The Sweetest One – how love begets love begets…
I’ve written a few times on here about friends. Friends who achieve miraculous feats, friends who say something that makes my ears stand straight up in amazement, or, sometimes, friends who have passed on.
Today I’m writing about all three. Though she was, and is, more than a friend.
When Handsome was a little child, a lot of his family lived in other areas, so he was especially close his two local cousins – sisters, one a few months older than him, and one a year younger. The three played together all the time, at their homes, and especially at their grandparents’, where everything was big and old and exciting and mysterious.
Time changed things, as always. The girls got another sister, everyone moved into other homes, a divorce happened, but that early childhood tie was so strong nothing could break it.
But that didn’t mean nothing could break any of them.
As the middle sister grew into her teenage years, she became different. She still laughed at times, such as when Handsome would put on serious faces at formal family dinners, but most of the time, she seemed to be getting sadder. And then, one day, she just sat up in bed and started crying, and crying, and crying. Nothing could stop her.
Finally, her family took her to be examined, and found that she had suffered a full emotional breakdown. She got better, but never regained her full self again. And then there were more breakdowns, and more.
What was happening was that she was moving into something called Schizophrenia. Now if you’re an expert at languages, you’ll know that the word, by its Greek roots, means having more than one personality. But that’s not what Schizophrenia is. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where a person isn’t able to grasp reality fully. They might hear voices, or believe things to be true that no one else does. And Handsome’s cousin was sliding from being sad into living in a world that no one else could share, one often filled with horrors and deep pain.
Her family did what they thought was best, which was to have her live in an institution where she’d be safe and kept highly medicated. And she lived there for ten years. This treatment did keep her safe from harm (though ending her life was something she tried more than once), but it also changed her more. She looked different – bigger, slower-moving – and she certainly suffered some mental damage from all the drugs.
But something wonderful also happened. She met someone. Just the way so many of you write me about your hopes of finding that special someone – she did. He was also damaged, had also been hospitalized. And they fell in love, and stayed together, never once thought of leaving each other.
Sometimes she would start to hear voices again, or fall into horrible depression, but it would get treated and she’d be okay.
Eventually they were able to move into a home together, and have a life. They sometimes were able to work, but mostly they took care of each other, and their pets – oh they loved their pets! They had cats and dogs, all as adored and attended as Handsome ever has treated me.
But they didn’t just love each other and their pets. They loved everyone.
They would call family members out of the blue, always carefully introducing themselves as though the others didn’t remember them, to tell them their latest projects or thoughts, or just to pass on affection. Every year, they’d send Christmas cards – not the store-bought ones we usually see, but drawings and poems, sometimes even books of poems, she had written about the holiday, the weather, or just plain love.
And there were amazing moments when they would shine. The two of them interrupting a family party to sit at a piano, and bang out and sing that great old rock ‘n’ roll song that goes “ooh wee baby, you drive me crazy, goodness gracious great balls of fire!” The beautiful religious statements she would give to people at difficult times in their lives – it was as if, by being less connected to the world most humans are in, she was more connected to something beyond.
Then there was the most amazing moment – when her father died in a sudden swimming accident. The morning before his funeral, she came up to Handsome while he was brushing me, and told him that she’d had a dream the night before. “And Dad came to me, and he told me, whenever I needed, to look at the trees around me. Because whenever I saw a breeze blowing through them, that was him telling me he loved me.” Handsome smiled, thinking that was nice. But when the mourners went to the cemetery to lay the body in the ground, the wind picked up so strongly that it almost blew a huge tent over; he stared at her, and they nodded in understanding. She hadn’t been just dreaming; she was the one who was able to receive the message. And all the love he was pouring on us all.
This December, she sent us a new bunch of poems, and Handsome wrote her an email about how funny and beautiful they were. And then she sent something else – a new copy of that wonderful book A Dog’s Purpose. You’ve probably seen ads for the upcoming movie of it. It’s about a dog being reincarnated numerous times, to help his special human. Handsome had read it years before, but knew he should call to thank her for the thought anyway.
He should have.
One night, just a couple of weeks later, her boyfriend found her on the floor of their home. She was still, no breath or heartbeat. She was gone.
Was it an accident? Was it the effects of all those years of medication? Was it her giant loving heart just giving out? No one knows. She’s just gone.
In the days after she passed on, family and friends talked and shared thoughts about her. And something interesting happened. Everyone who wrote about her on Facebook, anyone who’s talked with Handsome about her, all have used the same term.
And they’re right – there are people whose stronger minds have enabled them to do more acts of kindness, some who are more polite and nice. But that quality of sweetness, that one sees in the youngest of children, or puppies – that’s very special. And she was the sweetest person I’ve ever known.
The morning we heard about her, we went for a walk, and Handsome was talking – maybe to me, maybe to himself, it doesn’t really matter. Talking about memories of her. And an odd one came up.
They were teens, in their grandparents’ basement, and for some reason they got talking about their favorites – favorite movie, favorite TV show, etc. And he remembered that she said her favorite song was that cute old tune “You’re in My Heart.”
And then he looked down at me and said, “But of course it was. Everyone was in her heart. And she’s in the heart of everyone she ever met.”
We kept walking. He was busy trying to remember the lyrics, so I was the only one who noticed the breeze, the way it picked up, and tossed the trees around in a beautiful dance for us all.
While he sang:
I didn’t know what day it was
When you walked in to the room
I said hello, unnoticed
You said goodbye too soon…
You made all hearts sweeter, Jess.