Losing Dawn

Farmland near Queniborough. Unploughed stubble...

Image via Wikipedia

I will never look at the afternoon winter light in the same way again. My friend Dawn died today, February 11th, 2011 when the sky was blue, the sun shone through wind-swept trees next to ice and black snow, nudging a path. From inside, it looked too pretty for someone to have died.  The sun was low and beamed on the bare empty branches like gold necklaces or a child‘s long, blond, sun-streaked hair.

I knew for a long time that my friend Dawn was dying. All of us in the neighborhood, walking partners and friends knew how her breast cancer metastasized to brain cancer. Hearing the words from my friend Margaret that Dawn had passed away a couple of hours ago in her house, was still shocking. Shocking in a mute, surreal way. It’s not as if I thought she would make a miraculous recovery, but if we didn’t see or hear about her, she was still okay and that was soothing and comforting. Intellectually, I should have known better; I didn’t. Knowing someone is going to die is so very different from their actual death. I couldn’t feel a thing.

I remember writing: “Praying For Dawn” on my blog and I made a copy for her. She read it and loved it and told me her family read it too. She even left me a message on my answering machine to say “Thank you,” I never erased that message.

Her daughter had just started college in Vermont as a February Freshman a few days earlier yet there was a car from Vermont  parked outside their house. Dawn and her husband John have three children, her daughter, age 18,  the eldest, her middle son, 16 and their youngest a boy age 14. There is no doubt in my mind that Dawn refused to die until her daughter was at school, just like my father lived through Christmas and died five days later, ten years ago.

What do you say when it’s actually over? Sometimes, nothing. The call I got from my friend should have clued me in but it didn’t. When she said “are you sitting down?” you would think that I would known immediately but I didn’t. My first thought was about my friend’s mother who is in her eighties. I, very slowly,  sat down. Thirty seconds later it hit me, “Oh Dear God, not Dawn,” I whispered into the phone. “Yes, she said and paused, Dawn passed away today, two hours ago.”

She died in her house, around the corner from me. Her parents who live on the Cape had come down a lot these past few years.  Margaret and I used to see them walking arm in arm, crying as they tried to walk slowly around the corner, holding on to each other for support. It took every bit of self-control not to run to them and hug them but they didn’t want to see Dawn’s friends, friends who were living when their daughter was dying. Would you?

Before my father died he used to say that “nothing is as important as your health” all the time and I remember it. I too, know grief. Now, I am grieving for my friend and her husband, children and their extended family. I am glad my friend’s pain and suffering are gone but knowing someone is going to die and them actually dying are two very strong and separate emotions. It’s the feeling of in between; it’s too new to comprehend and yet it was about four years in the making. Four years when I first noticed her bald, shiny head and twinkling green eyes standing outside wearing a cap in the pure, naked sunshine.

I laid beneath a sheet, two fraying cotton blankets, one dingy white, one blue, a thick burgundy colored comforter and an old beige puffy down comforter. l huddle beneath these blankets and still my hands are freezing and so too, my toes. I dig deep down inside the blankets and try to cover myself but I still don’t feel warm, I think I will never feel warm again.

In Memory Of Dawn

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The World Just Changes A Little Bit

Burning match (cerilla ardiendo)

Image by John C. Shaw via Flickr

I just received news from my sister that her friend Allison passed away last night. I knew Allison but had only met her once or twice. She was a very warm and charming woman who was my sister’s neighbor. She leaves behind her husband and a daughter, the age of my nephew, Jon, 21. She died of breast cancer.

I have a friend that lives around the corner who is also dying of cancer. She too had breast cancer and then brain cancer. We don’t ask questions, they are a very private family. No matter what her condition is she tries to attend, her children’s basketball games or important events. She doesn’t care about being seen in a wheelchair or weighing barely 90 pounds or the fact that her mouth dragged down and over to the side, why should she? She is one of the best moms I have ever met. She will be with her three children as long as a single breath is left in her body.

Two years ago, when she was still able to walk, unassisted, my neighbor and I would each run to our windows to keep track of her. If we saw her walking alone, one of us would crush our feet into sneakers and pretend that we had walked too, and join her to keep her company. She wouldn’t ask for help, but we knew that we couldn’t let our friend walk unsteadily alone. She refused to use a cane; but she was happy for the company; we were happy to see her.

