Death Makes You Vomit


It’s time to make THOSE decisions. Who do I want in the room during my final moments? What do I want in the memorial?

When my brother-in-law Jerome was walking with his wife through her breast cancer death, he shared a tiny bit of the bizarreness that was created. Jerome’s belated wife, Beatrice, was a clear thinking straight shooter who knew how to call a spade a spade. She was worldly, sophisticated and down-to-earth, authentic and socially intelligent. Beatrice’s death was my first. I barely knew her. I’d been to her wedding and she to mine.  My oldest was a baby and hers were toddlers when we picnicked on the coast of Ireland together.  We shared a few family holidays.

But we weren’t close.

 

Beatrice’s death was my first. I barely knew her. I’d been to her wedding and she to mine. We’d celebrated some holidays and enjoyed amazing picnics along the Irish coast. I felt connected to her because we were raising young children fathered by young brothers and both living multinational lives. She was my age, my mirror.I was terribly awkward and naïve throughout her cancer journey and her death, a tourist on the periphery who somehow got an invite to very exclusive and intimate event.

I was terribly awkward and naïve throughout her cancer journey and her death, a tourist on the periphery who somehow got an invite to very exclusive and intimate event. The Lepeintres and the Klingsheims are a solid, wise bunch. There are core values of loyalty, of protecting those closest. Do no harm, if at all possible. Enjoy the moment life offers and leave the drama outside of the family meal space. There’s a magic in the family relationships we weave. We can use them to build shelters, refuges against the turmoil of the rest of our lives. But we can also tangle ourselves up in them, strangle ourselves. I remember (or maybe I misremember) a comment my brother-in-law Jerome made when Beatrice’s health was failing. I think I was pressuring Francois to go visit. (Francois had better sense than I). Jerome told me that Beatrice and he had talked and she didn’t want some sort of long parade of sad people at her door in the last months, trying to make a connection that hadn’t already happened.

There’s a magic in the family relationships we weave. We can use them to build shelters, refuges against the turmoil of the rest of our lives. But we can also tangle ourselves up in them, strangle ourselves.

I remember (or maybe I misremember) a comment my brother-in-law Jerome made when his wife Beatrice’s health was failing. I think I was pressuring Francois to go visit. (Francois had better sense than I). Jerome told me that Beatrice and he had talked and she didn’t want some sort of long parade of sad people at her door in the last months, trying to make a connection that hadn’t already happened.I so totally get that now. It was even rather obvious then. Who wants to spend their final months on earth surrounded by death and grief and moaning of sad people only peripherally connected to you?

My therapist pointed out that there can be great connection in these moments of vulnerability. I’m so lucky to be able to say that I have that and I expect to continue to experience that. Each one of you here offer me those rich insights into our shared humanity, a touch of love and heart. In some deeper , longer relationships, there’s some reconciliation, an aligning of perspectives, between what is being experienced/has been experienced by a person you love and what you have perceived. It rings with the truth of a tuning fork when you find those moments. You can hear the overtones of understanding.

I’m not avoiding sharing. And I’m pretty good at vulnerability. I’m just choosy about which experiences I want to invest in and expand and which experiences I’m ready to seek closure in.

We all are.

At least we should be.

Death steals all of your time, even while you are still living. It tangles my mind and weakens my body. It cements me with wet layers of horribly big heavy emotions. And that’s not even considering the physical impacts.

My mother used her every last breath and ounce of energy to try and leave her daughters in a good space. Mom wanted everyone to feel as good as possible around her. It was a loving and true gift.
But it was also horrific. She insisted on trying to make one last trip with us, her daughters, for mother’s day (or was it Memorial Day?)and spent the entire trip throwing up in the car and pasting on a smile and talking about how beautiful the area was, how gorgeous the flowers were. We were like children bringing our parents breakfast in bed, burnt toast, smeared jelly and horribly oversweet chocolate milk. She sat through our road trip rituals and smiled to show us how much we mattered, that we’d done well with our little excursion. She swayed greenly and vomited out the side of the car every 20 minutes or so. By the time we arrived at our Mother’s Day/Girls’ Weekend Getaway she’d soiled every piece of clothing she had.

