Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Window of Borrowed Time

During the wedding reception, I stand in a corner of the room in my cinnamon-colored bridesmaid dress, remembering how everything used to be, trying to comprehend how much everything has changed.

I had met the bride, Madison, my freshman year in college. A group of us had decided to use the old train bridge near our campus as the place to celebrate our mutual friend’s twentieth birthday, and right before we began to sing to her, Madison arrived in a flurry of wrapping paper, cupcakes and citrus perfume. She was the most beautiful person I’d ever witnessed beyond the silver screen, and I was suddenly aware of how sweaty and disheveled I must look, squatting on the creosote boards composing the bridge while still in my practice clothes.

Despite the creosote boards and her pressed kakis, after we’d finished singing, “Happy Birthday,” Madison plopped down beside me and introduced herself. Within five minutes I’d forgotten that she actually had been on the silver screen and only returned to Kentucky after health complications revealed her need for a heart transplant; and once I realized that Madison was just like me (only far more graceful), I was able to be myself. We then talked and laughed while licking chocolate icing off of our fingers and staring up at the stars arching like a canopy over the bridge. As simple as that night was, from then on Madison and my friendship was established.

Taking a bite of an hors d'oeuvre, I shake away my nostalgic thoughts and watch Madison and Brent stand in front of the wedding cake table with their arms intertwined. Smiling, they take the ceremonial sip from the goblets while their eyes convey messages too private for anyone else to decode.

The rest of the reception is monopolized by Madison and Brent thanking leaving guests and discussing their future plans with those who will not leave. I am chatting with a fellow bridesmaid when Madison comes up and hugs me from behind, enveloping me in her citrus scent and satin. Although I turn to embrace her, I do not understand the poignancy of the moment; I do not realize that she has come to say goodbye.

I am swing dancing when somebody calls out that the bride and groom are about to depart. Abandoning my eight-year-old dance partner, I race barefoot for the door. In front of the clubhouse, Brent is helping Madison get her wedding dress into his Jeep. They are both laughing with their dark heads thrown back and teeth gleaming like pearls. The members of the camera crew swarm in for final shots, and they are not the only ones. Each of us are hoping for another parting glance or word.

Brent nestles more material around Madison’s feet and carefully closes the door. I am watching her elated expression when our eyes suddenly lock. I muster up as much of a smile as I can and blow her a kiss. She pauses a moment and just watches me. Bringing a hand to her mouth, she presses a kiss into it and blows it out the window as Brent whisks her away.

This was the last time I ever saw Madison alive.
  • 
My friend once put a name to the sadness that sweeps over me from time to time, for she experiences it herself: Stealth Grief. In July it’ll be five years since Madison’s death, and I haven’t found another title that suits it more. Sometimes I can go for weeks or even months without the slightest overshadowing of grief, but then I’ll watch a movie -- Steel Magnolias, for instance -- and the pain will overwhelm me as if the loss of her happened yesterday:

I wait until the surge of humanity leaves the church before venturing down the aisle. My feet feel leaden; it seems my body no longer remembers how to breathe. Beside where the coffin used to rest is the wedding portrait of Madison in the princess-style gown she wore only thirteen days before her sudden death from a heart attack at age twenty-one. In it, she smiles with her rose-bud lips closed, her almond shaped, amber-colored eyes penetrating the camera, her molasses waves cascading over the sequined bodice. Cradled in her arms is a tangle of blossoms. She is so alive, so full of happiness and hope. My throat begins to close, and my eyes are on fire. Half blinded with tears, I stalk down the aisle. Familiar faces -- friends of Madison and me -- swirl in and out of focus as I blink tears away. My friends attempt to abate my distress with comfort. I do not want comfort. I do not want anything but to have her back, to hug her tighter, to understand that this is truly goodbye.

Once Stealth Grief has gained its foothold, it is hard to shake free. Simple things like sorting through my CDs and coming across one her hand had titled will make me want to weep. I’ll check the mail, and there will be a letter saying I need to get my license renewed along with a flyer about organ donation; something that Madison -- a recipient of a heart transplant that gave her years of extra life -- was a huge advocate for. I’ll be in the park or at the mall, and I will see a girl (a woman, really) with Madison’s same long dark hair and elegant stride. Although it is impossible, I find myself imaging that it is her. And when I see her and realize that she is not Madison -- of course she is not Madison -- I still have to turn away to hide the disappointment in my eyes.

