Of all the many things I loved about Linda, her blue eyes had to be at the top of the list. I won’t go through all of her beautiful features that knocked me over at first sight-you know things like her hair, her tan, her car that was as crappy as mine…
(Insert sigh here)
Loved her eyes.
When we were young I wanted to dive into those blue pools. And, even in the last months of her life when she was sick as you can be, the first thing that happened when I walked into her room was that her eyes and her mouth would fly open as if I were the prodigal returning at long last home. (That, in spite of the fact that I sat with her every single day!)
Every so often I would slip up beside her and bend down to her bed-ridden ear and sing a little Elton: “Blue eyes…baby’s got blue eyes.”
I wrote a song not long ago about caregiving. It’s about a man who feels unqualified to take care of his memory-failing wife at home. Without saying more about it, there is a bridge where he talks about the names she called him when joking or when sitting snuggled in front of the fire. But one line goes…”when the lightning flashed behind her eyes, she used names I won’t repeat.” That’s autobiography, folks. Lightning flashed behind those eyes.
Linda struggled off and on with clinical depression for years. During that season, she would go into that dark space for months at a time. However, she had not experienced that long descent into the cavern for a couple of decades. But there were times, when you could see a darkness fall upon her as if a shadow were passing over. The transformation was visible and showed up in those lovely eyes. The darkness would sit upon her for a day or two and then disappear as if the sun had broken through storm clouds.
Her eyes were our life. Every moment, every season, every day of light, and every day of darkness, every affection, every affliction showed up in her eyes. As quiet and shy as she was, her eyes announced everything, if you yourself had eyes to see.
Her eyes were the last thing I saw of the living Linda. And now, those eyes, bewildered and fearful, haunt me everyday.
I had just pulled up at the curb in the front of our house. I had just returned from the ER where a doctor told me what I already knew.
DOA. Sudden Cardiac Arrest.*
I stopped the car and stared at nothing.
The phone rang and, out of habit, I answered
“Hello, Mr. Street?”
“ This is ___ at the Georgia Eye Bank. First, I want to express our condolences to you over the loss of your wife and I do apologize for the timing of this urgent call. But, I wanted to speak to you and ask if you would like to donate your wife’s eyes so that up to four people could experience the gift of sight.”
The is the god-honest truth.: I felt an arrow fly straight through my chest.
“Her eyes? Her eyes? Oh my God…her eyes?” I thought.
“I know this is a hard decision, Mr. Street. I’m sorry but we have to act quickly if your answer is ‘yes.’”
“I know…I know. I’m an advocate for organ donation. I had a heart transplant myself. Of course, the answer will be ‘yes’ but can you give me 15 minutes to think about it?”
“Sure. I’ll call you back.”
We hung up.
Her eyes were our life.
My mind imagined all that they had seen. Those eyes that first met mine. Those eyes that searched for the first daffodil of Spring. Those eyes that read Whitman’s poetry to that daffodil. Every year. Those eyes that first saw Amber and our granddaughters. Those eyes of sadness, of anger, and of love.
Those eyes that slayed me.
I thought about our song: “Because I saw the light, in your eyes, in your eyes,” Yeah, Todd Rundgren.
Linda had been listed as an organ donor for close to 50 years. Such donation was part and parcel of who she was. (She donated gallons of blood before she became too anemic to do so.)
She would have wanted me to do that. And, what was the point of cremating her eyes or of burying them with her? And, good grief, I had been the recipient of such a gift.
Of course, I said yes. And since then I’ve wondered what those recipients have seen. Surely they have seen glorious things. Beautiful things. Surely they have seen or will see sorrows…but, my God, if they don’t see love, love, love…..they are as blind as ever.
How could they not with those eyes?
- The ER doctor surmised that the cause of death was Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which basically means her heart stopped beating. That was obvious. After describing her final moments with several healthcare pros, I am convinced that she likely died of a Pulmonary Embolism. A blot clot passed into a lung artery. That diagnosis not only fits her final moments but also seems reasonable given her long stays in the hospital and the numerous endoscopies she endured. But, that’s just me there…