A SISTER-FRIEND FROM my memoir class, writer and yoga instructor Joely Johnson Mork, once made a list that I have written about, given talks about, and which I hold in the highest esteem. Do you make lists when writing memoir? If not, let me convince you why you should. If you already do, please read on, and behold one of the great lists of all time.
One week after a loss she was certain she would never write about, the death of her best friend, I asked Joely, at the time, a student in my memoir-writing class, if she thought she could simply bring in a list of thoughts related to the event. And while I wrote about this in my previous post, I did not supply the list she brought in. Here is it, though she actually she wrote a series of three lists, about her last visit with Mary, her best friend I offer them here, in this time of harvest, to again help us take stock of what we value.
Joely’s List That Helps With Loss
What I Brought
1. A copy of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “So Far.”
2. Three sticks of Buddhist incense that had been hand-delivered to me from Japan by a former lover.
3. A single change of clothes thrown without thinking into a canvas bag.
4. A week’s supply of Zoloft and Ativan.
5. My journal.
6. My marijuana pipe.
7. The turquoise necklace Mary brought back for me from Scottsdale.
What I Heard
1. Gale saying very solemnly, “Be prepared,” bowing her head to me as I walked toward the dining room where Mary was lying in her rented hospital bed.
2. The old-woman rasping of Mary’s breath.
3. Her husband’s surprised-sounding sobs.
4. The mechanical ocean sound of the oxygen tank.
5. Jeanne’s musical voice telling her daughter how honored she was to have been her mother and that it was OK to die now.
6. The moist crackle of fluid settling in Mary’s lungs.
7. The familiar, precious echo of Mary’s speaking voice breaking through her unconscious attempts to cough.
8. Thunder approaching with heavy boots and an empty sack slung over its back.
9. The release of rain on the leaves and earth outside the dining room windows.
10. The grinding of the hospital bed motor as we lowered the mattress after Mary had left us.
What I Said
1. On arriving, entering the kitchen to meet the crumpled faces of my friends standing there, “Oh, is she getting ready to spread her wings?”
2. “You have led an amazing life – you’ve done so much, we will all remember you.”
3. Whispered to Mary, when we were alone, “You are standing in front of a gate to a beautiful garden and the key is in your hand. Open the lock and let yourself walk inside. The sun is shining there – go, go, go.”
(For Mary “Mesa” Kittle, dear friend-sister.)