The Empty Seat On My Patio Swing

I’m searching for her again. It’s so unlike me to do this, but I look for her. I’m frustrated because I don’t feel her presence. I haven’t obviously because she’s been gone for over a year now, but still, I search. Human beings are funny, odd creatures aren’t we?

Perhaps it’s all living creatures. My lone guinea pig looked for her lost mate and continued to search long after the fact. Well, long for a little piggy anyway. Religious or not, I think we all still secretly search, myself included.

The search isn’t just for my lost loved one(s) most days, but for answers, reasons and understanding. It’s a lifelong quest we all navigate at some point in our lives I think. Today however, as I sit on my patio swing alone in my backyard on this beautiful summer day, I find myself searching for her.

The first law of thermodynamics

The empty seat beside me is an incessant reminder of what I’ve lost, which gives me an occasional stab, to remind me of the disappointment in myself for not doing enough. I didn’t find the answers we needed but I also realize that there were probably none to ever be found. I’m an inadequate skeptic; however, it’s better to be honest than live a lie.

If energy is neither created nor destroyed, she must still be here in some form I reason, so I search. Is she one or both of the butterflies that just fluttered by? Is she the lone, busy, little bee buzzing around my strawberry plants? Perhaps one of the small birds at my bird feeder. Maybe she’s the one sitting on the rocks that I cleaned and placed in my birdbath so that my wondrous pollinating friends could have a safe watering hole with their other winged counterparts (Lea was adamant about inclusion of all creatures within her bird baths and encouraged us to do the same)?

Maybe she’s the warm summer breeze whispering past my ears? Ah, the crow, is that her looking at me from the fence? I now wonder who’s perched beside her. There are many now, all perched in a row. The magpie? That suits her, as she had an eye for shiny things. Wait, the hawk above? I see 2!

It’s not just a swing

I have this amazing patio swing that I retreat to every moment that I can. I love being outside and sitting on this swing and will indulge any time of year. Yes, even in winter.

I just wear a lot more clothing…much more actually. I feel like it’s my thinking chair. It’s calming, serene and peaceful, allowing me to mull within my own head.

When the going gets tough, the swing beckons. It’s my safe place and it affords me more luxuries than I can count. When my sister was alive, I’d offered her many an opportunity to indulge, but she’d often turn me down while throwing me the odd insult. As I sit and indulge today, one particular memory of her floods my thoughts.

She used to laugh at me when I’d call or text to say that it was a beautiful day, and that she should come join me on my swing. She’d cackle, tell me I’m old and never take the opportunity, despite my insistence that sitting on this swing is by far one the most effective forms of therapy this world has to offer. And yet, she still maintained that I was just old.

I’m hot, she’s hot, you’re hot, we’re all hot

I’ll never forget the day Lea finally gave in to my persistent insistence. It had been a very hot summer day, within a string of very hot summer days, and she was fed up with dealing with her kids and the inescapable, relentless heat. Clem and I invested in air conditioning many years ago because we live with the constant summer heat pouring into a large portion of our house on sunny days.

I love the sun, don’t get me wrong, but it gets hot! The backyard of our house faces south, which provides all the sunshine we could ever need, and the fact that I was at home all day without respite, was reason enough to go ahead with air con installation. Sleeping comfortably was another factor.

Even at -40°C, my living room can become unbearably hot despite the frigid winter temperatures. The rest of the house is bitterly cold, but not my living room. Laughable and unbelievable at the same time.

My hillbilly swimming pool

Anyway, on these particularly blistering hot days, I’d always get on the horn early and insist that Lea and the kids needed to come by to cool off and spend some time in the hillbilly pool we have. It’s one of those round, plastic, soft sided, instant set up pools from Walmart that we decided to buy after Caelan finished her cancer treatments. Caelan desperately wanted a swimming pool and we’d discovered that that was one thing that the Make-A-Wish people wouldn’t do and understandably so.  

It’s nothing fancy by any means but it does the trick and then some. I call it a hillbilly pool because we don’t really have a perfectly flat yard and the one side seems to tilt causing the other side to have less water and fold in on itself slightly. No matter how bizarre it looks, it still works and we love it!

I finally, after much bantering, pleading and convincing, got Lea to give in and come seek refuge one day. She was so stubborn. Her youngest one still had her running constantly, but at least by coming here we could give him a frozen treat of whatever kind and he could roam the yard and enjoy splashing in a smaller kiddie pool that we also had at the time.

Lea could, at the very least, have maybe a minute or 2 to enjoy my swing and take a moment to indulge in some much needed silent sanity, pampering (if she’d let me, in the form of food and beverages that she didn’t have to make or fetch herself at the very least) and air conditioning. As I said before, she was super stubborn in the selflessness department. I was excited that she was finally going to take the plunge and experience this backyard phenomenon that I’d continually raved about.