Every now and then, in the midst of this Stealth Grief, a ray of sunshine will beam down from the past into the window of my present. It only happens a few times a year, and it does not often coordinate with the times when I am missing Madison, but last night it did. I dreamt of her. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that dreams of the deceased are such an inseparable amalgam of sorrow and joy; for when you awake, it is as if you’ve lost them all over again. Now, after four years and nine months, even my subconscious has become aware that she is truly gone, and in my dreams I will sometimes discuss this with Madison, which allows for an easier transition whenever I wake up.

But last night, in my dream, we didn't talk about death. We simply walked from the Bennett Building where we’d taken our English major courses down toward the train bridge where we’d first met. The passage of time had not tainted her, as it never will; Madison's smile was just as captivating, her hair and eyes just as molasses-brown. She put her arm around my shoulders, and I swear I could almost feel its warmth and weight. I wish I could’ve written down everything that we said, for the evanescence of the dream causes it to escape me now. But what I do remember is how happy we were in that window of borrowed time, and when I awoke -- although I knew Madison was still gone -- I couldn’t help smiling at that merciful remembrance of her.
  • 
In loving memory of J. Madison Wright-Morris: July 29, 1984 to July 21, 2006


For information about how you can sign up as an organ and tissue donor and help someone like Madison, you can visit this link. Thank you.

Love,
Jolina

38 comments:

  1. She was a beautiful person. Beautifully written.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Madison certainly was beautiful, Jessica. Both inside and out. Thank you for reading.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, Jolina... this brought tears to my eyes. I can't imagine having lost such a close friend at such a young age. She was - IS - indeed, beautiful. You were blessed to have known her, and I'm so glad you were able to dream of her and awake with a smile. Touching, soulful story...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Really really powerful and beautifully written. I have exprienced Stealth Grief but never knew how to name it. You brought Madison to life through your writing so that I too feel I knew her--what a beautiful tribute to your wonderful friend. And although I am so sorry for your loss, you were both so lucky to have one another, and I am so glad that you had such a lovely window of borrowed time with her in your dream.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, you've made my heart ache for old friends. It's wonderful when we can hold onto the good memories, but like you say, it's hard to break free from the grief.

    A beautiful and sad story. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good morning, Melissa. Yes, losing Madison when I was 19 years old was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. It was also difficult because Misty (my best friend) was going through chemo at the time, and my brother was struggling with substance abuse. What's so beautiful about it all, though, was how Randy -- my husband who wasn't even my boyfriend then -- became such a source of comfort to me. Before the foundation of my world crumbled that summer, I was certain I was going to spend the next several years overseas. After that, though, I realized I wasn't going anywhere away from those I loved, which soon included Randy! :)

    Thanks for reading, girl, and for your kinds words. They mean a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, Julia, I'm glad I could put a name to the emotion that you too experience. Whenever I watch a movie or see something that reminds me of Madison, it helps to know that the sorrow I feel is completely natural, and it's okay to miss someone years after they are gone.

    Hugs to you, dear,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you, Amanda, for taking the time to read and comment. In our present culture it seems we allow ourselves only a certain period of mourning. After that, we're supposed to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and get on with it! I believe it's okay to remember those who were near and dear to our hearts and might now be separated through distance or death. I'm glad this post helped you recall those close to you. I hope you have a wonderful day.

    Best,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  9. That was incredibly moving. I was brought to tears. Thank you for sharing such a painful and poignant memory. I have no words.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello, Raquel, thank you so much for taking the time to read through my journey of grief. It's amazing how even sharing it through this blog has brought greater healing. I hope you have a wonderful evening with those you love all around you.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  11. Poignant story and so well written. Thank you for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh wow ... True from Spielberg's Earth 2. I didn't realize she'd died. I've seen every episode, at least twice. Jo, I'm so sorry for your loss and for her husband's loss (and family since we're on the subject). What a beautiful word on her life you've posted. I feel honored that you shared this with us, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful friendship! Grieving for loved ones never goes away; it morphs and changes but it is always there. I hurt for you as I read your heartfelt words. Every moment counts and thank you for this post to remind me to cherish every one of them.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hello, Genevieve (what a beautiful name you have!), I've been wanting to write about Madison's impact on my life for a long time now, but the words would never come until this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read them and to be so kind in your comments.

