When it became clear to her that there were no remaining treatments to be tried, all that energy that got tied up in staying alive was suddenly freed for the one last thing on Laura’s mind: As a mother, she blew it. She blew it with her daughters. She blew it with her sons. She blew it with her own mom.
She’d taken to hoisting a limp hand and, in that Down-Under twang, saying, Lymphoma Laura, pleased t’meetcha. Telling herself that all the time she thought she had to get it right was gone, she was eyeballing death in the belief that she had disappointed everyone.
How? She just never said the right thing. She just never found that comforting combination of words and sounds that made a kid feel at home. She could joke and she could jab but couldn’t say the stuff moms were supposed to say and one day, she clammed up. And once she realized she was fixin’ to die, she thought of nothing else.
But now, she didn’t just want to parrot that long lost lyric—I love you—she wanted to communicate the music of love in such a way that it could be turned to, sotto voce, for comfort, at any point in the remaining lives of her sons, her daughters, and her mother. She knew exactly what she wanted.
She wanted something they could touch. Problem was, with the abilities she had left, she was unable to pen straight lines nevermind legible words.
In the obstacle course called life, or in this case, the end of life, my job was to help her figure out how she might get this done. She tipped her head back to consider those who had visited her and hardly fancied asking the very recipients of her missives to sit down and write them.
As Grace would have it, I spent our last few sessions writing the words Laura dictated as she cried and proclaimed her love, as she dried her face and beamed admiration, as I brushed my tears off the page while she voiced her hope for her daughters, hope for her sons, hope for her mom.
In our final meeting, last letter written, Laura sought my help in finding some mythical or biblical hero who might companion her to the closing days of her life.
She falls in love with a character whose faith has saved her, with a woman whose very voice has been evoked by a wandering Healer. Disregarding the cultural code of conduct for women at the time, it is the Healer who wants this woman to rise above the sea of sandals in the dust and identify herself.
She is a woman alone; she is unaccompanied by a man; with the flow of blood that has left her impure for twelve long years, her very touch, in the eyes of the Law, has made the Healer unclean; and he wants to know Who touched me?
I mean Really.
Before a crowd of desperate men, at a time when she might’ve been circled and stoned by all manner of religious authority citing all manner of scripture, a famous preacher wants an unclean woman to tell “the whole truth.”
If she refuses, her healing will be incomplete. If she refuses,”the whole truth,” left untold, may never take its place among the treasures of Matthew, Mark and Luke. If she refuses, her bleeding will cease but who knows if her tongue will ever find its voice? Who knows if the Healer will still call Daughter this woman he empowers to open her mouth and to Go in Peace?
As Laura’s own mother saunters in and slips back out, Laura, no longer holding out for me to take the lead, finds instead the very words to tell her very God all the stuff she’s never said.
She just wants God to know she tried. She just wants God to know she gave it all she had. But no matter how hard she fought and fought and fought the good fight, she couldn’t get this mother-thing, this daughter-thing, this people-thing right. Eyes sealed shut, face as red as the day she was born, she tells God she’s sorry, sorry she didn’t speak up sooner.
Maybe the once-untouchable Daughter touched Laura and Laura knew just what to say. Maybe, as she dictated the last of three letters, Laura freed her tongue in some way. Maybe, speaking her mind to a God of her own, Laura freed her soul that day. Suffice it to say that Laura’s mother, eyes closed outside the door, was a better metaphor for God than any I might provide.