It’s two-thirds the way through October and I’m still processing September. Gastric bypass, getting laid off, finding a new job much like the old job, were all milestones…but September 2011 will always be the month I lost one of my best friends.
The world doesn’t pick times that are convenient to give you challenges, and it certainly didn’t hold back for me. The biggest loss I had was my friend, Tessa Wingate. Tessa made her transition on Monday, 26 September. She had turned 64 in July. She died in a nursing home in Houston where she had been for several months because of medical complications of a failing liver. Despite rallies and lengths of time when we all thought she was going to pull through, she gave up and just went to sleep. She entered a nonresponsive state the weekend of 17 September and nine days later she stopped breathing.
I met Tessa sometime in the early 90s when I was in Houston. She was quite active in the Unity church that I attended and, in fact, it was probably because of her that I considered becoming a licensed Unity teacher and/or minister! I attended classes at Unity Village in Kansas City and was awed at the level of spirituality that Tessa seemed to have. She was one of those women who loved to do handiwork–not knitting and macrame–but building and hammering and installing. I remember that after one of the hurricanes that hit Houston, she and a team of folks from Unity rebuilt a home through the Habitat for Humanity. She was always helping me–many times at my Houston house, but almost as many here in San Diego. She could do anything. She installed the track lighting above my kitchen sink, replaced the light fixture above my dining room table, and she helped paint the very room I’m writing in now.
She was smart and kind and generous—to everyone but to herself. For some reason, she never gave herself a break. She was always trying to prove something..trying to convince herself that she had worth. And, when she couldn’t, she drank wine. In addition, she was hounded by deep, continual depression. She saw therapists and shamans, acupuncturists and holistic healers. She saw psychiatrists, too. During the years I knew her, she had several procedures and studies done on her brain (lightwaves, beta waves, sleep tests). And she took several anti-psycotic drugs. Nothing ever seemed to give her peace. She was happiest when she was doing for others. Left alone, she fell into the depths of despair. Her God couldn’t help, her doctors couldn’t help, and even those of us who loved her as friends and family couldn’t help. Basically, she couldn’t help herself…and the drugs and the alcohol she used to try to find peace killed her.
Nonetheless, I loved her. I was straight with her and, when it was needed, I let her know that she was the only guest at her pity party. Once, in Houston, after she had been in a 30-day rehab, she came to live with me. I made her sign a contract that she wouldn’t drink while she was under my roof. She signed it and lived by it for 3 months! But then she moved back into her townhome and her old habits started up again. She was a high-functioning alcoholic. She usually only drank when she was alone. Unfortunately, she was alone a lot.
She was always asking for forgiveness and apologizing for things that didn’t need it. I never really understood that part of her. But, she was smart and intuitive for her friends. We had a Saturday morning phone call almost every week for years. Sometimes, we would stay on the phone for hours discussing careers, spiritualism, religion, politics, our pasts, our past lives, and our families. She was great at helping me over personal hurdles, but she never was able to help herself.
I flew to Houston in early May to see her. She was in the nursing home then and the prognosis at that time was only a few weeks…even though she stayed around for several months after that time, she never really did regain the old Tessa-hood. Our calls lessened because she often wouldn’t answer her cell phone…and from time to time she forgot how to use the phone to call me. Once in awhile, we’d have a chat that was so close to being like old times, that I would get my hopes up that she was rallying. Then, the next time we spoke, she’d be confused and distant, forgetful and scared. She called me on Wednesday, 14 September. It was about 10 pm here, so it was near midnight there in Houston. I scolded her for calling so late. She was concerned because her doctor had just told her that she only had about a year to live. I laughed it off and reminded her that in May they said she only had weeks to live and she was still here. Little did I know that would be our last call and the year would be only 2 weeks…
Other things happened in September…but they have all resolved. Maybe Tessa’s passing has resolved, too. I hope so. One thing I know is that I believe with all my heart that she isn’t struggling to find peace any longer. I like to think of her happy and healthy just like she looks in this picture of her and her sweet Bichon, Jack. (Jack got a good home with one of the nurses that was caring for Tessa.)
I miss you, Tessa–and always will.
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