Thursday, November 22, 2007

Love in a Time of Loss

Right now a woman is lying in a nursing home not far from my home, asleep and unaware.

She is my friend, and she is dying. A few months ago she stopped taking the chemotherapy that was turning her skin into on huge painful blister. It was the fourth round of chemo and was only intended to postpone the inevitable. Four month without more chemo, they said, and that seemed like such a long time. But that was three months ago.

Last week Janae and I planned Thanksgiving dinner. She was bringing yams with pineapple and pecans and marshmallows on top. I told her we'd give her a ride if she didn't want to drive. No problem, she said. It was Wednesday last week, nearly a lifetime ago.

Friday I got a call that she was in the hospital. Saturday morning I opened the door to room 622 on the Oncology Wing expecting to see my Janae sitting up, commanding the nursing staff from her bed. Instead I found her tiny and gray, curled under the blankets, sleeping so deep it seemed she was in another world. When she finally woke, she told me where to find her will. How to call a friend in another city. Who should get her pearl jewelry. She fell back asleep every few words and I had to wake her to finish each sentence.

Is it drugs? I asked the nurse. She shook her head.

You know the head shake. The one that comes with the tight smile and the set facial muscles. You see it all the time on television medical dramas just before the words "I'm afraid the news is bad."

The news is bad. The disease that has eaten her kidneys and swollen her liver so big it has pushed her stomach out of place has found its way into her brain.

Amazing things have a way of happening when life is short. Old friends find their way to the hospital bed. Estranged family members remember the love and fly into town. Good people find time to visit someone they never met for love of a friend. Through it all, flurries of emotion and care-taking erupt and subside all around while Janae sleeps at the eye of the storm.

Everything has been done that can be. All the phone calls have been made. The lost children have been found. We are all watching Janae together now, holding her in our hearts while starting to let go, praying her passing will be easy and peaceful.

Today I will spend Thanksgiving with my husband and sons and a pretty girl named Kait who will find it difficult to make it through dinner without holding my younger son's hand. Janae will not be with us.

Instead she will be three miles away, hard about the business of dying. It isn't easy to watch. Janae's body has more life in it than most. I fear that it won't let go without a hard fight. But in the end, the body will give way. It always does.

Janae's faith instructs that when her soul leaves her body it will be rejoined with the Inner Master and then will find its way into another life, one that will be better for the hard lessons learned while ensouled in Janae. I hope she's right. I hope that her soul's next life will be as part of a large, close, loving family. Maybe my soul's next life can be a next door neighbor.

Sometime tomorrow morning I will drive to the nursing home. I will sit beside the narrow bed by the window in Room 29, holding Janae's hand and telling her stories of Thanksgiving day. I'll bring some bit of stitchery to show her in case she opens her eyes. I'll tell her to hang on a few more hours, long enough for her daughter to arrive with Janae's newborn first grandchild.

I will leave her then to her sleep, to the kindness of Hospice caregivers, to the hard business of cutting the cords that hold her to this life so she can fly to the next.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Internal Rumors

When I finally felt well enough to wander downstairs to my sewing
room this week, I discovered that while I was sick my sewing machine had
developed a glitch. After two days of trying to resolve the problem I
gave up and toted the thing to the local sewing machine
dealership/repair shop.

The proprietor of the shop is not known for
her people skills. While I explained the problem she stood well inside
my personal space comfort zone, looking straight into my eyes while I
talked. She looked briefly to my machine and when she looked back at me I thought I saw the eyes of my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Humber, who has been the subject
of one or two complete therapy sessions.

'Is your machine threaded now?' she asked, a bit on the shrill
side.Yes, I told her.

'Did you know that the thread isn't in the tension hook?' Still
staring at me, nearly nose to nose.

I told her I knew quite well that the thread was out of the tension hook -- a total lie. But I was channeling my own fourth-grade self and feeling vulnerable.

'Well have you forgotten how to thread your sewing machine?' The question
was so rude and so out of line and her eyes were so unblinking and I
said 'Oh come on' the way people do now.

But I blinked. And she didn't.

In that horrible instant standing there in the gaze of a
woman who owns a small sewing machine dealership in a small town in an
underpopulated state, I was judged and found stupid. We both knew in that instant that maybe, just maybe, I had forgotten how to thread my machine.

I forget a lot of things. It's not the 'now where did I put the keys' sort of thing. My forgetting is a bit more functional. You see, the autoimmune disease that catapulted me into the ranks of the chronic has affected my cognitive abilities. I know this for a fact because in order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits I had to take a psych test. The man who gave me the test stopped me at one
point when I was desperately trying to remember if the cocker spaniel
dog with the Frisbee in its mouth was sitting with Grandpa earlier or
if it was in the car with Bobby. The doctor patted my hand, handed me
a cup of cold water and suggested I take a break. When I came back
from the break he had put away the testing materials and ushered me to
the door telling me he didn't think I needed to worry, that my
application should go through with no problems.

Now, on one hand, that's what I wanted. On the other hand, I did not
want to be told that I was a card short of a deck. Or maybe two.

Because I have good friends who are chronic, I know that a lot of us face the two-edged sword of being incompetent enough to qualify for disability but being so incompetent that you forget to take your meds. And go to appointments. And to pay bills.

The list goes on, but it becomes more personal and embarrassing.

People who don't know me well enough to know that I have this disease tend to write me off as a bit dotty or maybe even slow. That hurts. If I try to sound intelligent and on top of things, in the same place as everybody else, it just gets worse. I forget words at approximately the same rate as i try to think of them. Pretty disasterous if you're trying for witty repartee.

Learning to live with pain and loss of career and freedom has been hard, but nowhere near as hard as learning to bury my pride and live with the constant little 'slings and arrows' of unspoken insult.

I intend to ask my husband to collect my sewing machine without me. I'm thinking the propriator might be right. Maybe I forgot to push the thread through the tension hook. Or maybe my machine has a real problem. Either way I don't intend to submit myself to the judgmental glare of Mrs. Humber ever again.

And that's one promise to myself I don't think I'll forget.