Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gentle into that good night

On Saturday, I am going to Vermont for the first time.

I'm going to Vermont for the first time in order to say goodbye for the last time.

To say goodbye for the last time to someone I love dearly, to someone I have known and loved my entire life: Maude's mom, whose name is Lou.

In October Lou began losing words, and she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma - an aggressive, malignant brain tumor. Very quickly, they operated. They determined chemo would do nothing. She decided against radiation, as it would take away as much time as it would give.

The prognosis was six months.

I know that this is more notice than many people have, and I know that she has lived a long and full life.  I know that children, innocent little children who have barely begun to live, sometimes die.

I know this.

I also know now that I am one of those people who would pull the switch and let three innocent people be run over by a train if it meant saving one person in particular.

Or however that ethics question goes.

Because I do not know how you prepare to lose someone you love so very much. Someone who is smart and funny and sparkly and kind and generous and has spent decades upon decades running around doing good in the world.

Do you? If so, please share.

In my experience, even when you know that Death is on the horizon, gliding steadily and inexorably forward, it is impossible to steel yourself for loss.

You all know my friend Maude - born a month before me, also in India. Her mom is Lou - Auntie Lou to me, in the Indian tradition. And really, growing up their family was always family to me. I had two dolls named Chandigarh, after the city they lived in. My mom was at their house for the birth of Maude's younger brother, Adam.

Maude says her mom and my dad engineered our friendship, and I believe she is right, and I will forever be grateful to them for doing so.

My dad inserted Maude into my childhood bedtime stories, even when we lived continents apart. And when I was 15 he told me Maude really wanted to join us on our family beach vacation, which I thought was weird, since we hadn't seen each other since we were kids, but OK. Turns out Lou told Maude I'd been begging for her to come to the beach, and she thought it equally odd, but OK. She was game.

We figured this out years later, when we were best, best friends.

My parents and Lou met in Afghanistan in the Peace Corps in 1964. My mom and Lou have been dearest friends for 50 years.

Fifty years.

Betty didn't quite trust her at first, because she was so beautiful, and so all-the-time nice. She didn't swear, she didn't say anything bad about anyone, she wasn't judgey. If someone were ill, she'd make chicken soup and get on her bike and pedal across the pass that divided Kabul to take it to their house.

Was anyone actually that nice?

Yes, in fact. A nurse-midwife, she cares about people - about humanity - in a way that most people, myself included, do not.

(And in fact, the only people I think I've ever heard her say anything negative about are Duke basketball players and the Taliban and politicians like Dick Cheney. And even then, she uses words like "thugs," rather than my unsavory choice, "douchebag asshole fucks.")

Betty went up a week ago, and Lou told her she'd had more words and slept less the week before. She was doing even better the week prior to that. In other words, there's a marked difference week to week. She sleeps more and more.

Someone you love most in the world drifts farther and farther away as they sit right next to you. And there's nothing you can do.

Your inclination is to pull them to you, to wrap them in a protective embrace, and shield them from harm. While you kick, and scream, and fight for them. Keep them here with us.

But in the case of a swift and fatal brain tumor, who do you fight? Who do you scream at? Where to aim your clawing and your kicks?

It's not fair (ah, fair, my friend fairness!). There are so many truly evil people in the world. Or even just bad. Or ordinary. Non-sparkly. Why are they fine?

When Betty got back from Vermont, she drifted in the front door, wan and limp. You could see she was shattered, barely holding it together. A strong breeze could've sent her into pieces.

How do you say goodbye, knowing it is for the last time, to your dear friend of 50 years? How do you say goodbye forever to someone who is part of your heart?

I know Lou doesn't want to go, she isn't ready. She has so much to do, so much love in her life, such a great family. Her youngest grandchild, Iris, only 15 months old, deserves to know her lovely Grandma Lou.

And yet, even now, even in this, Lou is sweet, and she is graceful. Ever kind. 

Dear Lou, she is so tired. She eats a lot of ice cream, and she sleeps more and more.

We are devastated. We are furious.  Where's the goddamn world train switch? We who will be left, we rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Time. We all want more time with the ones we love the most. It's all we want.

Is that so much to ask?