So this is to my friends and family. I’m just going to tell you.  YOU DID GOOD.  You were such a support for my soul, for my life. I’ve had such a great time growing, loving and learning with you. Let’s just look for those smiles, shared experiences in pictures and memories. Let’s live like we’re going to all keep on living and not try to cram vomit trips in.

And for my loved ones who might feel pushed away… I can’t even imagine the loss. But isn’t there some quote about death waiting for no one? We’ve lived our lives together for years. We are what we are, we’ve done the best we can and it’s been amazing. But dying steals time. My brain doesn’t process quickly or correctly. My tasks are buried under mountainous emotional weight. I need more and more time and more and more space. It means I’m going to have less.

But never less love for you.

I’m not done living yet.

I’m going to live as if I’m living long enough to take it for granted, just as we’ve always done.  We’ll take each day and enjoy its gifts.  And if there was some magic moment or experience you didn’t get or couldn’t find, I have a really really great therapist I can recommend.  🙂  Seriously.

(So please don’t make me vomit, OK? 😉
And keep those cards, lunch invites and emails coming.

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Thank you. I need you.


April 2017

With my cognitive processing issues (speed, coherence, time/location disorientation, stars, happy thoughts, blue bubbles, wet dog nose interruptions and such) writing is becoming a challenge. Spontaneous napping has been my response to cognitive overload and I really do enjoy laying here on my scrumptious couch and meditating on the people around me, all of this love and wisdom and presence and connection encircling me.On really emotionally heavy days — like when I talk our daughter through her summer internship choices and remind her how my death can and will impact how each of these choices plays out — or when Francois and I have to actually pick up the phone, talk to some stranger at Sunset Hills Funeral Home about arranging a meeting to discuss my funeral arrangements, every muscle move, every micro-decision, becomes a pull against hard stale tooth shattering taffy

On really emotionally heavy days — like when I talk our daughter through her summer internship choices and remind her how my death can and will impact how each of these choices plays out — or when Francois and I have to actually pick up the phone, talk to some stranger at Sunset Hills Funeral Home about arranging a meeting to discuss my funeral arrangements, every muscle move, every micro-decision, becomes a pull against hard stale tooth shattering taffy
So there is a loving, warm pull of my own small space, my bed, my bathroom, my puppy, my lover, my soul-mates (Suzy Club!) It’s a small flicker of a candle flame cupped in my hand. I really need massive amounts of time to myself.

It’s a small flicker of a candle flame cupped in my hand. I really need massive amounts of time to myself.

I really need massive amounts of time to myself.

And at the same time, I really need you. Every small thing you do surrounds me with warmly colored emotional echos, brightly colored shadows of human forms layered against each other, a tissue paper collage of love.

The beautiful flowers from these amazing soul driven, heartful colleagues. Spring flowers always capture this moment of beauty that only a poet, I think, come close to expressing in words. I’m no poet, so I’ll just say thank you. They make me so happy.

Lately you’ve all been answering my small heart-soul requests in rather mystical ways. I really wanted a piece of jewelry to give my daughter that she would keep forever. Something unique, but young and subtle, something local and related to her passions (beauty, justice, passionate commitment, strength,…) but enduring, sturdy.
I tried looking for this on my own. I didn’t have the stamina.
I’d given up.

Then, suddenly, in a care package put together by my colleagues I discovered a pair of locally made earrings, a dance of metal in action befitting the strength of my daughter and the elegance of her womanhood. There were cards and flowers. And a check that was uncomfortably generous, but ended up filling a very precise emotional need I did not think could be helped.

My daughter works very hard and uses the resources available to her wisely. This put her in the enviable position of actually being granted every high school junior internship and acceptance to every summer science program she applied to.Some of the programs are paid. Some cost money. One of her highest preferences, of course, is an internationally recognized program…that costs money. Quite a bit of money.

Some of the programs are paid. Some cost money. One of her highest preferences, of course, is an internationally recognized program…that costs money. Quite a bit of money.

