The Power of Pooze
By Miles O’Brien
We may not be in church anymore, but I still have confession to make: When I was five and a half, I did indeed contemplate throwing my sister down the stairs not long after she came home for the first time.
Well, actually I did more than contemplate it – I began the execution phase of the plot – and I think I might have thought better of it – or I might have been intercepted and spanked…I am not sure which.
Typically what I would do at this point of hazy recollection is reach out to my sister. Yes, in this case, the victim would very likely be the best witness to the truth – a lock box for the facts.
You see, among Aileen’s many talents was an encyclopedic knowledge of family trivia (if you could you call my attempted homicide trivia). She knew the dates for birthdays anniversaries, deaths…and precise details of momentous events, rocking parties and every movie and TV show you could imagine.
This is fascinating to me, and all the more remarkable, when you consider Aileen was born with a serious vision impairment that made it virtually impossible to read. She struggled in school, and eventually learned how to process printed words by plowing through paperbacks while she worked as a chambermaid on Nantucket.
It was a classic example of her quiet, stubborn, optimistic, self-determination. I honestly never once heard her complain about her vision and the obstacles it posed. Today, a child with similar challenges would be taught in a more specialized way. Aileen just powered through – never willing to accept or acknowledge any limitations.
She employed that philosophy in her struggle with cancer. The disease threw the kitchen sink at her, and for the longest time she just powered right through. She was Stage 4 for five years. Some would call that a “miracle” – but that does not give Aileen enough credit. She gave cancer no quarter.
When she was little (and not so little for that matter), she would often tell me, “O’B, you are not the boss of me!” Well, Cancer was not the boss of her either.
On that awful day in Houston when we got the word that there was nothing the best doctors in the world could do for her, she wondered out loud, “what did I do?” – as if somehow she was to blame for the death sentence she had just received.
What she really did – all throughout her life – was show us all an example of how to live life with grace, love and tremendous courage through an onslaught of adversity.
That is the definition of a hero. My sister was my hero – not one based on the low bar set by of our popular culture; she was the real thing. What she accomplished will not be memorialized in a statue somewhere. But so what? She has given us all something so much better than that.
She was a living example of the power of unconditional love and unconstrained kindness. Truth is, she thought a lot more about others than she did herself. I know all of you have been on the receiving end of this. And now that she has left us, her memory will be a reminder to us of what we should all aspire to be. Call it the “Power of Pooze.”
She also has left a living legacy of her super power: her beautiful, smart, vibrant girls. I see their mother in them all the time (and not just when they tell me I am not the boss of them!). I feel it every time they hug me and tell me they love me. I tend to squeeze back a little harder now – to make sure my sister can feel my love for them and her as well.
On her last day in hospice, as she lay in her bed, she labored with increasing difficulty to breath. True to form, she was still fighting…still powering through…stubbornly clinging to life. I leaned over and whispered into her ear that I would love her forever – and not to worry about her girls – that I would always be there for them – and that it was OK to let go. And not long after that, she did.
I am here to tell you I will make good on those promises. I owe her that much – and so much more. So do we all.
I would like to leave you with this poem by Henry Scott Holland.
Death is Nothing at All
By Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.