Today is Friday, June 10th. Honora died on Friday, June 3rd. And it was Friday, September 4th of last year, a warm and sunny fall day, when she called to tell me that she’d just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I know this because I wrote it down in my journal. September 3rd is a long entry about life, the universe, everything. September 4th is simply, “Honora is sick.”
Every previous Friday to that one, for about two years, Honora and some other friends would come over to our house, and we would play board games, eat a ton of food, and play music on our instruments. I played the ukulele, Honora went between uke and guitar. When we’d started this games-and-music night, which I dubbed Runes & Tunes, she didn’t have an instrument. She had played guitar “a long time ago”, but wanted to get back into it. She saw how much I loved my Taylor Mini, and went out and bought one of her own. Later, she picked up a uke.
One of the best compliments anyone has ever given me, was when she told me, a year or so after we started our weekly gathering, “Thank you for bringing me into this. You brought playing music back into my life. I will always be grateful to you for that.” She reached out and held my arm while she spoke. She looked right into my eyes. I felt like I’d really done something for her, which felt so good because I always felt like just getting to have her around was something she’d done for me.
Writing about someone who has died, here, on my public blog, feels a little weird. I feel so compelled to write something, but why? All of you who don’t know her – does it matter if I tell you that you were missing something? All of you that did – will this just hurt? I want to mark this, I want to say to the universe, I see what you did. I see that this happened. I feel this. I can’t move forward until I point at this enough: she’s gone. She’s gone, isn’t she.
Do you make it about them? Do you make it about you? I’ll start with her. She was brash, and funny, and a massive wise-ass. She was loud, and loving, and full of stories. Oh my god, the stories she would tell. I loved to watch her make people blush. Growing up in Hollywood; she knew celebrities, she knew people up high and down low. She had so much energy, she could laugh and talk all night, a glass of wine in hand, her low, booming alto echoing off the walls when she got excited about something. She could take over a room with this energy, which I had such a little-sister reaction to. It helped me, when she died and I was trying to figure out where to put her, how to shape and nestle her memory into my heart to keep forever, to realize this: that she was like my big sister, the one I’d never had.
She would take over the room, and I would do one of two things: be grateful, and hide behind her, or be annoyed, and wander off to the kitchen and make food. Most of the time I was thankful and hiding. We did this routine over and over again. Once, standing on my deck with her hands waving, angrily relating an interaction she’d had with a group of people who she just couldn’t get to liven up, she said with great exasperation, “Oh, the Seattle introverts.” I cocked my head at her, eyes wide, like, HELLO, I AM YOUR SEATTLE INTROVERT FRIEND, and she cocked her head back at me, like, I KNOW, OF COURSE I DON’T MEAN YOU.
I once asked my husband, “How I can I love her that much and be exasperated by her that much, at the same time?” He just laughed.
We had met a few years before and knew each other through friends, but we didn’t start hanging out until she began coming to Runes & Tunes. I don’t know remember how she started coming, only that I can’t remember what it was like before she did. “Life of the party” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
She loved my kids, and they loved her back. She was Auntie Honora, and she talked to them and gave them advice the way any Aunt would. There’s a short list of friends of whom we tell the kids, “If you can’t talk to us about something hard, talk to one of these people.” Honora was on that list.
She even loved our pets. Later, when our corgi Oliver died very suddenly, Honora came to the vet’s office. She dropped everything, and later I was to find out that the two days before that had been filled with some difficult stuff. But she didn’t tell me about it until much later. She came to the vet’s office, stayed with us for hours, took care of the kids. When it was time to say goodbye to Ollie, she was there.
I think, you know, she had so much life, so much energy, that I never in a million years thought it was possible for her to die before her time. And early fifties was not her time. I mean, if I had to pick a scenario, I’d think in her nineties, at some rock concert. She called me that September morning, she said, “Honey, I need you to sit down. I have to tell you something really hard.” I thought maybe something had happened to her daughter. Or a mutual friend, someone we both knew well. Maybe she had gotten the bad news first. Was it a car accident?
But it was about her. She said that she hadn’t been feeling well. Then she’d become jaundiced. She’d gone to the doctor with her best friend, she hadn’t told anyone because she didn’t want anyone to worry before they knew the diagnosis. It’d taken some time to get the results back, but now they were sure. She had pancreatic cancer. It wasn’t anything they could operate on. They said she had maybe a year to live.
I got up, I sat back down. I got up again. I walked around the room, pacing. I went into my Emergency Mama Bear Mode, I wanted to know how this was to be handled, what would happen next? Was she okay? She talked about treatment options. She asked if I could be the one to tell everyone on at the weekly gathering. I said of course, I’d do whatever I could. And then I cried. And then she cried. And she said this, she said it several times and I will always remember this, she said, “I don’t regret a thing. It’s okay. I’ve had a great ride. I’m going to be okay.”
And she was.
I saw her only a few more times. The last was a few weeks ago, we went to a Los Lobos concert. I got there late, we’d had kitchen demolition drama. There were two other friends there, women I’d met once before. When I held Honora that night, after the concert – I hugged her so tight – she had lost a lot of weight, but I didn’t feel like it was time. I didn’t get that sense. I think maybe I didn’t want to see it. We joked about her weight loss. “I get to lose forty pounds,” she said, “and it’s all out of my ass. Do you see how flat my ass is?” I have long been teased about my flat ass, so we compared asses. And then she took a drag on her cigarette and said, “But you know? Overall, I think I make cancer look good.”
After she got diagnosed, she made a video to be played at her memorial. She invited me to it, she said she wanted to have some friends over and have us all dance, and then there would be a part where she would talk. I went. It was hard. There were just a few of us. I didn’t know anyone – that’s actually one of the moments when I realized what I meant to her. The women I was dancing with were people she’d known for decades. I felt a little out of place, but not in a bad way. It was like, I’d gotten her for two years. And this was so hard. But I was looking at the faces of people who had her for most of their lives. Their faces said it all.
Her memorial is coming soon. I will go, and I’ll probably have more to write about then. I want to write about what she gave me. But right now, when I try to feel that so I can articulate it, I just hit this wall of ache. My hubby Greg came home today, and he was off. He seemed sad, distracted. I asked him if he was okay. He said he’d just realized it’d been a week. I felt the same way. Later, I went down to the boat. I said I had to check on the fuel line, but I really wanted to go someplace and cry for awhile. I did, and I lost my left contact lens. I came out, I couldn’t get it back in. I laughed, I said, “Honora, look at this! I’m a mess!” and I imagined her laughing. I chucked the stupid lens overboard. I remembered how much Honora loved to go sailing with us.
And then I cried some more. I drove home with one contact lens.
It’s Friday. And friends are here. They’ve been very polite, waiting for me to get done writing so I can go down and hang out. So I’ll end this for now. More later.
That last photo – you can’t see Honora’s face well, but you can see mine. That happiness is what I am holding onto. It’s the tender thing I hold.