When I was 8 I saw the movie The Sound of Music and fell in love. It has always been my favorite movie. Perhaps it was because my uncle, a Catholic Priest, took me to see it. In a working class family of 7 there wasn’t a lot of money for extras or special attention. My uncle, Fr. John, doted on us, on all of his nieces and nephews really, and would treat us to ice cream or the circus or movies. He was always trying to connect people with each other, the original networker. Perhaps it was the price he paid for essentially a solitary life as a priest. I will always think of him puttering around his beach house next door to our cottage, dressed in an old gray sweatshirt and a bathing suit, chomping on a fat cigar, a glass of scotch nearby, the Red Sox on the radio. He passed away several weeks after I was first diagnosed, probably best that way so he wouldn’t suffer a broken heart on top of everything else.
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find the word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!
Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay and listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb!
She’d out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest
She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle! She is wild! She’s a riddle! She’s a child!
She’s a headache! She’s an angel! She’s a girl!
As a child I loved her deeply but knew early that something wasn’t right. She tried so hard in school but couldn’t sit still, barely able to sit in a chair. When other kids listened, she talked. And she was so frustrated. I knew she was bright but unable to harness it. She balked at reading and could barely add numbers. In second grade the teacher asked the class to draw a mobile as a book report. Suddenly I saw what I had been missing. She had real skill and a sense of color and lay out that was advanced. She couldn’t read the story but she could draw it. I began to notice her creativity and outside the box thinking, in between calls from the Principal like the time she leapt across the cafeteria table and tried to bite her sister. Off to the neuropsychologist we went. Yup, her intelligence was off the charts but she had severe ADHD and learning disabilities in reading, math and communication. I loved her more fiercely as her self-esteem plummeted and we embarked on the long adventure of our life. I even got a job at her high school to be nearer her and I nudged her forward in art studies which she excelled at.
She could sew and draw and create things with her hands that no one else could. With the love and guidance of her high school art teacher she won many awards for her work and I was determined that she was going to go to college even if I had to go with her, which I sort of did.
Her senior year of college she spent a month in San Francisco working at a homeless mission as part of a community service elective. It defined her in so many ways-building her confidence and independence while developing her love of helping others. I flew out at the end and we roamed all over the city photographing murals by Diego Riviera for a final art paper. One day a young woman pushing a stroller approached us on the street and asked for money. As I dug around my bag I heard Bridget tell the woman she would not give her money but would give her directions to a shelter nearby where she could get diapers and formula for her baby. I think my jaw dropped.
And so she graduated, on time, with a degree in art. Shortly afterward she found a job at the New England Center for Children on a residential unit for older autistic girls and began training as an ABA therapist. She also worked at McLean Hospital on the adolescent OCD unit like her father and I did when we first met. Finally, it came full circle when she returned to work with me at my high school. The child was now the co-worker.
She is hard-wired to love deeply but isn’t always able to express it. People love to listen to us bicker and argue over everything and anything and she loved my parents beyond belief. They adored her too. The day I had to pick her up on the side of the road when she was out walking and tell her my dad had suddenly passed away was one of the most horrific moments of my life, and believe me, I have had plenty. I’ve never heard her sound so hurt, so devastated. Yet she was the first to sit with my mother and hold her hand and console her. You would want her in your life boat.
Unlike her sister she lives in the moment and doesn’t worry about tomorrow. While Kelsey frets about the future, Bridget lives in the present. When I was in the ICU, Bridget covered the walls with pictures of me. She didn’t want the doctors and nurses to lose sight of who I was and how loved I was. While Kelsey, as a nurse, is immersed in the medical side of MBC, Bridget is the fund-raiser and cheerleader. She throws herself into all kinds of stuff for Metavivor and Bootys for the Battle and has appeared on the news with me. She leaps without looking and if she has an opinion, you will know it. Don’t let her drive your car, she has totaled two!
She is still best friends with her gang from childhood. She is loyal to a fault. She is not defined by a boyfriend, preferring her independence. She nicknamed her Dad, the ATM. When she is in a room it is hard to pay attention to anyone else. She is loud and funny and beautiful. While Kelsey calls home daily, Bridget snap chats. Where she goes next is anyone’s guess but I know she won’t be going alone. I would never leave her. After all, how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
Till next time,