It’s not really part two. it’s the whole thing, some parts the same again as part one, but moved around a bit, and filled in, and with an ending.
When I think of her, of that last week when all of us swept the path clear before her, when we cradled her and Mike as best we could and walked to the doorway all together–I think of trying to tell an epic story. I think of Ereshkigal, “the fearsome woman under the earth”, and how when Sharon meets her, well, there’ll be some conflagration goin’ on in the underworld, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’d get along like a house afire. it was really something, you know, hanging out with someone as they’re dying, all that past, all that emotion, all the the weight of love and sorrow and anger in the room–I thought i’d always remember, every detail of that week. But I don’t. I remember bits.
I can still hear Sharon’s wheezy chuckle, getting fainter and fainter as the days ticked on, as she herself slipped away, got smaller and smaller. She was so big, I remember her as a big round vital woman–loud, kinda obnoxious and know-it-all sometimes. Generous as anything.
One night in the ward, Laura was there, too, Mike’s sister, and we were talking with Sharon, well, more with each other, Sharon was in and out of the conversation as wakefulness came and went like clouds scudding across a sky– I told Sharon, I said, “We’re gonna get a bench for you at Trout Lake. The plaque’s gonna say: In loving memory of Sharon Molloy: heart as big as the prairie sky–and farts as windy.” she practically snorted the oxygen tube out of her nose at that one.
And the day her brothers came to visit. Molly and Pat. Molly’s name is something regal like John Alexander or something, but everyone has called him Molly for most of his life. He was in the Armed Forces. they have nicknames for everyone there. These grown men, they were so uncomfortable in the face of their big sisters’ mortality. They stood at the foot of the bed, looking at Sharon, not knowing what to say. What do you say to the sister who babysat you and kept your secrets from the old man and gave you scrambled eggs and kisses in the morning when you were all little, but she was bigger than all of you? When you see her there, as if she were shedding her skin, the final transformation taking place before your very eyes? It’s almost obscene, the intimacy of dying. Sharon had nothing to hide; everything that mattered to her was in our hands now. The brothers stood, hands awkward at their sides. Then they backed out of the room and looked kind of shocked-like at one another.
“Sure makes ya think about what’s important” said Pat. He’s younger than Molly.
“Sure does,” agreed Molly. He nodded, stuck his hands in his pockets. Lifted his shoulders to his ears.
“Gotta take time for the important things” said Pat, “while ya can. While ya can.” He looked up, kinda sideways at his big brother, “I got an idea,” he said, and touched Molly on the shoulder, laid his big hand on Molly’s shoulder, “Let’s you and me this summer, let’s go out to the lake in my boat. You come over for a couple of days, we’ll do some fishing.”
and Molly, he barely looked at Pat and then, it was almost as if it was reflex, he just said it, without hardly thinking, “Ah. I can’t. Gotta work.”
Molly retired from the Forces a long time ago. I can’t remember if he told Pat before that little talk or during or when, but now he works at a Home Depot in the city where he lives–
Ah, c’mon, Molly. Why didn’t I say anything then? Why didn’t I say, “Are ya paying attention? your sister is in there dying, and your brother here, he’s offering you something life-affirming! Take it, Molly, take it–you may never get another chance–”
But I didn’t. i watched that whole thing go down, and I didn’t say a word. I made a note, “i have to remember this”. I did not act.
There was a little portable tape player in Sharon’s room, where we played as much of her favourite music as we could. Stuff that we listened to when we were College girls right outta high school (but twenty years apart)–The Police and Supertramp and the Stones and Blondie and the Parachute Club (but they were later) and music that she and Mike loved, like U2, and Bob Marley, and hippie stuff from when she was a young mom in Edmonton, working at the Bank of Montreal, trying to be all urban and sophisticated.
She was always sophisticated. Always yearning to learn, always asking and thinking and talking and teaching. She had a baby and was married at 15, and before that, she was the oldest of six, so she never really had a childhood, or a youth to mis-spend. No one expected girls who “got themselves pregnant” in the late 1950s in small Prairie mining towns (Sharon’s was Bienfait, Saskatchewan) to finish high school. Those girls, they were supposed to lie in the bed they’d made. Not Sharon, though. Oh no. She brought her baby to school with her and she got her Grade 12 diploma, and damn them all, she was smart and determined–she wanted to learn. She wanted to go through the doors that an education would open for her.
We sang to her, too—Connor, her next door neighbour, he came one day with his guitar and played some songs. I came a bit later, and I said, “Oh, Sharon, I was gonna bring my accordion up, but I forgot it” and she said, “Thank Christ!”. I did sing, though, lots of songs, especially late at night, and closer to the end of this last journey together. Damn, you know, I shoulda gone to Newfoundland with her and Mike when they went in ’03. ah well. Maybe we would not have traveled well together. Not that time. One time near the end, I was leaning over her, it was late late at night, and I was singing low—“When I go down to the river to pray” I sang some of that, and some Patsy Cline, and some other stuff, and then I started singing Bread and Roses, and she kinda woke up and said, “wait, wait, you were singing Patsy Cline” and I said, “I know, I’m like a K-Tel record commercial, Shari, keep up! Three bars of every song! One low price!” She kinda chuckled and lapsed back into sleep.
