On February 13, 1998 a friend and co-worker passed on to wherever we go after this life after a 16 month battle with lung cancer.
One day, she had found a lump on her neck. She went to her family doctor and he immediately knew something was wrong. Her bottom line was that she had cancer all through her body, so much so that it took almost two months to trace back where the cancer had originated. By then it was almost Christmastime, and she started treatment. From the first she knew the cancer was terminal but the hope was to prolong her life.
She was a talented craftsperson and spent her first Christmas with cancer making the homemade gifts she loved to make, including for her teenaged grandson and her co-workers: and that Christmas we got the final homemade ornaments she made for us every year.
By that first February after her diagnosis she was no longer able to work.
Sometime that summer, she called me at work and invited me to a picnic lunch. She drove down to her former office, picked me up, and took me to a local park, where she unpacked a lovely picnic set, complete with tiny salt and pepper shakers. She was having a good day. We had a lovely lunch. She said she did not feel sorry for herself, that although she had quit smoking years ago the diagnosis did not come as a shock because of what her husband and she had loved to do-restore old homes. During this work, she had been exposed to asbestos.
She lived in an old Victorian home in the Town of Maine, which they had restored.
At the time we picnicked, our office was literally fallling apart. Due to mismanagement, people were leaving. As summer passed into fall, the last three of us from before this regional manager was hired quit.
One of us got another job right away. The other two of us, along with our former office manager (another victim of the mismanagement), decided we would visit our former co-worker and have lunch with her every week. We did for several weeks, but she was getting weaker and weaker and we stopped-although we kept in touch with her husband.
Her second Christmas was not filled with homemade gifts. Instead, we went to her house (it was the first time I had been there) where her husband gave us a tour. She tried to show us around but had to quit when she couldn't catch her breath.
She was under hospice care.
In January she and her husband were watching the Winter Olympics ice skating. She had fallen asleep on the couch but when he tried to wake her, she would not rouse. He called Hospice, they came over. She had suffered a stroke.
She never regained consciousness.
The Tuesday before she died, the three of us visited her bedside. She lay on a bed in the living room, a radio nearby softly playing the country music she loved. A morphine pump dulled her pain. Her husband told us that although it seemed like she was in a coma, that she did have some awareness. If we wanted to, we could talk to her and she probably would understand, but would not be able to respond.
What do you say? What can you say? I spoke to her for a couple of minutes and said goodbye to her. I squeezed her hand.
I would love to imagine that she tried to squeeze it back.
On Saturday I got "the" phone call. My husband was at work. My son was going to a birthday party in a couple of hours and I did not want him to know I was crying. I vacuumed the floor, silent tears running down my face.
I still think of her every Valentine's Day. Her husband and her loved each other deeply. I think she always expected him to "go" first but that was not to be. The three of us kept in some touch with her husband but finally, as these things go many times, we drifted apart.
Her grandson would be almost 30 now. I had heard he went through some rough times after she died, and I hope he straightened out his life.
At the funeral home, photos of her family and her artwork were placed near her coffin. At the church service, the family invited the three of us to go to the graveside with them, as if we were family. We declined as we felt the family should be together.
In the flood of 2006, I lost almost all of the homemade ornaments she had made for me.
I still think of her when we drive through the Town of Maine.