May 19. Remembering four years ago. May 18 was the 18th birthday of Mark, son of my ex (married 1982, separated 1990, divorced 1992) and I. I flew back to Falls Church for the event, and found that perhaps she'd misled me a bit. I knew she'd been diagnosed with cancer in January. Had seen her once since then. As I was leaving she talked of the bone pains and I, worried, kissed her for the first time in a dozen years. On the phone and in email she'd said it was no worry, the chemo was taking care of it.
I flew in and came to the house on May 18, and found her in bed on oxygen. Maybe there's something I don't know? I lifted her to the wheelchair and took her to the table so she could be at Mark's birthday cake cutting. She had trouble talking, could barely whisper. Mind you, she was age 52.
On May 19, I showed up at the house for breakfast. And saw an ambulance there. As they wheeled her across the lawn she make the "OK sign" with her fingers.
It wasn't OK. She'd never see that house again. I had a day or two to talk to her. As a friend later remarked, our bodies have enormous overcapacity. You can function with no symptoms on 10% of liver capacity, or with your heart arteries 90% occuluded. But you need ALL of what is left. Once a certain threshold is passed, a person rapidly goes from functional to dead. The tumors were sealing off her blood vessels and, more vitally, her trachea. That was the reason for the oxygen. She'd reached the point where she could function, on 100% O2, and was now passing that.
I'd known here since, oh 1979, shared secrets and a life and a child and for years love. Buried her father in '85, my best friend. That night I was racing around to find her a milkshake when she signaled that her mouth was dry and the nurses said she could have a semisolid.
That night they only allowed two visitors, and her mother and cousin were in most of the time. When I same in at the end, as visiting hours closed, I took her hand and she opened her eyelids and her eyes rolled up. While getting the car, I called her church, got the medical hotline, and reported they had a parishioner dying at the hospital. Fran was a VERY devout Catholic, and I'd been trained in the old school -- get a priest, now! After we got everybody home, her cousin said that she'd been heavily sedated for a CAT scan. I called the church to say it was a false alarm.
It wasn't. She was dying. But an eager-beaver young priest was on duty (he'd been a Justice Dept attorney, curiously, I was later to find out). He got my voicemail and without waiting to reply leaped into the car and raced to the hospital. She was conscious and coherent enough to know who he was --she made the sign of the cross as he entered, and he gave her absolution, the viaticum, the last rites.
I haven't any idea whether that makes a difference in the end. I hope so. In any event, she would have firmly believed that it did, and that if she went out the next step was heaven, and that belief is sufficient for me.
Reckon when you say you have someone's back, you have their back, and nevermind a decade of fighting thereafter.