Her husband, Emile, the one she married when she was 15 and divorced when she was thirty-nine—I went with her to divorce court, it was a parade of misery and sorrow, but Sharon was happy to be free of him, and she liked her lawyer, a good woman who returned her regard. Plus it was a day in Edmonton for a couple of small-town college girls. Anyhow, Emile, he called her in her hospital room. Mike told me later. He said he thought it went well. Sharon didn’t say much, just the odd, “yes” and “you too”—she wasn’t much able to sustain a conversation by then, but she seemed at peace about it all. It was good that he called. There was forgiveness.
In 1997, when Shari was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Mike and I both went with her to her first appointment with the oncologist. She kept looking at me and then at Mike, Sharon laughed later and said, “She was trying to figure out which of you was my lover”, and snorted.
Her childhood friend Linda Coomber was there from Regina, with her son, I forget his name, great big red haired young man, all beard and callused hands. He was so tender with her. He played guitar for her too. Linda knew what Sharon was like as a kid, and she told me about Sharon’s Swedish grandma, what a great cook she was and how formidable and kind. Sharon told me her Grandma came over from Sweden in the 20s, or maybe earlier, knowing only one word of English: Winnipeg. That’s not even English.
Mike’s sister Laura is a nurse. She doesn’t really LIKE nurses, but she is one. Laura kept an eye on Sharon, made sure the doctors and nurses were telling us the true story. She wasn’t icked out by stuff, either. Earlier on, we were watching Sharon sleep. “What do you want to have happen to your body when you die?” she asked me. “I wanna get stuffed.” I said, “Take me to a taxidermist—I’m pretty sure it’s cheaper than other alternatives”. We figured we would both do that, and get Sheryl to keep us in her living room at her farm. We could hold up the bookshelves, and at parties, we could be rigged up to say, “oh, those hor d’oeuvres look lovely, but no thank you, we’re stuffed”. We riffed on that whole thing a long time, Sharon joining in from time to time
Sharon took us places with her, too. Like when she heard the oxygen whoosh out of the tank, and the click of the pump, and it sounded to her like the clatter of typewriters. She took us all to the Bank of Montreal in the 60s. “She’s fast, that girl, damn fine typist” she said. She kept talking about this one woman who was in the typing pool, one of the women whose work Sharon supervised. Beehive hairdo days.
One night I read her a letter. Well, told it to her. She was restless, she wanted to read. She couldn’t see by this time. I told her I wrote her a letter. That I gave it to Mike to read to her sometime. There hadn’t been the right time until that moment, and I didn’t have the letter. “Do you want me to tell it to you, Sharon? What I remember?”
“Sure” she said, “I’d like that.”
So I told it to her, like a story. Said how she was the first grown-up friend I had, and reminded her I called her “Mom” for the first year or more of our friendship. “mmm. Really?” she said. “yea”, I said, and ‘read’ on. I said somewhere in there that I loved her. We didn’t have that kind of friendship, really, where we said, “I love you”—we joked around and kidded about and sometimes argued in a heated way, but we didn’t say, “I love you”. That night, I said it. “I love you too. But I’m so mad at you.”
“I know, Sharon. I’m sorry. I wish with all my heart that I would have called you more over this past few months”—you know how that is sometimes? When you have a new lover and a couple of big assignments at school and workshops and other friends and your big friend there, she’ll be okay, she’s always been there, she’s gonna get better. She said she was feeling better that time, didn’t she? Remember? But she didn’t get better and she didn’t call me because she knew I was busy, and it was exhausting, I guess, and I just—it was like that, is all. That’s how it was. When the ‘letter’ was done, Sharon was asleep again, peaceful, and Laura was crying behind me.
Sharon’s daughter Sheryl had a daughter and they were both at her side that last week, too. I hadn’t seen Carrie-Lynn since she was a little girl who would rush into my arms, ‘cept for once just after Shari moved to Van in ’91, and Carrie-Lynn was living at her dad’s , I think, in Surrey. By the time Sharon was on her way out, Carrie-Lynn had two children of her own. She showed us all pictures. Sharon was sewing pyjamas for them when she died. I guess Carrie-Lynn took them with her and finished them.
Sheryl said to me, “will we ever see each other again?” and I said, “Sure we will, Sheryl, I’ll come and see you on my way home sometimes”—and I was sure I would, but I haven’t yet. Seems there are many deaths with one. She had to take me aside once—we were telling stories about Sharon—Mike and I were talking about Sharon’s summer of 1993. She would go down to Wreck Beach every day, just about, with homemade cookies for everyone, and drop acid. Sheryl said one day, “Erin, be careful about the stories you tell around Carrie Lynn, she’s just recently reconciled with the family—I don’t think she’s ready to hear about Grandma’s summer of being the Acid Queen of Wreck Beach.” I think Sheryl maybe wasn’t ready to hear about that…
The room where Sharon was vibrated with life and death, with music and laughter and stories. her childhood friend, her daughter and grand-daughter, her lover and her friends—we were all there together. We may never see one another again, but we will always know each other. I hope I see them again. But Sharon brought us together for her and for Mike. that was enough. It was huge, really. Whether we see each other again or not, we will always know each other. Always.
