Sunday, April 1, 2018

She has left the room


This morning, Easter Sunday and the first of April, a dear friend died.

I first met her in the mid-'70s, she was visiting her sister in the commune that I then lived in, and I was just returning from out west, newly pregnant with my last child. I thought she was a great person but was preoccupied with severe morning sickness, new single-parentdom, and the exigencies of living in a cabin in the woods on a commune. Eventually I moved away, first to town, then to another province, and then to another coast. But I returned many years later and reconnected with her. By then she had been married, separated, and diagnosed with a host of health issues that among other things necessitated dialysis three times a week. For thirteen years she lived with that, and if you know anything about dialysis then you know that that is an extremely long time.

Our birthdates were one year less a day apart in early April. Two years ago I went to Halifax where she was then living to celebrate our birthdays together. I stayed overnight on her couch and on the first birthday we went for a fabulous Italian dinner washed down with Prosecco at a great little restaurant near her home. On the second birthday we went for a wonderful brunch at another restaurant near her place. And throughout we just hung out and talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company. I think that will always be one of the highlights of my relationship with her.

She loved good food and drink. She loved life no matter the adversity, and there was a lot of that. Since then she has been in and out of hospital, more in than out. I visited her in her various hospital rooms, frequently requiring "downing-up" since she acquired a couple of hospital-related antibiotic-resistant infections. At one point we had to wear bizarre face masks in addition to the paper gowns and latex gloves. In the end, the infection was what killed her, but her health was such that it could just as easily have been something else. She got good care in the hospital and I think she enjoyed the company, since she was fairly isolated in her little apartment in a city where she had few friends (most of her friends lived in the Valley and she had no way to get there, and we Valley people did not go to the city as often as she would have liked).

My mother died at home, we kids took care of her with assistance from the local palliative care. It was a good death as these things go, but sometimes death takes a long time and the stress of daily care and four siblings who are not used to prolonged proximity and the exigencies of taking care of a dying parent can be overwhelming. I know that the first emotion we all felt at the moment of her death was relief.

My friend died in hospital, where her basic needs were taken care of by hospital nurses and staff. The only restrictions on visitors were those in defence of her dignity and privacy, and mental and physical health needs. They were minimally invasive and took pains to keep her comfortable, I never got the sense that they were keeping her alive at any cost or that they were being insensitive toward her or her visitors. Her son left his guitar in her room so he could play it to her whenever he was there (and he was a very attentive son).

I am glad that her family had the time to gather around her at this time. I am glad to have known her, and relieved that as these things go it was a good death. A friend described it as "torturous", but I think that she herself was not tortured but at peace with her end. It was torturous for those she left.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

Sorry for your loss. The older we get, the more of that we'll see-- unless we go first. Paul's parents talked of that as they lived into their 90s and had lost so many. I don't think it ever gets easier.