If we made “extra” food for our families, we would simply drop platters of freshly roasted chicken, baked ziti and meatballs at her door with a loaf of warm french bread or a tray of fudge brownies. When she could only drink liquids my new specialties became soup; peach soup in the summer, chicken soup in the fall. They never asked for meals but they always welcomed it. We would call before we brought a meal over and ask if it was a convenient time; sometimes we left it on the wooden bench near the door. We never saw our friend on these visits; we didn’t have to.

My best friend from high school, Paula, had breast cancer and finally now, after about 6 or more hospitalizations, a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, infections and reconstructive surgery, she is trying to heal. It has been a long road for her. Another friend, Margie, with thyroid cancer, said she doesn’t think about celebrating her five-year anniversary of being cancer free; her oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering said that “once you have cancer, you are never cancer free.” I don’t want to believe that but it is sobering.

I am sorry for my friends, I worry in advance for all the important women in my life. I am grateful for every healthy minute of our lives, and I understand how fragile and unpredictable life is. I am incredibly grateful. The world changes a bit, doesn’t it, when another person dies, when a soul leaves the body. It’s like a candle or a match, one after another, forcibly being blown out while it is still burning bright. It seems that their lives are extinguished way too early, too violently and too harshly. Snuffed, taken away, burnt, dead. “I knew she was going to die” my sister said sadly to me” but somehow it isn’t the same until it really happens.”

Dedicated to all cancer survivors and those we lost who live on in our hearts.

lucky (for Jolene, the Bloggers and Invisible Pain Carnival)

I think I am lucky. I do. Now everyone will be mad at me and I will be thrown out of this precious group of supporters. I’m sorry and I know this is not what you are looking for in this blog carnival but I have to be true to my self. I am lucky. First of all, I don’t think my symptoms are all that bad compared to many of the other bloggers; I feel like I don’t deserve this group. Yes, I have pain but it doesn’t sound half as bad as my fellow members. I feel like a fraud, and a lurker and ashamed.  Second, a close friend of mine is dying of cancer, around the corner from me and she has weeks, maybe months to live. She is a wonderful person, someone with a sunny disposition, a great mother, good friend, an absolutely lovely family. Her name is Dawn and she is at least ten years younger than I am so she is in her early forties. When she was able to walk she would ask me how I WAS doing. How I WAS feeling and when you asked her, she always said “fine.”

She is not fine anymore. She had breast cancer and then brain cancer and now I don’t even know where the cancer is because it might be all over her. There are no more treatments for her, no more cures, no more hope. I am alive and she is dying. She has three children, 19, 16 and 13, all three amazing kids. They don’t deserve this in life and neither does she.

I drop by with food, I make a special chilled peach soup for Dawn because that is the only thing she can eat, a tablespoon or two of soup, if her family is lucky. I haven’t seen her in weeks but I know she got bad news on Sunday from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in NY and no-one has seen her since. I don’t know how long she has to live but I feel it isn’t going to be very long. Her parents were in from Wisconsin for a long time and when her mom saw me and our mutual friend, her mom started crying and she and her husband, Dawn’s parents, continued to walk, slowly around the block holding on to one another.

I have Fibromyalgia and an Auto-immune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It was partially diagnosed 4 years ago. I felt like” I had the flu but without the fever.”  That is the only way I could describe what I was feeling and how badly it hurt.  I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do anything but sleep and moan, my whole body aching all the time. I felt like it had been flattened by an enormous truck,and the truck kept going but I did not.

I felt sorry for myself and my mother, and sister and husband and kids and friends felt sorry for me. I get tired easily, I live in the “fibro fog” people talk about, I can’t keep up with everyone else; I don’t try to either.  Still, with aching limbs, and joints and bones I am alive. Yes, I hurt but I don’t think I hurt as badly as some of you and I don’t hurt as much as Dawn’s children who are at home, by her side as she breathes, as long as she breathes. I may not have the perfect life, my husband hasn’t worked in a year and we have no income coming in. I have a Junior and Senior in High School but I can’t complain, I won’t complain because I don’t deserve to.

I am here today with clenched shoulders and tired, swollen feet, aching, tender and swollen, red joints but I am here. Even though there are a lot of things I could complain about I can’t. I won’t, because I’m lucky.