It’s part of the reality of the world and college is about learning to navigate values and resources. It’s not a big deal. We are lucky. We have access to amazing opportunities and resources.
But there is a small emotional twist with us.We could stretch hard and make the summer program she desires work. If we do stretch hard and we get her into that program, she’d be off hiking the mountains of Colorado with Physics scholars for an entire 6-weeks. For François and I, it’s a dream come true and we want to give our daughter that opportunity.

We could stretch hard and make the summer program she desires work. If we do stretch hard and we get her into that program, she’d be off hiking the mountains of Colorado with Physics scholars for an entire 6-weeks. For François and I, it’s a dream come true and we want to give our daughter that opportunity.But for her, she has to weigh her choice with a hanging judgment about her role as a daughter – Is she abandoning her family?  Burdening them in a time of need?  Her choice requires a gamble on when her mother’s going to die.  How does a 17-year old come to terms with that? How do any of us live in anticipation of a loved one’s death?

At the exact moment we had to make this tangled choice about personal interest, financial interest, parental entanglement…and death and regret… At that moment we received a check from my Bellevue College colleagues.  They’d held a fundraiser and suddenly I could tell my daughter that my colleagues had raised money to cover the summer and she only needed to worry about what she wanted for that summer. She didn’t need to worry about us.

I think we ended up in the same place. Delphine will stay in Seattle and not go to Colorado. But she’s doing so because she chooses to, whether that’s because she wants to spend summer more available for me or for other reasons, it’s her personal choice and not an effort to spare someone else.

Wiping a tiny bit of the guilt and resentment tangled up in a mother’s early death is such an amazing gift.

Thank you.

With this kind of emotional light, there are no bad days.

(But I do have to admit there are good hours and harder hours.)

THANK YOU.

 

I lost my dog.

I lost my dog.

I’d taken him with me to my appointment with my oncologist (he waited in the car during the appointment) and when I drove up into my driveway, I opened the door for him to get out of the car and then sat there for a couple of minutes, mindlessly scrolling through my inbox on my phone.

Sometimes I sit in my car while it’s parked in the driveway.    I return from some errand and I just sit there.   It’s like this pause between movements, where the conductor still has her arms raised, her baton pointed, but the music is sliding away. When I was momming, working, wife-ing and otherwise engaging with my communities fulltime, it was a stolen fermata, a space to breath alone for an indulgently long moment.  More often, nowadays, it’s a space for gathering the courage to lean against the inertia of fatigue.

So yesterday, I take my pause and I get out of the car.   Immediately I hear it.

Stillness.

There’s no wiggling, winding, grunting labrador trying to tangle himself in my legs.  No barking at unseen predators in the woods beyond out property line.   No thumping bumping sound of galloping paws on bark mulch.

I am stunned.

That dog never runs off, especially silently.   But I hadn’t put his invisible fence collar back on yet.

I call.  I yell.  I looked over the perimeter of the yard.  15-minutes and there’s no response.

I realize that I can’t really trust I’ll be able to get back up the hill to our cul-de-sac if I wander the neighborhood looking for him  And even though I know he’s a sweetie, he’s a big, dark furry presence who gets excited by other people’s fear and he can drum up quite the barking storm.  He could definitely scare a neighbor.

What if he gets hit by a car?!

So I send out an email to our neighborhood list.  Within minutes I have neighbors responding online that they’ll go out looking for him. While they search I sit there helplessly at the front door.

All sorts of conspiracy theories are building in my imagination.  He was stolen!  Dog-napped!  Someone is getting revenge for his barking!

It’s been a surreal morning.  I’m tired enough now that I have to make some real choices about work.     But working in this position is really great.  If I let go of this job, I’ll probably never get it back.

My feelings are so tightly twisted and tangled.  They feel like a huge, hard, growing mass pressing against my stomach and lungs, pushing out against my lower back.

Not knowing what is happening causes me to imagine all kinds of horrible things.   So I realized I really need to know the answers, even if I’m afraid to hear them.  It was a morning for answers I had already heard, but needed to digest again.  I needed my oncologist to tell me again.

