As I said the last post, that hospital visit was the last time I saw my young friend Lita.
Every time she was released to go home, she got worse and was readmitted. In February her church did a benefit for her and her family. Lita was Greek and German. This was the Greek side. The food was provided by Angelo’s, a fabulous little Italian restaurant which was where she was last employed before she became ill.
There was a table for her friends, many of them the from Kent State Stark campus theatre, where I met Lita when she worked props for the Miracle Worker. Most of us hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, as it was a university theatre, with students coming and going , therefore even more transient than regular community theatres.
Because we were theatre people, we were not at all shy, and the Greek church members instantly took a shine to us. There was a Greek band, Greek dancing, and the “unofficial” dance instructor grabbed several of us theatre girls and drug us onto the floor to teach us the moves. Of course, given our backgrounds in musical theatre, we were quick studies and soon were laughing and dancing and keeping up with the “professionals”. Well….at least with the dance instructor and the little kids he teaches!
When we were leaving Terri Sosnowski, professor, fellow actress, and mother to Alexa, one of Lita and my dearest friends, hugged me hard. She whispered in my ear, "YOU aren't moving or going away anywhere, are you?"
I assured her that having two sons who I shared with their father meant that no, in fact, I was a safe bet to stay put.
That night at the benefit reminded me of Maryanne’s last birthday party- joy mixed with concern, sorrow. It was a celebration to honor and support Lita, with all her closest friends, family, and fellow members of her church. The only difference was we still had hope, but it was a hope mixed with sadness when it was announced that Lita, who was supposed to come to the benefit and had been doing fairly well the past week or so, had taken a turn again and was readmitted to the hospital that day.
That was her last time admitted. They released her shortly after to go home. There was nothing else they could do for her.
Once she went home from the hospital, her mother was very understandably protective of her, and Lita was never able to return my phone calls. I was so “busy” with work, school, kids that I ended up playing phone tag with Lita’s Aunt Anna Marie, who had befriended me and kept in contact with me, keeping me up to date so I could pass messages onto Lita’s other friends. Now I only can hope that her mom was able to pass along the messages, that Lita was alert enough to receive them, so that she would know that I was thinking of her as well as all her young theatre friends..
A month or so after the benefit, Anna Marie called me and left an urgent message that I should go to see Lita, because it wasn't looking good. I tried to contact her, but her mom was obviously distressed and told me that Lita wasn’t up to visitors but she would let her know I called. A few other young theatre friends called me a few days later, to say they had reached Lita’s mom and arranged for us to go to visit her. Then the next day we all got a call that her family had her transported to seek a last hope treatment to a University Hospital almost 3 hours away, so we would have to wait to see her until she got back.
But Lita passed away that week. I'm not sure if she even got back to her home first, or was still at the University Hospital.
As a parent, on one hand I can so understand why her family was desperately trying to save her, even up to the last breath she took. But all the same, given our conversations, which I’m sure were not the same ones she felt comfortable having with her family, I worried that she was encouraged to fight up until the last possible minute. I hope she got to go home first, to her own bed, rather than dying at a hospital. I wish her friends would have been able to see her, to let her know how much we loved her and would miss her
And with certainly no disrespect to her family, I hope that their fear and desperation did not bring to her the end she expressed to me that she feared the most…not being ready to let go.
Losing Lita had such an impact on me personally, I can’t imagine the loss for those even closer to her.
But when she died...I thought....
How can I honor her? How can I take the loss of this bright, energetic, passionate, ornery, opinionated, compassionate brave, young woman and make any sense of it?
I remember leaving the last conversation I had with her in the hospital and thinking on the way home,
“If my Dr. told me I had something like this, that I needed to fight for my life, would I do it? Or am I too disillusioned with my life right now to save myself? I have something that Lita longed for. I am a mother of two beautiful sons. I am nearly done with a BA that Lita so had her heart set on finishing. I am living for “someday/maybe/ hopefully/ when I’m done with this, when I’ve completed that…”
I was not, nor had I been for quite some time, living in the moment of today, embracing the gift that was my life. My body, even in it’s flawed and at times health challenged state, was overall healthy enough to get me where I needed to go, and deserved to be appreciated a hell of a lot more.
It was a frigid March Sunday when I went to Lita's calling hours. I was late and all of my friends had already gone through the line. They were worried about me going through alone, and awaited my arrival rather than leave me on my own.
From there we all ventured over to the Sosnowski's house where a sort of Kent Stark waked ensued. Lita had been such a part of the Sosnowski's lives, having lived with them as part of their family for a few years off and on, that you could literally feel her presence. I thought about the story Terri had told before of when she went shopping for ornaments for her own daughters, Ardith and Alexa. She decided since Lita was living with them at the time she would get her one too, and added her name to the list for the artist to personalize them all. It wasn't until she returned home from picking them up she realized that she must have confused the person taking the order. There were ornaments for "Ardith", "Alexa"....
She was going to have them fix it but it was too close to Christmas. So she decided it would be funny to go ahead and give Lita the ornament as is.
Lita loved that ornament, and told Terri, "Don't you dare change it! I am finally really part of your family!"
That night around Terri's kitchen table, we laughed and cried, and laughed until we cried.
