murr, back to the iterations of Carbon we are all part of. Will we be aware of each other? I guess we'll see, eh?
This consciousness, this ability our species has to communicate on levels above we use and are aware of, may hold the answer.
We'll see, eh?
We'll see, or we won't. Right? My parents have both been gone for 35 years.
Beautiful words about a beautiful friend, Murr. And her wonderful smile and bright spirit will live on through your memories and your words.
It is to be hoped.
I was just today mourning the loss of my husband a little over 3 years ago. I'd had a dream of him.Your friend sounds like a great person to have known.
It's hard, isn't it?
I'm so sorry your friend has died. She sounds lovely, a real friend. The silver lining is that her pain is over too. Be gentle and kind to youtself.
Living and dying with dignity and grace. There's not many can do that. In this case, the cancer was the loser.
I'm very sorry you've lost her, but I think your memories will stay a long, long time.
We can at least resolve not to waste time. Yeah, right.
I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. You loved her obviously and she loved life. Not fair, and we all hope we can do half as well when our time comes.
It gets less theoretical by the day, doesn't it?
Please write my obituary…
That's not the first time I've heard that. I guess this means we're all getting old!
Sorry Murr. I hate when that happens at the wrong time. It is one of the very few things I hate in this world.
It's probably hard to come up with a right time.
I'm so very sorry. And what a beautiful tribute you have written for her.
Now everyone knows how fabulous your friend was. Would that we all have a fabulous friend like you to tell our story after we go – even if we aren't drop-dead beautiful or pasta-snorting funny. You did well, good friend.
Tamara was one amazing person, for sure. I count myself lucky to have crossed paths with her and worked with her at Pride Northwest in the 1990s. She was principled and fearless, and she did not like BS. We know she off to the next adventure with eyes and heart open wide. Blessed Be. Kristan
"Principled and fearless." Yes.
Perhaps Cary and I might have met her, had we stayed in Portland those decades ago. I share your feelings for those gone, those that meant the most to us.
I awake at night here in the Rockies, and wonder where I am, where everybody is. I sometimes get this feeling, maybe it's her, telling me they are right there.
Yeah, a good psych/neuro guy could explain it, but it lets me go back to sleep at 3am.
cheers, Murr, ,and you yours.
Thanks, Mike. That's the prevailing feeling: where did she go? Where?
A lovely tribute to your Tamara. Where indeed has she gone? No idea. But you still have her in your head and heart.
…as long as THEY last!
Beautiful. You and her.
Thank you, Katie.
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