There was no reason to panic, just because Dad had disappeared shortly before he was supposed to “walk me down the aisle.”
“Find Beth,” I said to Mom, who was there in the church’s multifunction room that was functioning as the bride’s dressing room.
Beth had been my problem solver for nearly three decades by the time I was getting married. And she’d never let me down. Beth could calm the crazies in me better than anybody I’ve ever known. Just knowing she was around, made everything OK.
And if you had a splinter or a cut or any injury at all? Go to Beth. That was true long before she became a nurse who treated premature babies. If ever there was someone with nursing in their DNA, it was Beth.
Surely Beth could find Dad, who’d gone for a walk, and get the keys to the car from him. Because, while I’d gotten my wedding dress out of the car, everything else I expected to wear, beginning with my underwear, was locked in the trunk. And the keys were in absent Dad’s pocket.
Fast forward to 2009. July 4th was just days away, John, Jacob and I were in Maine, and I was in a panic. My eldest brother, Bob, had just been taken to the hospital.
For a decade approaching holidays had terrified me. I suffered from “heortophobia” — the fear of holidays. Well, my heortophobia had a twist: It wasn’t simply a fear of holidays. Nope. For me, it was a perfectly logical terror of illness at holidays. Someone else’s illness. Because If anybody I cared about had so much as a sniffle, well, they were gonna die.
As you may have heard 4,327 times, my family members have a nasty habit of dying on holidays. They’ve hit the all big ones — In order of occurrence: Thanksgiving. Easter. My birthday. Christmas. Ho ho ho!
So when Bob ended up in the hospital with Independence Day approaching, well, I knew Bob was toast. The odds, and likely the Gods, were against him.
“He’s not that sick, Lease.” Beth said. “You’ve been sicker and survived.” She’d contacted his doctors, figured out what was wrong, and called to reassure me. Beth, a nurse, knew this sort of thing. But as a fake medical expert with then six years’ experience, I was learning more and more –enough to make me fear everything, actually . So naturally, I wasn’t so sure.
“Beth,” I said, through slightly clenched teeth. “It doesn’t matter how serious his illness is. It’s the date. A HOLIDAY IS COMING. He’s going to die!”
As the eldest in the family, Beth had been able to calm me down my whole life long. She didn’t fail this time, either.
“Nobody is going to be able to trump Dad dying on Christmas,” she said, matter-of-factly. “The Holiday Death Sweepstakes is over, Lease. Fourth of July? Pffttt. Independence Day isn’t even a contender!”
“I HATE holidays,” I moaned, panic starting up again.
“Lease, I’m gonna make you two promises.” Beth had always kept her promises. “First, Bob will be fine.”
“Mmmm,” I replied, not believing it for a minute. Still, I started to calm down.
“Second: When I go, it’ll be on an ordinary Tuesday,” Beth laughed. “I cross my heart and hope to die, Lease, I will not die on a holiday. I mean it. I couldn’t do that to you,” she laughed still harder. At me, not with me. Had she been nearby, I might have smacked her for ridiculing me. Hard.
Bob, whose illness wasn’t all that serious, was released before the holiday; his sentence commuted. I breathed a sigh of relief, let me tell you.
But not for long.
On a Sunday, just over a month later, I called Beth. We talked nearly every day. Beth had had a pretty severe stroke two years previously. It affected her kidneys; she had been on dialysis for about two years. Things hadn’t been going well, and she was more and more discouraged, depressed and disheartened. More importantly, he hadn’t been feeling well in the last couple of days.
Still, I was surprised when her phone was answered by one of her sons.
“Mom’s in the hospital,” Chris told me.
It was a Sunday, though. In August. No holidays in sight. So while I worried, there was no need to panic right? Chris promised that he and his brother would keep me informed.
Late Monday morning, Dave, Beth’s eldest son, called me in tears.
“They don’t know if Mom’s gonna make it.”
I rushed home, packed a few things, and got into the car, and headed to Cleveland.
The weather was horrible. Storms raged — the rain so heavy that I could barely see. Traffic rushed by or crept along. Trucks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike flew by at terrifying speeds when traffic moved. But mostly, the highway was at a standstill, the rain not letting up. I couldn’t get to Beth, and I couldn’t see to drive.
How much of my impaired visibility was due to my constant tears, and how much to the pouring rain, well, I didn’t know.
Dave called me again in the early evening to let me know that Beth was in a coma; they thought she would make it for another day or so.
So, exhausted I pulled onto an exit just above Pittsburgh, and into the first motel I found, where I collapsed into bed.
Beth’s doctor called me a few hours later. Beth had taken a turn for the worse. If I wanted to see her, to be with her, I’d better get back on the road.
I made it in time for Beth to personally deliver that second promise. She died on an ordinary Tuesday, August 11, six years ago.
With her passing, Beth brought me an unexpected cure of my heortophobia, and even let me laugh at the bizarre trend she ended.
And on the way back? The weather was clear. The Pennsylvania Turnpike twists and turns through the mountains. With each curve I rounded as I drove home, there was a rainbow. Rainbow after rainbow. I knew, seeing those colors in the sky, behind every turn, that Beth was comforting me still.
I miss you, Beth. Oh, and I was the one who spilled nail polish remover on your new dresser in 1967. Sorry about that.