I sat there, in the company of all my “old” yet younger than me theatre friends, who had either graduated from Kent or moved onto other universities. Some were off on adventures in other cities. And I was keenly aware of an overwhelming sort of bittersweet nostalgia wrapping around me. Laughing, remembering, sharing, just as we had at the benefit the month before. Only this time at this table, Terri's table, where we had all sat so many times before, many of those with Lita among us. This time, we all knew perhaps more fully than we had at that benefit, that we may all never be in the same room, this room, together again.
I will never forget when we were leaving that evening, Terri saying to all of us,
“Man…I am really going to miss all of you kids.”
I remember feeling for the first time that Terri, an accomplished English professor, didn't have the words or the ability to express them. Not really a loss of words, God no! That would never happen with Terri Sosnowski! It seemed to me that it was more, the emotions were too deep, too dear, to share outloud.
When I left that night, my heart was in contradiction. So torn between the joy and camaraderie rekindled, yet at a loss for the young life we were leaving behind. Grateful for our reunion, yet heavy hearted knowing that it may always be the last of its kind.
And I thought about empty nest for the first time. My mom never had a chance at it with my brother's disability keeping him home well into his thirties. I was too young to possibly know how brief and fleeting your kids are in your care. Yet watching Terri that night, I realized that through both their daughters' adolescence, the Sosnowskis had a house so full of teenage angst, mischief, celebration and chaos, full of life and all its glorious potential. When Ardith moved out there was still Alexa, and all her crazy theatre/high school girlfriends constantly in and out. A few, Audrey and Lita, had actually moved in with the Sosnowskis, Lita staying well after Audrey and Alexa got their own apartment.
Now Alexa had moved all the way to Florida
And Lita was gone.
When your nest empties, it’s not just your kids you will miss, but all the wonderful, interesting, evolving young people they bring in and out of your home. And I also finally understood Terri's question of me at the benefit over a month before.
No, I wasn't going anywhere. But like Terri I was feeling as though they were all leaving me. Passing me by on their way to their own young bright futures all over the world.
And I left there that night heavy in my heart. Alone in bed that night, my thoughts turned back to the man. The man I had the ridiculous notion to share with Lita on one of those last visits. When she asked how I was doing and I was ignorantly honest with her.
I started to become more and more upset with myself that I wasn’t making time for those I loved, because I was so distracted with one who couldn’t love me the way I deserved to be loved. Why was I wishing away my life, my gift...
How would that honor the loss of a young woman robbed of life in her 26th year?
That night, I sent an email to the man I was holding in my heart, that I was holding my life still in hopes of one day….maybe….someday….
I asked to see him one last time.
He came to me, late at night. We talked, cried...and said goodbye.
As he drove away I felt a calmness envelope me. And somewhere somehow, I knew it was the last time I would ever see him.
Well after he left I laid in bed wide awake, but still no tears came through me.
As though I was...
And my heart grew very still and quiet.
I realized for the first time in a long time, that I was not mourning the lost relationship, but a loss of myself.
And I felt something slightly short of a miracle. I felt a small space, almost sacred place, opening in my heart. A crack in an airtight shield.
And into that space, I placed a prayer. A surrender prayer it’s called:
"If it's really not him I'm to end up with. Then Ok. Are you listening God? I get it. I’m ready. I need to move on and find happiness. So whoever you think he is…please send him to me. Even if I think you're wrong. Even if I can’t believe it’s the right guy. I will give it a chance. I promise. Because I am finally ready to be happy again."
Two weeks later, I had a disastrous date with a guy I met online, who to me seemed absolutely perfect and what I was looking for at first "type." However he turned out to be using internet dating services to meet women for reasons other than dating.
(I nicknamed him “No Means No Joe” if that’s any indicator.)
When he canceled our second date after I insinuated I would not be sleeping with him any time soon, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I actually joined Yahoo Personals, as in paying the 20 bucks, so that I could finally contact people instead of waiting to see who showed up in my inbox. I then went to a “trash” bin in my Yahoo Personals account, to see who I had placed there, convinced at first glance that we would never be right for each other. (Because before Mr. No Means No Joe, I just knew I could so tell from a small profile pic and a paragraph if a man was worth dating.) I then found an Army Major, single dad, who had written me a month before, inquiring if I was interested in getting to know him. When I first received his note, I thought, “Army Major and Theatre Major? No way. ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ meets ‘Here’s my gay friend Patric I’ve known since 3rd grade’? Hell no way. KSU ROTC instructor meets future KSU BA in Theatre Studies student?
Next Dogs and Cats will be sleeping together!!!!!!
But I dug him out of the trash bin and sent him a note. He wrote right back. I found out he was rather funny in a surprising, I didn’t think the Army had a sense of humor, way.
And in him I found a handsome, amazingly generous, giving, nurturing, actively engaging, humorous, politically conservative, (yet) incredibly open minded, supportive, caring, loving man…
So after holding him at arm’s length, allowing him to woo and reel me in for several months, I decided God was right and knew me and what was good for me better than I did myself.
And I can’t help wondering if Lita wasn’t somewhere, giving me a nudge in the right direction. I like to think so in light of meeting him so quickly after losing her. I owe so much of my own personal bliss, Rick and Anna in particular, to her...to losing Lita. Tremendous cost for such a lesson. But I really believe wherever she is, that she is proud I finally got what it took her own illness to teach her.
Live now, love now. That is the beautiful gift Lita left anyone who knew her.
The rest of the story, including one more loving couple's influence, on Fri.