Saturday, June 11, 2011

Miss Amy Bettcher, I do.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a friend. An old friend. A good friend.

Her name was Amy Bettcher. She was 34 years old. Ovarian Cancer. She fought like a fucking trooper for a year.

In the last days, after hearing rumor upon rumor about how she was doing.. that she was still fighting, that the next round of chemo might work, that she was not going to make it after all, that maybe she was already gone?
I contacted her family. And I asked them if it would be ok, if they would be ok with it, if I took on the job of keeping in touch with her friends, to let them know what was happeneing. Because it seemed to me, that an event of such magnitude, that Amy's death and passing, should not be left commemorated to the local Portsmouth gossip mill. And because I thought I could handle it. I'd known Amy nearly more than 17 years. But we rarely saw each other any more. We talked on the phone often, especially since she fell ill, but I hadn't seen her more than a few times since my wedding, almost 2 years ago. I'd tried, but each time we made a date, she was too sick, or more often, my kids were, and germs were verbotten.. I was close, but removed.

so, it seemed I was a good candidate for the job.

Her family agreed. I, and Jocelyn, and Amys sister in law Jess, started collecting email addresses. I talked to Jess, then I wrote a mass email. Every other day. It was only a little more than a week, but it seems like it was months.

I have two children, and have been through one marriage and started another. My eldest son nearly died of complications from Juvenile Diabetes when he was 6 years old. When I was pregnant with my now toddler, I was told that tests showed he may have a brain disorder, and either abort before being born, or in best case, he would live no more than weeks.

Between Dec 23 2010 and Dec 31 2010 my 64 year old father had a massive coronary, infections from surgery, a four way bypass, was in a coma for 3 weeks because of PTSD reactions to the anesthesia, spent 4 moths in the hospital and had a total of 8 surgeries. On Dec 23rd 2010, I hadn't spoken to my stepmother in 7 years.

But this. Amy's passing. The emails, and the phone calls. The conversations, the thoughts, the dreams, the emotions. This was harder. Harder than any of the other things I've gone through.

Because my sons are fine. The diabetes is under control. The brain scans were a lottery, and we won it. My dad survived his ordeal. My stepmother and I talk now, occasionally. I still have them, all, to talk to.

Amy was harder. I didn't get to say goodbye in person. I talked about her every day. I wrote emails to people I didn't know, or worse, to people I had known for years, and I told them all what I could. That Amy was safe. That she was in no pain. That she was at peace.

But in the end, of course, Amy died.

We used to run as a pack. Downtown Po-town. The Elvis Room Kids. We smoked cigarettes, and drank coffee, and worked odd jobs. We wore black, and got in to trouble. We took over the square, and made it home base in a game of tag that lasted years and had over 100 players. We were a family.

And we lost some of our own. Drugs. Suicide. Car wrecks. Sudden medical conditions.

This is the first time, for me, though, that the death of one of the Square Kids, has been forseen. That we had time to think, and to mourn, and to process. That we had to be adults about it.

At the funeral yesterday, sitting in the back of the church, between men and women I've known and loved for years, yards from the benches that were home base in that game of tag. that's when it hit me. We're adults.

There were many speakers at Amys funeral. Her uncle, her cousins, Andrea, who spoke from the heart, and Amy's brother Teddy, who spoke from the soul. I've known Teddy since before he could shave. I haven't known him much since then, though.

And then at the end, Jess, Teddys wife, stood to speak for the last time. She'd done so well, for weeks, and taken on so much. That last piece, though, got her. She started to loose it at the podium, to weep enough to affect her words.

Behind her, Teddy stood up. Her husband. Amy's little brother. He took two steps forward, and gently put one hand on his wife's shoulder. Jess didn't look around. She just took a deep breath, and finished her words.

I looked at this man, no longer the kid I knew, and I wept.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Love Is Not

Every parent wants to teach their child about love. It becomes especially important when the teen years strike, and hormones flood their miniature adult bodies, and bad decisions suddenly abound.

And here’s the deal: we can’t. There’s no course we can give them, book we can force on them, church that we can drag them to that’s going to teach them what they need to know about love.

