Behind Every Thing Is You

Friday, April 13, 2018
Tonight was a lovely gathering of those that were close to Barbara here in Portland.  Many of her caregivers were present, as well as other friends and family.  I was able to take a picture of the picture of Barbara on the beach, when she got to feel the ocean water for the first time on her feet. 

Barbara's on the Beach

As I anticipated, it was sad for me to see Barbara's house without her in it, and I cried a little when I saw her empty wheelchair.  On her bed, where she passed away, sat her beloved cat Miriam, probably unsure where Barbara went.  One of Barbara's caregivers will be adopting her, so she will have a new loving home.  I often wonder if animals "know".  I think they do in their own way. 

Barbara's Wheelchair
I discovered tonight that Barbara had published an article in Sunset Magazine years ago, and wanted to share it here:

Fifty-one years ago the polio virus traveled up my spinal cord and halted my breathing for a while.  At the age of three I lay in an iron lung.

I remember virtually nothing of the time when my body was normal, and I'm sure this has made adapting to wheelchair life much easier.  I was one of those fiercely independent polio survivors: went to public school, college, graduate school; drove convertibles for two decades; lived alone; moved across the country by myself; built a house and grew a garden around it.

I've been mostly happy, and aware of my many blessings.  Still, there is always something that's just out of reach: That lentil soup at the back of the freezer.  The home-canned tomatoes two feet above my head.  The shut-off valves for my water and gas supplies.  (I pray I'll never need to get to them in an emergency.)  The center seat in a theater.  A winding wilderness trail.  The surf at sunset.  

My most unattainable goal has been finding a mate.  There have been lovers, even some I felt were in love with me, but none ever discussed a lifelong commitment.  Was it me, or was it my body?  I still keep an eye out for the right person.

Stargazing is my favorite pastime.  It's best done lying on the ground in my sleeping bag on a moonless night, far from any town.  In a good year, I'll sleep under the stars seven or eight times.  On those nights, I understand that "out of reach" is a state of mind.  The Milky Way spills brightly across my view and appears firmly within my grasp.

Barbara J. Mendius
Portland, Oregon

At the end of the night, I drove home thinking about how much I appreciated seeing Barbara's things one last time, but it was also with great sadness.  I think I know why.  Behind each of those things is the memory of Barbara, who was dear to so many.  And now Barbara is gone, so each time I would see something of hers that she loved and protected, I would feel sadness as I remembered that she is no longer living here on Earth.  Her clothes in the closet, several sleeves of which were still rolled up the way she preferred, her ear cuffs, still hooked around the little glass that lived on her geometrically tiled bathroom counter, and her favorite wine glass, which I selected to use last night from a number of wine glass choices on the countertop.  Her baskets of things within easy reach of her wheelchair, her computer, frozen jars of pesto still in the freezer from friends, and the little hose she used for watering her plants on her back porch, still with the wood tied to the end for better stability when watering.  

I will always be so grateful to have one last night in her house, before things were boxed up and shipped away.  I am even more grateful to have known her.  I hope to be able to take home one of her potted plants in a few weeks--that would be lovely.  Throughout my life, I will keep alive the memories I shared with her, talking about her life and the impact she had on me whenever an opportunity arises.  Behind every thing is you. 


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