Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In Memory of Megan

Megan Belia died this week. We hoped she'd have a little longer, but nope.
So now we tell the stories.
A few years ago as we first got to know each other, Megan and I realized that we both knew Malvina Reynolds in the 1970s. Megan did the artwork for one of Malvina's album covers.
Megan and her family lived in Montana then, and gave Malvina a place to stay when she came up to Montana to perform.
The leader of the local John Birch Society where she was playing knew about Malvina's political beliefs. She was open about that. She was a socialist. Yup, a real one who had read all the books and grown up in what came to be known in this country as the Old Left. The John Birch guy was outraged that she was coming to sing her songs. Shot off his mouth about how awful she was to anyone who'd listen, apparently.
The night of the show this stalwart defender of capitalism showed up, and someone pointed him out to Malvina, who walked toward him with a smile and her hand extended in a friendly greeting.
“He jumped over two rows of chairs to get away from her,” Megan said. “He was terrified of her.” The power of a little old lady with white hair and a guitar is more than you'd imagine, apparently. Something to think about.
After her marriage ended Megan became a nurse practitioner whose specialty was obstetrics and gynecology. By the time she came to Vashon to be close to family a few years ago, she had retired on disability. She lived quietly in a small apartment with her service dog, Charlie. Charlie was a crested Chinese hairless that she had rescued, and Megan said that she and Charlie supported one another mutually. Having him with her enabled her to go out in public and be around people. Her doctor certified Charlie as a service dog.
Megan became involved at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit and did a lot of volunteer work, in the community, at the nursing home, and through the church. She became a lay pastoral counselor. No matter how crappy her own life or health was, she'd call you up and say, “How are you?” and really want to know.
She had Charlie with her one day when I went to meet another friend at a restaurant, which I shall not name. It's not even there anymore.
Megan and Charlie joined my friend and me at our table, and we were having a nice visit when the waiter came up and told Megan that she and her dog would have to leave. She explained that Charlie was a service dog, and she refused to leave.
Well, that's when the stuff hit the fan. The restaurant manager who was there had a fit and fell in it. He came to the table and spoke angrily to us, ordering us out. Megan tried to explain that service dogs were allowed to be in restaurants. I tried to explain that Charlie was legally the same as a seeing eye dog. He threatened that he would call the sheriff and have us arrested.
Megan said calmly, “Well, I guess today's the day I go to jail.”
No law enforcement officers ever arrived. If they were indeed called perhaps they understood better than the manager that Megan was right, and had the law on her side. Not only are service animals allowed in restaurants, all that restaurant personnel are legally allowed to ask is, “Is this a service animal?” If the answer is yes, they are legally obliged to bugger off and leave the animal and disabled person unmolested. They cannot ask for proof of the animal's status. They cannot throw the animal or its owner out. It's a law created to prevent the harassment of disabled people, the kind of harassment we experienced that day, or worse.
That was my great adventure with Megan. I wrote about it in the Loop at the time. I didn't use her name, but the people who knew her knew who I was talking about. The last time I saw her she told me it was one of the most traumatic events of her life.
That is why there is a law against harassing people with service animals. A disabled person who needs a service animal to function in the world has enough trouble, without being treated like a criminal.
She told me soon after going into hospice care, “Once in a while I'm angry with the cards I've been dealt. I have to say good-bye to people I love. That leaves the pain issue, and the breathing, which are being taken care of by medication here in the hospice. I'm not in pain. I'm not afraid to die.”
Which brought to mind one of Malvina Reynolds' songs. I went to the hospice and sang it for Megan and some of the other residents a couple of weeks ago:
“Baby, I ain't afraid to die, it's just that I hate to say good-bye
To this world, this world, this world.
This old world is mean and cruel. Still I love it like a fool,
This world, this world, this world.” - This World, © Malvina Reynolds
Rest in peace, Megan.


S. K. said...

What a lovely column, and how lovely that you got to sing for her before she left.

Irène said...

Beautiful story, sad ending (life's that way, isnt'it?!), and S.K.'s comment's perfect. Thank you, Mary, for your time to share it with us!