Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One Hell of a Woman

She looked like a waxen doll, curled up in the big, padded recliner that had been her nest for many days and weeks over the past seven years. Her hands were cold; her wavy, short-cropped hair (her seventh "new look" post-chemo) lay softly on her forehead. Her eyes were closed and she was clearly not present. There was peace on her face at last; her body was no longer a source of pain.

I sat for awhile in the bright sunlight with her husband, her son and her daughter, and talked and wept about her last days. After fighting the breast cancer for many long years, always ready to try another clinical trial, always determined to beat the beast, my friend Sue Morrow Flanagan died just after dawn this morning in her home on Whidbey Island.

We did not expect it to be now; we thought we had more time. But cancer had its own timetable and, after the effort to pick up a small dog broke her arm, the end came quickly and without more pain. Her daughter was with her when she took her last breath. Her son was also at home and her husband had been by her side constantly. I came as soon as I knew.

I remember our last visit. The oncologist had just delivered the news a day or so earlier that the most time she had was 6 months or less. She was her normal sparky self, bright-eyed as always, not really ready to go but willing to learn another interesting thing, whatever death might bring.

No more pain, Sue. No more emergency trips on the ferry to the ER. No more upsetting new symptoms. No more worries about family members and how they're dealing with it. Your concern was always for others, not yourself, though you fought the cancer with every fiber of your being. You are and have always been one hell of a woman.

I married you and Tom a few years ago, just before you had to go in for yet another chemo and wanted to be married with your own hair and in your wedding gown. I helped you say goodbye to your little dog when he died last year. I will memorialize your life in a few days. May your new journey be one of peace.

UPDATE: As it turns out, since I will be out of town for several days, the ceremonial goodbyes will be offered in my absence. I feel a little sad about that but also glad that I was able to spend part of today with the family and to say goodbye to Sue. And I'm glad that my absence will not mean that they have to wait till I return.


LinguistFriend said...

I have one woman friend whose medical situation is similar to what you describe. I have looked around for some minister with personal gifts comparable to yours for helping her through the last period of her life. It isn't easy to find the right person, and it looks like the choice won't be UU, if it works at all in the sense of her accepting the human pastoral connection. At this point, of course, theological preference is not the issue (unless it is indeed part of what is needed), but human perceptiveness and skills. In that respect, Sue Morrow Flanagan no doubt was lucky to have your help. At such times, I wish that I knew more about praying. Some of my friends think that prayer is not worthy of a sentient human; I suspect that they have not spent enough time with the dying.

ms. kitty said...

I hope you find the right person, LF. It doesn't have to be someone with the perfect words, just someone who is willing to be there, to be present, and share the time. A compassionate friend is more important at such a time than the most eloquent preacher. It could even be you.

Miss Kitty said...

Ohhhh, Ms. K...I'm SO sorry to hear about your friend's passing. You and the family are in my thoughts and prayers. The special time you were able to spend with them at the end is so touching, so moving.


ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Miss K.