22 comments:

  1. My heart goes out to your family - you, Betty and Maude especially. There is no greater loss than a loved one and a life beautifully and genuinely lived as your Auntie Lou has lived. You'll carry her in your heart and mind and it's not the same as her physical presence but you don't need to say good-bye to that part of your soul and childhood where she remains. You've written of your friendship with Maude before and I'm so glad you have each other as friends, family. Hold each other tight, tell stories or just sit together. Hugs to you, Lisa and safe travels to Vermont.

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    1. You are so right, Heather. Those we love stay in our hearts, minds, soul. I just don't want to say goodbye. But I will also get to see Maude and her daughter this weekend, and I'm so glad for that. Hugs and love to you.

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  2. Oh Lisa, I'm so, so sorry. Glad you get to go and see her though. Big hugs.

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    1. Thank you, Laura. Big hugs to you.

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  3. This made me cry. I'm so, so sorry. Love to you and Maude and Lou and everyone.

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    1. Love to you, Wendy. Glad I get to see you in a few months - not that long now.

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  4. Lisa, I have started this comment ten times. Nothing comes out right. I want to copy everything HK said. I wish I could answer even one question for you, for myself, for every grieving friend, parent, child. I wish we knew. Hard enough to grieve but watching your mother and your dearest friend. The hardest of heartaches. I send you all hugs as you journey through this. I'll be thinking of you and Betty and Maude. Much Love, Lynn

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    1. Love and hugs to you, Lynn. I know - I wish any of us could answer those questions, for ourselves and for others.

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  5. Well, its just really beyond horrible. I am so sorry for you, Betty, and of course Lou and her whole family. If its appropriate please do tell Lou, when you see her, that a story about her comes up frequently in my therapy sessions with clients who are trying to change a behavior. I tell them about someone I know who long ago told me and my mother how when she quit smoking way back when (I think this was even before we knew them in Cairo), that she just allowed herself to scream and cry she missed those cigs so much. When I finally quit, many years later, it was that story that helped me make it through. I screamed and cried, too...and then finally got over it. Love to Lou and her family, and to you, of course xx

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    1. Kris, this is a good lesson - allow ourselves to scream and cry and really live through it. Love to you.

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  6. Lou sounds like a woman I would want to hug and get to know - hates all my favorite types Duke, the Taliban and Cheney. I know the train you want to fiercely to stop well, lost my extraordinary grandfather to Alzheimers, he lived a "to be made in Hollywood" life. The knowing its near is the worst, but when you and yours celebrate her life you will laugh and cry happy tears too along with the angry, WHY, and the it's not fair ones as you recall all the amazing, happy stories of her and there you'll make some happy memories in those moments too, not that it wont negate the hurt and anguish. Sending lots of hug and so, so, sorry for you and your family's loss.

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    1. You made me laugh - those are the right types to hate, no? I'm sorry about your grandfather. Yes, it's a train you want fiercely to stop, and you are powerless. And it is always a big mix of happy memories and sad present and everything all swirled together. Big hugs to you.

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  7. I'm so sorry you and Betty are losing your friend, and Maude, her mother. I hate cancer with a firey passion, and wish there were words that could ease your pain. I'm sorry. <3

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    1. Thank you. Yes. Cancer is mean and sneaky and evil and I wish we could just choke it out of existence. Hugs, Luna.

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  8. It's so much harder on the ones left behind. I am also struggling knowing my step mom will die within the year. Big hugs and lots of love.

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    1. I'm so very sorry, Stacey. I know you've done so much to help her and your dad. Big hugs and love to you.

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  9. I send my love. All of it.

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  10. Hello Lisa,

    It was great meeting you at Lou and Tom's over the weekend. You are the spitting image of your mama. John and I have heard so much about you it was great to finally put a face to a name. I didn't know that Betty had been here last week, although I wouldn't have seen her anyway because we were traveling. That said, I'm glad they had time together. Thank you for sharing your story of how you and Maudie met and the way it all came together as a lifelong friendship. I hope you come back and visit again, perhaps when the flowers are blooming.....

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    1. Pauline, it was so lovely meeting you. I wish the circumstances had been different. Betty was sorry she'd missed you, but was glad I got to meet you and John. Yes, another visit when the flowers are blooming!

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