Because all of the books, and the lessons, and the sermons are incomplete. Because we, who teach, and write and preach them.. are incomplete. Because we don’t stop discovering what love is until two days after forever. Love is the continually diverging path, always moving forward, always collecting in its map of experience a new and varied wealth of knowledge. Death can not stop love. We love people long after they are gone. Birth does not start love, we adore the shinning possibility of children before they are conceived.

So as a parent, I’m not going to try to teach my child about what love is. God knows I don’t know, in the end, all the twists and turns of love. I won’t do love a disservice and try to pretend I do.

I can though, teach my kids what love is not.

Love is not blood. We live in an era where stories of parents killing their children, children murdering their families.. these horrific tales are available day and night on cable news. If we tell our children what we wish to be the truth: that all parents love their children and vice versa, unconditionally and without exception.. we diminish love. Respect for our families is a must. Love is not a given.

I will not bring the rest of the world in to it, I can not speak for all parents, and wish they wouldn’t speak for me. I love my children, unconditionally, and without exception or reservation. This is not a universal truth. It is simply my truth.

Love is not by definition recipricol, and is often not reciprocated. You can love someone who is too broken to love you back. You can love the idea of someone, and not the person.. their essence, their wit, their personality.. you can love the memory of someone who is no longer who they once were. Remember your place in these times. Protect yourself, because love can also be a weapon, a hand offered in compassion but taken in pain by a broken spirit. Be aware of the fearful, and don’t offer them more love than they can take, lest they use it against you. ( This is aimed at those with a ‘savior’ complex. )

Love is not sex.

This is a tough one, I think, for my generation. The Gen X’ers, the first of The MTV kids. We have been taught by the media since first we got cable that love and sex are one and the same. Some of us got children out of this misunderstanding.

Sex is awesome, and powerful, and healing, and painful and truthfully, sometimes the best sex in the world is with people you don’t love. Sex is not love. Love is not sex. Have fun, be safe, be kind. Don’t listen to the hippies. It’s not free love, it’s free sex. Not bad, but not love.

Making love is way better than sex, and can be done with all of your clothes on.

A conversation that you would have with no one else. Hands held while watching fireworks under leafy trees. Turning to the same person through crisis, joy, ritual and mundane life for years on end. That’s making love. Opening your heart, and your life to a person over the course of a life time, and having them do the same for you. Those conversations, those hugs, those moments in the sun and the rain, that’s making love. It takes longer than sex. It’s far more difficult, delicate, and time consuming. Sex will likely muck it up beyond all repair, but if it doesn’t, marry the person immediately.

Love is not marriage, marriage is not love.

Another tricky one for the MTV generation, and I think even harder for the years that followed us. We were the first children of divorce, and the first children to grow up knowing when our parents didn’t love each other, divorced or not.

One can be married without love. A couple can be in love, together, raising children, building a life together for years.. and never be married.

Likewise, a couple who marries without love can find common goals and achieve them, and gain love that is as strong as iron.

And a couple madly in love can have children, and begin a life together that is killed by ego, or jealousy, or simple differences. Marriage is commitment to something greater than yourself. If you’re lucky, love enters in to marriage at some point in the path.

Love doesn’t always stick around.

If summer lasted forever we would long for winter. Our perfect days are perfect because they happen so rarely.

Some loves have expiration dates. Not the date that we stop loving the person, but the date we must be apart from them. For ourselves, for them, for whatever reason. Nothing is meant to last forever. Some loves are destined for much shorter than that. These are the ones that are the hardest to let go of, that will stick with you, and bring you doubt and wonder. When this happens, refer back to ‘Making Love’ and ask yourself which, exactly, you were doing. Be honest.

So there it is. What I want to teach my children about what love isn’t. I can’t teach them what love is, because I’m not done figuring that out myself. Here’s what I have so far:

Love is a single shared TV program, whose opening music brings a smile to both your faces.

Love is an air conditioner on one side of the bed, and extra blankets on the other.

Love is a plan, and a backup plan, and a beer together when that doesn’t work out.

Love is working 70 hours a week so your family has what they need, and making your kids get jobs so they have what they want.

Love is knowing when the other’s heart is too broken for just you to heal, and sending them out to find what they need.

Love is starting with yourself, so you always have enough to go around.

Love is dandelion bouquets gone to seed and blown for wishes.

Love is the single most important thing in the world. It doesn’t die, it isn’t created. It simply is. Forever, in any moment. It just is.