Cue the suspenseful music

I had been sitting on my swing, waiting for confirmation as to when she was going to join me (or not), when I suddenly heard her yelling at her kids to settle down from the driveway as she exited her vehicle. Once the kids were free of their car seats, she usually ran around trying to round them up like free range chickens in a farmyard. The cacophony of chaos coming from the driveway was the usual announcement of her arrival (no need to ring the doorbell, we’d know she was there by the sound of her yelling at her kids once the car doors were opened). She tried to settle the excitement and maintain control while unloading all of the things she’d packed, simultaneously (it looked like she was moving in for a week).

They hit the back gate and all hell broke loose as my nephews came charging into the yard, yelling excitedly about swimming and playing in my little oasis. I love my nephews more than anything but seeing as how I have 2 girls and no rambunctious little boys, I have to admit, I bristled a little at the impending pandemonium that had just descended upon my calm yard. They’ve sure changed since that day though and I’d give anything to relive it once again, rambunctious chaos or not, just to have an afternoon with Lea.

Following shortly behind, Lea appeared, wearing her signature Zsa Zsa Zhou sunglasses (we invented terms like this to describe frugal fancy looking things) that she always wore. She was lugging 2 overfilled, unzipped, kid themed backpacks, a diaper bag full of water and snacks (I do have food and water here but nonetheless, she was always prepared), and a bunch of life jackets and other floating accessories. I did ask for her to let me know when she was coming so I could help her, but she must’ve been fed up and just tossed everything (including her kids) into her car and headed for my place without a second thought.

I knew right away that she was beyond fed up and needed a break, pronto donto. The boys took off and were in the small kiddie pool immediately. I looked at my sister and smiled as she set all of her things down (who am I kidding…she dropped everything in a huff where she stood…like she usually did). I patted the seat of the swing next to me, inviting her to sit and take advantage of the moment. Would you believe that I did it without being a smart ass? She gave me a look that basically said that this was overrated and that again, I was old.

Wait for it!

I will never forget when she finally perched and paused to immerse in the calm and peace that is my swing. The moment her weary frame touched down, her dire need of tranquility was confirmed. Who’s the old bitch now? I thought comically, as I indulged smugly in the moment.

She closed her eyes and relished in the serenity while her boys busied themselves from afar. I was thankful that they were finally starting to venture away on their own, even if only for a moment. A little older and a little braver, allowing their mother a mere few minutes to collect her sanity. Thank you universe.

As Lea breathed the calm, warm breeze, I saw the look of delight stretch across her sculpted cheeks. Her lips lazily pulled back into a blissful smile that washed over her beautiful face, and portrayed her standard look of yeah, I know, you told me so. I knew better than to say see? I was thrilled that she finally understood why I’d often retreat to this swing.

It’s all about the motion

We began to rock gently as she kept her eyes closed. She finally allowed herself to put her head back against the top of the seat and rest. She became engrossed in soaking up the beautiful sunshine and listening to the birds while tuning out the kid’s banter. Before I knew it, she was the one rocking the swing, with much more gusto.

We knew it wouldn’t be long before the call of motherly duty would interrupt our reverie, but we enjoyed the hell out of that moment. No words exchanged, but an energy reviving influx was shared between us in that moment of pause. In the chaos of the tragedy she was living, I witnessed her have one moment of careless bliss.

For Lea to have that one moment, where everything was perfect, allowing it to wash over her like calm water, was one of the most inspirational moments that I’ve ever been gifted. If there was anything I could’ve done to allow her to live in this moment forever, I’d have paid it willingly. To find and maintain inner peace shouldn’t be this difficult and yet, it is. I miss her presence beside me on my swing.

Calm is a superpower

In the few times that Lea afforded herself the gift of having a quiet moment on my swing following bad news or irrational thoughts, deep conversations followed. Many of those conversations revolved around the realities that she was living and the contemplation of her uncertain future. Fear lost its power on my swing, simply because having a clear head after an open discussion with critical evaluation, provided us rational clarity. She may have thought me old, but what I witnessed, was the birth of her wisdom in that first moment on my swing.

A simple moment on a typical patio swing, in a backyard in Wherever in the World, in Anytown holds profound meaning for me. If she could find peace during one the most tumultuous and stormy battles a human being could live in, I’m convinced anyone can. For the past week or so, I’ve been retreating to my swing during our usual 1 to 2 week stretch of ‘summer’, to find the calm within the chaos that is the world right now.

The only thing that’s missing, is another compassionate human being with ears and a brain to help me figure out some of the decisions I now have to make within a world I no longer understand. I never saw this coming, but then again, no one ever does. Despite not having my sister to consult and discuss with, I already know what she would say because she and I usually came to the same conclusions.

What my swing had afforded me in the past was priceless, and I hope it will continue to for many years to come. As I sit on this swing, I allow myself to ponder with a level head. Upon reflection, my thoughts have turned heavy.

If a young mother, living with the certainty of death from lung cancer, can have a sane and peaceful moment within her own storm to think rationally, understand and contemplate, why can’t others who are free from a known and absolute immediate death sentence do the same? Astounding. She was indeed a super hero with amazing powers and wise beyond her years.

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