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BIG BAG OF SADNESS
6 August, 2011
As many of you may know, my sister died in 1971. It was a difficult time. I was pregnant with David. She was shot in the head and I remember at the time that our biggest worry was whether or not she would recover the fine motor control of her hands, since she had been a photographer.
I remember the doctor hemming and hawing, knowing full well she would never wake up again, but trying not to dampen our hopes.
She lay in a coma for 7 weeks. It's an unreal time when something like that happens. Your life goes on hold. The reports flicker in daily -- her eyelids fluttered today ... I think she tried to squeeze my hands ... grasping at any straw that would give us hope that she might wake up.
My mother didn't want me to see her, because of my being pregnant, so I never did.
I still remember the Sunday when Walt and I took the kids to Tilden Park in Berkeley. They were all excited about riding the train in the park and I guess it was while they were on the train that I called my mother for the morning's report.
"They say she has an infection. Her temperature was 108 today," she said. After we ended the conversation, I beat the pay phone with the receiver. How can anybody live with a temperature of 108? How much longer could she go on?
She died that night and over the following weeks life slowly went back to the "new normal," the normal that replaces the old normal after someone you love dies.
I haven't talked about what is going on around here since we first knew about it probably a year ago now. I didn't want to mention it because it seemed unfair to all concerned. But the e-mail the family received yesterday made me change my mind and break the rule that "what happens at Cousins Day stays at Cousins Day."
At one of our Cousins Days last year, Kathy, who has been suffering from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) for a very long time, announced that her doctor had informed her that she was in the end stage of the disease, which meant that all treatments had been exhausted. As she explained it, she might live another couple of years, or she might die in the next few weeks. Nobody could predict anything other than that there was no more they could do to help her, other than to make her as comfortable as possible.
She said that she didn't want this to become the "elephant in the room." She wanted to be able to talk about it. And so we did. We talked about it, we even joked about it. It made it all more comfortable for all of us to face, especially Kathy.
Kathy is a fighter. As her daughter's e-mail said yesterday, "Kathy has a very strong willed nature of her personality. All along, she has refused to believe that this disease was a death sentence for her. Up until about six weeks ago, she was saying she still didnt think she even needed to be on hospice."
But in February of this year, she went on the hospice program. We also agreed that she no longer had the strength to make the trip to my mother's for Cousins Day. That's why we had a smaller, shorter Cousins Day at her house a couple of months ago. It was sad to see a wheelchair parked in the carport when we arrived, but Kath looked good. She walked on her own and played 3 games of 65, which, by the end had zapped her strength. We had high tea that day and had such a good time, and lots of laughs. At the end of the day she told us that she didn't think she would live until Christmas. The elephant in the room was becoming more real.
Since then all the reports have been increasingly negative. The last report Peach gave was that they had moved her into a hospital bed in the living room and that she was sleeping a lot.
Her daughter's e-mail continued, "Her condition is now changing and the dramatic shift in her health and behavior over the last two weeks has been a reality check for all of us....We are continuing to work with the hospice team to make Kathy as comfortable as possible. She is beginning to have more intense moments of agitation, confusion, and lack of short term memory. We have hopefully adjusted the medications to minimize the anxiety and fear these moments can cause."
I feel the way I did in 1971 when Karen was dying. I feel as if my life is on hold, as if I'm going through day to day activities in a fog, and as if I have a big bag of sadness hanging like an albatross around my neck. We went to Camelot the other night, at the theater for which Kathy worked for many years, and I found myself fighting tears throughout the show. I was certain that I would come home to find a message that she was gone.
I didn't. But whenever the phone rings you wonder if this is "the call." I wrote a letter to her last night. How do you write a good bye letter to someone you love who is dying? I tried to concentrate on the wonder of Cousins Days and the laughs we had, and to let her know how much I loved her. What else can anyone do?
I'm glad that she has her immediate family around her. She stressed over and over to Peach and me how wonderful her husband was being. She asked us to be sure and let him know that after she was gone.
It's a surreal time and so much worse for those who are actually with her. I'm just sitting here jumping whenever the phone rings.
I love that lady and I hope that she slips into a peaceful sleep and leaves the earth in a manner she so richly deserves.
There's going to be a gala reunion in Heaven soon,
but we will miss her terribly.
PHOTO OF THE DAY