One of my dearest, bestest friends, Sarah (a pseudonym) is losing her memory. She has been for years. Even when she was young she wasn’t one of those people who had a great memory, she always left notes for herself in stickies on the fridge, near the phone, around her mirror in the bedroom. She’s one of those people who, if you were stuck on jury duty and she was sitting next to you and you decided to try and think of all the State capitols in order to stay awake, she wouldn’t be able to help you. Maybe Montpelier (Vermont), definitely not Bismarck (North Dakota). She also doesn’t give a shit about those kinds of things.
She always forgets my birthday but months later she will ask me if it is coming up soon. She knows that it’s the second of some month, usually. Sometimes she doesn’t know that.
Those kinds of things used to hurt my feelings. They don’t anymore, they’re not important. I’m just glad she remembers my name and my face and remembers that we love each other. I’m glad that my phone number is programmed into her cell phone, that my name comes up when I call or text her.
Oh, what a sharp witted, intelligent mind she has. Even now, when she doesn’t do the family shopping alone anymore because she gets disoriented, she will forward me an old Billy Collins poem because it relates to something I said, or she will spout lines from Cafavy and Rilke extemporaneously at just the right moment.
Lately, when we have taken long walks by the Bay, which she loves, she asks me what I think happens to us when we die. She doesn’t remember that we’ve spoken about this before, sometimes within the previous few days. She thinks about it a lot, she told me so. She’s cancer survivor but I don’t think that’s what’s prompting this. I think she knows that her cognition, her excellent, brilliant, artistic mind may have plans of it’s own for her. She may not be able to think about it later. Perhaps because I know that she will ask me again, I have actually begun to think about that more myself. Not about what I would do if I lost her, I can’t contemplate that, she’s too important to me, but about what happens to us all.
I know Sarah believes in God, a Christian God, but I also know that, like me, she does not envision Heaven as a place where you run into Ronald Reagan and the Senior Bushes and we’re all about to have Scotch and brunch together in perpetuity. Even with 1/10th of her brain left, that wouldn’t be heaven for Sarah.
Sarah is also much more sincere in her inquiry than that. She wants to know what is beyond and then beyond beyond and I tell her the truth which is that I don’t believe we go anywhere because there isn’t anyplace to go, but she wants to know something more.
And I find no words with which to answer.