    Best,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  15. What a small, beautiful world, Breanne! I can't believe you watched Madison act as a child/adolescent. This means you knew her before I even did! Madison was always so incredibly gifted in whatever her hand touched, yet she was so down to earth as well. I think that's why everyone couldn't help but love her in life and remember her in their hearts even after her death.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Oh, dear Hallie, your words ring so true. Sometimes I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of this world that I forget to cherish those that MAKE my world. Thank you for taking the time to read and to offer your wonderful comment.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Jolina, yes, stealth grief, that's exactly it. Thank you for your tender, heartfelt writing about your shining friend, Madison. What a loving tribute you wrote. The stealth grief always sneaks up on me this time of year. Your post today is a real comfort.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hello, beautiful Gigi, I'm so glad this post could bring you comfort. That's what is so amazing about life's trials: by walking through them, you are able to help others on their similar journey. I pray your heart continues to find healing and peace.

    Hugs to you,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  19. OK, you just made me cry. Your imagery is so beautiful, and I'm sure your friend would be so proud of you!! I hope her mother, father, siblings...anyone who loved her reads this. I also hope it brought you some comfort yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you, Stephanie, for your precious words. Writing this did bring me comfort, and if Madison's family ever does read this, my only hope is that it brings comfort to them as well.
    I hope you have a wonderful day with your family, for when it all comes down to it, they are the ones who matter.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  21. A beautifully written tribute to your friend Jolina...I'm deeply sorry for your loss.

    Steath Grief is a perfect word for the grief you described. After losing my sister, then mum, then our 4 year old daughter...stealth grief lives within me most days, however, I've befriended it and learned its part of the 'new' me now!

    Your writing took me to that wedding and I could picture your friend. I love your writing style and look forward to reading more of your wonderful blog.
    love
    Diana Doyle x

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh my, Diana, I cannot imagine the pain of such an immense loss. My heart goes out to you, and I think it's beautiful how you are able to use such a tragedy to help others; for that's where the hope filters in: That having walked under the burden of grief, we are able to help others carry theirs.

    Thank you for stopping by. I am so glad to have met you.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Jolina, of all thing I just turne to your blog to read tonight as I shift gears of grief, shock, surprise. We just lost Owen's Mom (and my great buddy)
    This am. I miss her already. Keep thinking I'd say one more thing. Given the chance. It's all borrowed time isn't it? Beautiful, borrowed time. Im so glad your friend had you in her life.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Oh my, my dear River! I am so sorry! I had no idea. Because of the story of your mother-in-law taking the bus back home, I feel like I know her, too, and I've often heard the love in your voice whenever you described her. I wish our house was finished, and I would tell you and Owen to just come out here and escape everything. You could sit on the front porch, and I would slip you something to eat every once in a while. Please know that our home will always be open to you both if you ever need it, and I so wish I could give you a great big hug.

    I will be lifting you, Owen, and the rest of his family up today. If there's anything I can do, please, please let me know.

    Also, I pray you have a dream of her, and that you can tell her all those things you would say if given one more chance.

    Love to you both,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  25. Jolina:

    Mother's Day weekend brings back the memories of The Redhead for she entered the last horrible phase of her courageous battle with cancer on that weekend 2 years ago.

    Stealth grief is exactly what it is. What a perfect imagery.

    And this story?

    And that dream?

    I am overcome by them both.

    I remember the night we first saw Steele Magnolias, The Redhead and I went together. We watched it again with our daughters -- one of mine named Shelby -- in that last long summer of her life. She had to leave the room because she was overcome by the loss that she knew awaited her family.

    I know what it is to lose a precious beautiful friend. Thank you for sharing so eloquently your Madison with us.

    Hugs to you.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Dearest Karen,

    Thank you so much for your precious comment. I also have a redheaded friend (we've known each other since I was two and are more like sisters) who went through cancer. Thankfully, she is now well, but there were numerous times when I feared I would lose her.

    I often use humor to deflect intense sorrow, and I've gotten into some major trouble because of it over the years. After watching Steel Magnolias, I realized that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

    I am so glad you were blessed with The Redhead in your life, Karen. If she's anything like my redheaded friend, she was -- and is -- simply amazing.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  27. What a heart-breaking story. Stealth grief, what a wonderful way to be able to put a name to it. My sister Annie died in August of 2009, although my story is different in so many ways. Annie was severely disabled and couldn't walk or talk, so I am not able to have memories of conversations, but I have plenty of memories of smiles.

    And in my dreams, I've heard her speak.

    Thank you for the post. Beautiful. You express things so well.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I love that line: "And in my dreams, I've heard her speak." That must bring so much comfort to your heart, Christine; to know that up in heaven she IS able to dance, is able to speak. Thank you so much for sharing about your dear sister, Annie. It is always difficult to write about something that is so close to our hearts, but those stories are usually the ones we need to write the most. Blessings upon you as you write yours.

