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Sunday, June 10, 2007

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Calling All Angels

Peggy Adams and her children. Photo by Sean Moorman.
Used with kind permission of the photographer and Steve Adams.

My friend Peggy died on Friday. She was part of my community here in Little Rock, and if you are a repeat visitor to this site, in a way, she was part of yours.

The last email I had from her was in early May, tacked on to the end of a brief exchange we had following my son's third birthday party, which she had been unable to attend. We were going back and forth with social niceties, and then — almost as if in afterthought — she sent me this short message

"P.S. I read your blog quite regularly and that helps tremendously...Love, Peggy."

I cried when I read that. Not just because I was touched and flattered (very few of my in-the-round friends read this blog; I guess they get all they can stand of me in person), but because it came in response to the offer I'd made with studied casualness to be of help to her family while she was feeling "less than 100 per cent". As if it were a bout of the flu that had her housebound, and not the devastating cancer that she had battled for over two years and which had now won the upper hand.

I was tiptoeing, trying to make an overture without intruding. Peggy did not discuss her condition with just anyone, and I was never part of her innermost circle. She and her husband drew a dense privacy screen around themselves and their children where her illness was concerned, and it was baffling to some. We live in an age of personal transparency; of group therapy, self-help, online diaries and Oprah. We all want to share, analyse, weigh in, process. We all want our turn with the talking stick. Peggy wasn't going to let us have it. I respected her for that. It was as if, upon her diagnosis, she said, "You all deal with it. I have these three children to raise, and a life to get on with." I can see her tossing that glorious mane of hers, punctuating it with her delicously earthy Puerto Rican-Brooklynite accent. "What Evah."

And get on with life she did. I saw more of Peg and her family in the two years after her diagnosis than in the eight years I'd know her before. In between the endless treatments and surgeries, she continued to homeschool her children. I saw them at the park, the market, the library, fashion shows, and block parties. The family took vacations together, including a cruise. She and Steve continued to be the most beautiful couple in the room at any given get-together. The last time I really saw her was at a Valentine's dinner party, hosted by my friends Rod and Lennie Byran, just before I left for Ireland. Her long hair was cropped short, sacrificed to chemo, but she was still radiantly gorgeous. She was especially generous to me that night, and insisted I come to raid her closets to outfit myself for my readings. As if I had a hope of fitting anything. In the best of health, Peggy was about a size zero. Lennie called her "little big you".

I remember being struck that night by her perceptiveness about my mixed feelings over leaving the kids for two weeks abroad. She seemed so genuinely enthusiastic about my writing, and made several observations that caused me to think, "hey, she really sees me." I felt buoyed up by her validation and warmth. It was a wonderful evening, and I treasured the memory of it even more after she revealed that she had been peering through this particular window on my soul. She really did see me.

That email spurred me on to write this past month like never before. I'm sure Peggy didn't want to hear about all the prayers I prayed, she didn't need me to take her children from where they most wanted and needed to be, she sure as hell didn't need another casserole, but I could write for as long as it gave comfort or diversion. God, I'd have raced to her bedside and knelt and told her stories all day and all night long if I could have done so without getting in between her and what mattered most: time with her family.

Ironically, I got the news later on the same day I wrote my piece on how that time slips away. I was on the front porch with the children, making ice cream. The crank handle had just gone flying out of my son's hand, and he couldn't find it. Then the phone rang.

"Peggy died."

And then the conversation is over, and Peggy has died, and the crank handle still has to be found, because we still have to make the ice cream.

I keep turning the fragments of that that scene over and over, trying to piece together the making of the ice cream and the late afternoon sunshine and the losing and the finding of the crank handle with that phone call, but I just haven't been able. I have been running my fingers over the places where Peggy's and my lives ran parallel, but never really merged; the kindredness of spirit that was almost subtextual, seeming to exist mainly between the lines. Wondering how I came to be chosen, among others, to speak at her memorial next week, and what she would want me to say.

I was still trying to make sense of it all when I went to Peggy's myspace page tonight for the umpteenth time today (as if expecting to find something new from her there), and noticed in her profile that she listed the Jane Siberry song "Calling All Angels" among her favorites. I wasn't familiar with it, so I looked up the lyrics. This jumped out:

...and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it's's almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means

Almost, Peggy. Almost as if.

Peggy Lopez Adams was 36 on May, 27, 2007. She is survived by her husband, Steve, daughters Chloe, 11, Simone, 9; and son Loic, 5. She wished to be memorialized through donations to the Open Arms Shelter for youth.

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Blogger Jen K-C said...

It is 2:00am, as I read I cry for you,Peggy,her family and for all people that are affected by cancer. You and Peggy's family are in my thoughts and prayers.

2:49 AM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

my heart is full for you and this sad sad time, treasure every day.
may you be at peace
may you be happy
may you be at rest
may you know that we remember you

9:21 AM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

I don't know that I've ever read a more moving and elegant tribute to a friend. The reason Peggy really did see you, I think, is because you also saw her... as evidenced by this post. You have done justice to your friend, just as you will do at the memorial.

I like, too, that Peggy's photo symbolizes motherhood and the beginning of life, giving no quarter to the senseless disease that claimed her.

I extend my best wishes to Peggy's family and everyone who is mourning her loss.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Ella said...

I've only just started reading here so I feel a bit awkward commenting on such a personal post, but this was such a beautiful tribute.

My thoughts are with Peggy's family and with you and all her friends.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

On the subject of songs...Peggy always came completely unglued when she heard Gillian Welch's Paper Wings. I think it's equally appropriate.


11:25 PM  
Blogger only1tig said...

What you wrote about Peggy was so true. It didnt matter if you met her for a moment or for however long. I believe that she saw us. Not who we wanted to be not what we put off. She really saw us. I know that is what made her so special and such an incredable woman. I had never met a stronger, greater, loving, caring,full of "mad" life than her. I envied her. I didnt know how she did all those things that she did. SHe was superwoman to me. And she will always be superwoman to me.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

G.W always slays me. The journal did too. A fed ex package, indeed.

Hang in there.


9:24 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

It hurts even worse on a personal level when your kids are so close in age. I remember when our cousin Susan died of breast cancer her kids and mine were around the same age. It's so deeply sad. From now on you have a piece of the responsibility to remind her children who their Momma was and how much she loved them. That's all thats left. So very sad.

1:11 PM  
Blogger sailing said...

The last time I hung out with Peggy, she was cooking dinner, giving Chloe a spelling test, talking to Simone about knitting, and teaching Loic to use a sharp knife - all at the same time. I offered to help - she wouldn't have it. To watch her in action was awe-inspiring. I kept my distance, respecting her privacy and her time with her family, too. Thanks for confirming.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Kim, I've thought often of Susan since Peggy's diagnosis. I've taken a lot of comfort from hearing that her children have since grown into beautiful young people; that their mother's death wounded them, but didn't break them.


5:35 PM  
Blogger only1tig said...

I believe that Peggy being such an awesome person that she was made her family stronger so that they were all prepared. It still hurts I am sure but I know they will all be just as incredible as she was. They are already! I hope my kids will someday be like them some way. I believe her part in my life was to show me it was possible whatever it was it is possible!

3:50 AM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

such a lovely tribute, kyran. thank you for sharing this window into your life. this story breaks my heart--my only persistent wish is that i not die before my children are grown. i pray somehow peggy's family will find a way through.

7:26 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...

This is a beautiful tribute. Experiencing death gives me a quick shake to appreciate life. Each day is such a gift.

12:56 AM  

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