Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elegy

She was beautiful. Big brown eyes and a veritable mane of dark brown, unruly hair. A crooked tooth gave her a interesting smile.

She was sarcastic and wry. I was always glad that I wasn’t the subject of her witheringly funny scrutiny. She could cut through bullshit in about two seconds flat. You never wondered what she thought about anything--she was always happy to tell you.

She grew up in a beach town and she was in love with the ocean. Her blog carried a quote from Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” She knew something about tears--and she knew how to laugh, too.

She was fiercely loyal to her friends, including me. And she was loving--to her son, to her family and friends, and even to a few people who didn’t deserve it.

She exemplified Jesus about as well as anyone I’ve ever known. She gave up on organized religion after her young son was diagnosed with a chronic illness and the faith community in which he was baptized at sunrise on an Easter morning never called to see how he was or visited him in the hospital. I can’t say I blame her for that--in fact, it grieves me in a special way, because those apathetic folks were “my people”--Episcopalians. But she walked the walk a hell of a lot better than most people who just like to tell you about their love for Jesus.

She never caught a break. She never went to college. Never really had much in the way of a career--certainly not something with benefits. Her one great love broke her heart when he left their marriage. Late in life, she had the son she loved above all with a man who didn’t deserve either of them.

She was a loving, good woman, friend, and mother, and she never caught a break.

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She died of cancer yesterday. She died at age 50, leaving that 10-year-old boy with the chronic illness without her fierce love and protection. God only knows what his life will be like now.

She died because she was poor, and because she didn’t have health insurance.

She died because, when she started having pain and other symptoms almost five years ago, she didn’t go to the doctor because she couldn’t afford it. What might have been easily curable had it been caught early was a death sentence by the time she was no longer able to bear the pain and dragged herself to the emergency room.

She died because the people in this country are so fucking selfish that they have fought healthcare reform tooth and nail.

She died because she didn’t have the good fortune to be born in a country that doesn’t CLAIM to be “Christian”--like any developed nation in Europe or the United Kingdom. (Where my mother, who suffers from chronic health problems, has received the best healthcare she’s ever gotten...so spare me your ignorant diatribes about the National Health Service in the U.K.)

My friend spent her last years suffering not only the pain of cancer but the indignity of having to worry about how she was going to pay her rent and feed her child. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer 2½ years ago, and was able to get Social Security disability payments only nine weeks ago.

It sickens me to type that.

If you are one of those people who believes that universal healthcare is a socialist plot and has fought reform that would enable every American to have decent healthcare, I hold you personally responsible for her death. You are complicit in murder, and you should fall to your knees and beg God’s forgiveness for your selfishness and your hardness of heart.

If it were in my power, I would force you to look that 10-year-old boy in the face and explain to him why it is okay that his mother is dead so that you could have a few more dollars in your pocket for your Starbucks lattes or your cable television service. Or why it it was okay for you to keep your “Cadillac healthcare plan” while his mother had none.

If you could do that, you are beyond help and may God have mercy on your soul--for you will get none from me.

If you could do that, I hope that you at least have the grace not to call yourself a Christian.

And if you couldn’t--if you couldn’t look that sweet boy in the face and say something so hardened and callous that it would make the angels weep--you need to be on the phone to your elected representatives, telling them to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Demanding that they make changes--no matter what the cost--so that no person on this earth will die in agony, and no child will be left motherless, because we don’t have the will to do the most basic thing that Jesus asked of us: “Love one another.”

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This is what my friend, Terri-Lynn—funny, loyal, loving woman that she was—wrote about herself:

Where I'm From

I am from sand dollars and Sea and Ski
and the whole world contained in a tidal pool.
I am from overdue library books and Oreos
and tea parties after school.

I am from a tiny Riverside kitchen, abundant in love
and children
and molasses-filled biscuits.
I am from squeaky screen doors and sun-dried linens
and the golden promise of forsythia.

I am from the wild tangle of honeysuckle
the salt-cured planks of the pier
the cool green sanctuary under the willow tree.

I am from walks by the ocean and foolish pride,
from Lilla and Thelma
and Carolyn-now-Lynn.

I am from mule-headed stubborn and talking too much,
from singing along and dancing fools.
I am from Murphy was an optimist and bless your heart.
I am from the best part of the day.

I am from Jesus loves me
just as I am.
I am from dinner on the grounds and I'll fly away oh glory
and Jesus Christ Superstar.

I am from Edgecombe County and the muddy Tar,
from forbidden dunes and the endless Atlantic.
I am from ham biscuits,
butterbeans shelled this morning
and Pop's peach ice cream.

I am from the girl who sang with the band
and won the heart of the soldier,
from the milkman's daughter and the man with no voice
(he loved to fish).

I am from pirates and poets and painters
All of the gifts; none of the glory.
I am from Mason's shrine and Granny's cedar chest,
from Daddy's photographs and Tracy's poems.

I am from crocheted blankets, delicate as lace,
from cut-glass dishes and perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillets.
I am from familiar melodies and forgotten secrets
and a million grains of sand.


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Rest in peace, Terri-Lynn Sykes. It was my great privilege to know you and to be your friend. And it is my great shame and sorrow that we failed you and your son.

Father of all, we pray to you for Terri-Lynn., and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest.Let light perpetual shine upon them. May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.


Terri-Lynn and Doxy with boys
at the North Carolina State Fair
Fall 2004