The last night…we knew death was imminent. We could feel Erishkagel in the room with us, all fiery temper and cold efficiency. Sharon knew, too, she was a bit restless, she asked for Mike. No one could touch her, she was too sensitive, even all drugged up, she was all sickness and nerve endings—but she held onto Mike’s sleeve and he bent close to her and looked at her face over his glasses, trying to memorize every line…They said to each other, and now I can’t remember if it was out loud or just in the vibrations between them, “I love you I love you I love you”. The last words Sharon said were “I love you”.
The palliative care ward at VGH is on the 16th floor, and there’s a real nice big patio outside of the ward way up there. With cherry trees and a picnic table and chairs and a few butt cans. We’d go out there to breathe the air and cry into each others arms and look out over the city and smoke (a lot). On the last day, Sunday, April 10, 2005, we were on hyper-alert because we knew—Sharon’s breaths were coming slower and she had not been awake for a long time—she was tiny in that hospital bed, a little bird. Some of us were outside on the patio and I think it was Laura who came out and said, “she’s going now—it’s time”—and we got into the room in time to see her off. A breath—then another—an eternity—another breath—finally one last exhale. We took her teeth out of her mouth then, ‘cause they just looked weird and they didn’t fit anymore. Laura did that, ‘cause she’s a nurse….
Sharon had been packing to leave all week, putting her stuff somewhere else, handing it all over, she talked to her son the one same age as me, on the phone, and her ex husband, she gave forgiveness she received love. People from work at the MPA (the Mental Patients Association – she’d been a court outreach worker with them) came, told her how much she meant to them, “you helped me stay sober, Sharon, you gave me strength in myself” said one guy. People came and left, bringing their story bits, their thanks, their grief and love. She mattered. And she never forgot where she came from. We could tell that because everyone from all those places she came from, returned to her that week, to sweep the path clear, to help her to the doorway.
When someone dies, stay with them until their head is cold. The soul leaves then, I think it’s some kinda Celtic thing, and I’m Irish (and other stuff UKish) and Sharon was, too—I oughta know what the reasons are but I don’t. Anyhow, I’d heard that, so we figured we should—and we waited by Sharon’s body as it grew cold. A stone of flesh now, not Sharon anymore. Sheryl wanted the chaplain to come to pray, so he did. He looked like he was 12. He was nervous, said he hadn’t done this much before. At least, I think he said that, maybe he was just fidgety. He read the 23rd psalm and we held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer. Sharon wasn’t much religious, but this was for Sheryl, whose mama had just died. We held hands very tight and then huddled together for a while.
A little later, we were sitting in the courtyard again, and we were smoking and planning what to do next. Suddenly we were all hungry—so we smoked more—. The door to the patio was motion sensitive. Someone had to be walking toward it in order for it to open. As we were talking, the door opened, and stayed that way for a time. Then it closed. No one came in or out. But a sudden breeze lifted the branches of one of the cherry trees and Sharon carried some of the blossoms with her as she headed off North. I suppose that’s what happened then.
It’s funny about death, eh? No matter what, it’s always sudden. It’s like birth—you know it’s coming, you know it will happen any time, but you can’t say exactly when, and when it does people come together and the changes are fast, nearly visible…the last breath. The shrinking in, the shedding skin.
Ereshkigal, for those of us who have not yet made her acquaintance, is one of those fearsome womanly gods of the underworld. She’s from Mesopotamia, and the Greeks made her into Hades–which I think was a demotion, ’cause Hades was just a regular jerky manipulative whiny rapist. Ereshkigal was righteous, she was. And ferocious. Prone to violent rages and awesome threats. that she would carry out. She was once a sky god, but not now. She was kidnapped by a dragon–abducted to the Underworld, where she was made Queen. She didn’t want to be a queen. We don’t know what she wanted. Now she is, remains, the Queen of the Underworld, and she’s still pissed off. Surrounded by fire and flails, she is ruler of the dead and all things wintry, she is the shadowy sister of Ishtar. She rules over all things dead and dormant; she is seething–She is all big rage and love and thwarted dreams. And now, Sharon, a coal miner’s daughter – born to another underworld, but not satisfied to stay there–is her roommate. Fitting. Sharon’s big life and optimism will balance Erishkagel’s rage and fire. Erishkagel needs a laugh now and then.
When I think of that last week, of Sharon and her life, our friendship and the friendships I have because of her, I think I want to tell an epic story. I think of Ereshkigal, “the fearsome woman under the earth”, and how she and Sharon would get on like a house afire— As we were leaving the hospital that day, the power failed. We walked together down 16 flights of stairs. hmmm.
She was an ordinary woman, Sharon was, same as most women—ordinary and epic all at once. She achieved way more than most women born to her circumstances are supposed to achieve, and she never forgot where she came from.