The Code


I drove to work in tears today. I was thinking of Amy.

She lived across the street from us in Maplewood. She was Maureen’s best friend—they were each other’s daily support in raising our first children, her Sam and our Emily. She died of a brain tumor about 10 years ago.

Amy battled the benign tumor for over a year. Her brother, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins, was able to get her one of the top brain surgeons on the East Coast. Her last operation took the surgeon out for a long time—it went on hours longer than anticipated and he seriously strained his back. Afterward, Amy deteriorated. She went on every kind of life support system imaginable. Finally, she was able only to move one eye and one of her feet—she communicated by rolling her eye up for “yes” as you pointed to letters on an alphabet board (Maureen was the best at doing this with her). Understandably, she finally chose to be taken off all the machinery.

The day before this was scheduled to happen, she asked her husband to bring a board, a maraca, and some rope to the hospital. Amy, who taught math at the Bank Street School in New York, would do things like that—set you up with some kind of confusing information that usually turned out to be a wonderful surprise once “the class” figured things out. It was impossible not to love Amy–I truly think she was a kind of Angel whose love and enthusiasm set her apart. Her request was a flash of her recently-shrouded brilliance, and her husband, Whit, wondered all that terrible night what she was up to.

The next day, Amy’s family and friends lined up at her bed and everyone said goodbye one at a time. You can imagine what that was like. Whit told us all about the paraphernalia Amy had requested–Amy rolled her eye upward as he did so. Then, Maureen, another friend named Amy, and I drove back to Maplewood from the hospital in Manhattan.

The next morning, Whit called and told us everything. Amy had him prop the board up at the foot of the bed and tie the maraca to her foot. For however long she lived once she was unhooked from the technology, she banged the maraca against the board. Banged in anger, banged in love. She insisted on leaving this world in some control, on making her own music above and beyond the whir of hospital contraptions. She sent a percussive code into eternity, a message we would understand after some time. Amy left a husband, a son in second grade, a family changed forever, and a best friend across the street. She left me crying behind the wheel on the Parkway this morning–and now, as I type this–ten years after.

9 Responses to “The Code”

  1. Todd Says:

    Rick, It is wonderful that Amy touched you and others so deeply that her joy of life is a gift that you pass on to others and still keep within you. I imagine she was a person who took time to really be with others. Amy truly had grace.

  2. Carroll Says:

    I too have shed a tear just now for Amy’s family and friends, Rick. Your tribute leaves me feeling sure she’s making some of that thunder from on high. Nicely done.

  3. mrschili Says:

    I’m about to leave for Maryland to say goodbye to a friend who died suddenly in a car accident.

    Our friendship was complicated, but for all that, I loved her. I still love her. It will be a difficult parting.

    My faith tells me that she’s still here somehow, though – that we are still connected and will remain so forever. Your story about Amy convinced me even more of that. She is still connected to you -and you to her – and though it may bring tears, it is a comfort to both of you.

    I send as much love as I can spare to you….


  4. Pearl Says:

    Sad that she left and that you mourn.

    Fabulous that she left in as much control and dignity as she could sending out her percussive note.

  5. OldOldLady Of The Hills Says:

    What a sad sad thing to have happen, but how wonderful that she was in your lives…She sounds like she was a truly amazing and special person and friend…I am always amazed at the bravery and tenacity of some people…I admire that so very much….
    I can understand your tears this morning Rick….truly! Some things time does not heal very quickly and in truth, maybe never.

  6. kenju Says:

    You are blessed to have had someone in your life who can make you feel that way – especially 10 yeas later.

  7. keda Says:

    what an amazing woman.

    beautiful and heartbreaking. i’m sorry you cry.

  8. Rick Says:

    Thanks, folks. I think something about Amy was dislodged by my meeting the day before with a reporter who works with a man I knew in Maplewood whose wife died on Christmas week a couple of years ago. It’s detailed in the previous post. Our next door neighbor from Maplewood also died on Christmas week a couple of years ago, and our old house in Maplewood nearly burned down on Pearl Harbor Day 2002. I’ve heard of some friends’ bad news over the last week as well. So I was seasonally set up, and the whole thing was triggered by meeting the reporter. I’m no John Wayne, but crying on the way to work is a bit unusual for me. Something about Amy came to me as a kind of bittersweet sadness and a beautiful message–an affirmation of life, a submission to fate, a cut-and dried realization that “that’s the way it is,” and an assurance that there is a meaning to it all that will forever be out of our reach. A feeling that I am still connected to Amy–and, therefore, to a lot of people.

  9. colleen Says:

    Wow. I won’t forget this.

    I came home from a Christmas party tonight and found out that my friend Alex died today. She was an aquaintance that I started playing Scrabble with about a year and half ago after I heard she had cancer. She had been asking me to play for many years. Doctors didn’t expect her to live to last Christmas but not only did she…she went to Iceland and Greece. I played with her the at the end of October and saw her last week.

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