    Hugs,
    Jolina

    ReplyDelete
  29. I just stumbled into your site. I'm watching Earth 2 now and was curious what Madison looked like when she grew. what a courageous young woman. I'm so sorry you lost your friend.

    I'm grieving my own losses and I was struck by your comment:

    "In our present culture it seems we allow ourselves only a certain period of mourning. After that, we're supposed to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and get on with it!"

    I've been trying to express the same concept recently. I agree--our society doesn't have enough patience for the grief cycle (actually, we're not awesome with cycles in general). I've read about other cultures that always keep loved ones who have crossed over close. I think that's the right idea.

    people leave imprints on our lives that never completely fade, and it's ok to acknowledge the holes in our hearts when we feel them. this is not dwelling, it's love. it's human.

    thank you for articulating that so well.

    ReplyDelete
  30. No, thank YOU for articulating this so well: "People leave imprints on our lives that never completely fade, and it's ok to acknowledge the holes in our hearts when we feel them."

    I am glad this post was able to help you realize that it's completely natural to grieve long after that "normal" grieving period is through.

    I pray you do find healing, though, for those holes in your heart, and I am glad you looked up dear Madison. She was quite a woman and quite a friend; the world lost a whole lot the day it lost her.

    ReplyDelete
  31. What an unexpected pang I felt in my heart when I stumbled across the fact that "True" the little girl I first watched as a kid from my lounge room in Australia and have now been re-watching is no longer alive.

    Like the previous poster I too was just intrigued to see what became of the beautiful young actress when she grew up. It was with a lump in my throat that I read your blog for a life lost short but also with a small smile as despite her lack of years on this earth she was still able to touch others and find love before leaving.

    I have experienced loss of family and friends in my 34yrs and "Stealth grief" as you so well put it is something I also deal with from time to time. A smell, a song, a picture or a memory can trigger a bout but I do not fear these periods of reflection as they are just the human way of staying close to those who seem so far away.

    Thank you Jolina for your words you have made me feel like a knew Jessica just that little bit.

    Stay True.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It touches me deeply, Justin, that through these words you felt like you were able to know Madison. She was truly a rare gem of a gift, and I feel so unbelievably blessed to have known her even if it was for such a short time.

      Blessings to you.

      Jolina

      Delete
  32. Although I found your blog quite by accident I have to say how beautifully you honoured your friend.

    I too lost a friend well before her time to Cystic Fibrosis 3 years ago. In the end a transplant simply couldn't be found in time. Reading this brought it all back to me again; the way you describe her character & the ethereal last moments in which you saw her echo my own memories.

    I don't have the words to invoke the haunting imagery you do to describe the sweet nature of the friend I lost or the heartbreak of her final days, but you said it perfectly. Despite not knowing your friend, from your beautiful description I can't help but think our friends must have been alike in some ways to have so many feel their loss so deeply. I am truly sorry for the loss of your friend & despite the grief wish you more dreams as sweet as that one.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Jolina,
    Thought of you and Madison today! I teach fifth grade here in Ohio and we watched Shiloh. I feel so blessed to say that I knew her, and was changed having heard her story. I still remember when she told me she received a donated heart, and from that day forward,I was very vocal about being a donor, should the time come for a decision to be made. My kiddos here at school now know her story, and know my intentions as well. Madison will live on, I feel through those lives she touched, and even those she has saved and will save through her story! How awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I hope you'll forgive my intrusion. I never knew her personally and I don't know you. I just stumbled across Earth 2 on Netflix after not having seen it since it originally aired when I was a child. After finding it again, I started reading trivia about the actors (specifically the two children on the show, Uli and True). After I found out Madison died far too young (and MUCH too soon after her wedding), I looked for a personal account of the story (and for a photo of her in her wedding dress, which led me to your blog). You have provided me with that and I thank you for it. It was lovely to read this and get a very small glimpse of who she was as a person, who she meant to those around her. As a last note, I have a genetic lung disease (cystic fibrosis, as was mentioned two comments above mine, strangely enough) and will one day need a double-lung transplant, so organ donation is a cause that I hold very close as well. Thank you for your words.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I too accidentally found your site when I discovered last night that Madison had passed. So sad. Your story was beautifully written. Amazing how time and people can slip through our hands. I hope the stealth grief has lessen over time. <3

    ReplyDelete
  37. I got this web page from my friend who told me regarding this site and at the
    moment this time I am browsing this web site and reading very informative posts here.


    Also visit my homepage :: Chinese translator

    ReplyDelete