Yes.  It’s very likely I will die by the end of June.  Yes.  We are trying very hard change that.  Yes, there’s always hope.  No, realistically, there’s not a high probability that we’ll get much more out of this body.

I’m relieved.  I like having a plan.

And I’m suffocating.

So I make air.  I blabber at the doctor about painkillers and politics, not even making sense to myself.

And the dog has been stolen.  I call my husband.  I’m the distressed wife needing his rescue.

“You have to come home!  Fudge is missing!”

Maybe he’s been poisoned.

You can feel it in the silence.

Fudge is gone.

I can’t even remember if his tags were well attached to his collar.

A neighbor walking her dog makes her way up the driveway.  She’s one of the people who reached out and offered to help go look for Fudge.

As she passes my minivan parked in the driveway, we hear it, his thumping and bumping.  His bark.

Eagerly, patiently, quietly waiting for me to let him out.

 

Thank You

There is definitely some humor in recreating the dining room scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.  Watching Francois spin in circles as he looked for a receptacle, any receptacle, to catch what I had motioned to him was coming, definitely amped it up.  But the problem with this spontaneous restaurant vomiting episode (and no, no other customers were harmed in the making of this scene.  We were the last clients at the Sleeping Lady Resort’s Kingfisher Dining Hall.), the problem with this episode is that it was clearly about my liver getting so large there was no room for my stomach, or more specifically, those last two Tablespoons of Chamomile tea I sipped down.  And then slupped up.

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My 80-year old aunt visited this weekend from Lancaster, PA.    We visited the Chihuly Glass Museum in Seattle and ate at Collectibles restaurant.  We visited Pike’s Market and hosted a crabfest with my nearest and dearest.  We even ventured on a walk into the wooded, hilly, park in our backyard.  Hanging out with Aunt Shirley is always a treat.  She’s the aunt who wrote me hundreds of letters while I was traveling in college.  When I was a middle-schooler, she sent me the very best books to read from her lovely bookstore.  She married into the 50’s culture and joined my mother in helping to ensure her children, nieces, and nephews marched towards the 21st century.

Hanging out with Aunt Shirley for three days was my exact energy match.  I’m 80 years old now.

Except I’m not.  It turns out her heart was failing while she was here.  They had an emergency procedure to put in a pacemaker the day after she returned to Lancaster.  Ha ha.  So I’m an equal match to my 80-year old aunt in the middle of heart failure.

There’s something comical in that!

I misjudge how weak I’m getting.  I think it’s because my lovely family and friends make me feel so alive and present.   Francois, Serena, Ramona, Medora, Janis, Breck, and from down in Eugene, Kaylea, my core group, the ones who are there supporting me so often I don’t even notice I’m being supported.  They ones who create a family holiday, with hearty laughter and just enough kid chaos, out of any weekend dinner.   The ones who send a text cartoon, a hello-how-are-ya, without really needing a response.   And let me have a weekend off completely from socializing when I need it, too.

And it was all so easy.  The generosity of my aunt, and my cousins for supporting her in this, let me finish a few edges of chaos that still hung around the corners of my life, layers of mess created by years of overextending and quite a bit of willful neglect.  Now, after fixing all the broken and worn out spaces in my home,  I had my house and garden cleaned!   (It’s amazing how much easier it is to have visits when you don’t have to be afraid of what the kids might step into, outside — or what the guests might find in the kids’ bathroom…)

Francois and I just came back from a mid-week trip to Sleeping Lady Resort.  The trip was made possible by Breck and Ramona, who came to live at our house with our kids while we were gone, and Jana and Dave Gordon, who’ve become my neighborhood backup family for Paul.

Maintaining intimacy in a marriage over 25 years is hard.  Then add kids.  Then add cancer.  Then add terminal cancer.  It takes some mindful intention to create spaces long and nurturing enough for the kind of unfolding we have to do.

It’s been a lovely week of soft, messy cotton sheets and sunlight gardens.

And very small sips of tea.

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