Monday, June 23, 2014

Death remembered

     My late husband died a year ago. He had leukemia--AML m6. He was hospitalized, diagnosed, and began chemo within three days in March, 2012. His was an emergency cancer, the kind that most people don't survive. And after a year and a half of treatment, he died. 
     My late husband's death was not unique. People die every second of every day. And yet, so many people are unacquainted with death and/or are afraid of it. I am not interested in perpetuating that fear. I have found that when people are open, when they are not isolated, when they are able to share an experience, they are less afraid. 
     And so, here, I will share with you some of what I remember from the week my late husband died. His death was confusing and sad, but also beautiful and healing.

     Dear Vic,
     Your dad remembers talking to you for the last time on Father's Day. 
   Your sister remembers Skyping with you that Monday. You told her, "I won't miss Skype." 
     Your mom and dad remember your email. "I may die this week. Come now."

      I remember that Tuesday morning.
     I woke up at 3AM to see you bouncing back and forth from the bed like one of those punching bag toys. I walked around to you. You started to stand, but your legs collapsed beneath you and we both fell to the floor. 
     You said, “Need go pee. Go bathroom.” 
     I said, “Baby. You’re on the floor. Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?” I was already hoisting you up. When I had you safely in bed I suddenly had to go to the bathroom myself. It felt like I had to take the most monumental piss of my life. I held it and asked you, “Baby, do you still need to go to the bathroom?” I looked around and grabbed one of your puke buckets thinking you could pee in it. 
     You slurred, “No. Headache.” 
     I retrieved Tylenol and oxy and gave them to you. I asked you again if you needed to pee. 
     I told you I’d be right back. I went to the bathroom and peed and peed. I checked my phone. 3:30AM. I thought about calling the hospital, but heard your voice loud and clear: “I want to die at home.” I cried. I came back to bed. 
     You slurred, “You go bathroom. You need pee,” and laughed. 
     I said, “Hell yeah I needed to pee.” 
     You laughed again and snuggled next to me. You were hot. We held hands. You made a joke, one that I can’t remember now, and went to sleep. 
     I remember being awake for what seemed like a long time. I kept replaying the image of your torso in silhouette bouncing up and back from the bed. I wondered where the light was coming from. I looked up and could see moonlight shining faintly through the window. It seemed to illuminate everything. I just lay there. Every few minutes you squeezed and re-gripped my hand. Eventually I fell asleep. 
     I woke up about ten minutes later knowing that you were about to throw up. Having lain next to you in bed for so many sick nights, I was attuned to your body—when you kicked at the covers you were too hot, when you opened and closed your mouth you needed water, when you moaned and fidgeted you needed help going to the bathroom, and when your body coiled you needed to throw up. 
     I grabbed the puke bucket. 
     You threw up your Tylenol and oxy. 
    After I cleaned puke from your chin, you made another joke, held my hand, and went back to sleep. 
     I remember the feel of my heart pounding. I fell asleep. 

     The next time I woke up, you were lying flat on your back. Your body was stiff and you were breathing through your mouth. Your arms and legs were long and rigid at your sides. Your fingers and toes were pointed like an expert diver’s just before he leaps and twists and lands gracefully in a pool of water below. 
     I called your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I called it again. 
     You did not respond. 
     I rocked you gently, saying your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I said, “You’re dying, baby.” 
     I looked at the phone. It was 5AM. 
     I remember calling your parents.
    I remember calling your sister. I remember holding the phone to your ear so your sister could talk to you. She told you she loved you.
     I remember calling your doctor. He answered the phone. I remember thinking, I can’t believe he answered the phone. This guy is the best doctor ever. 
      I remember calling my friend who drove over immediately.
     I remember our favorite nurse arrived a little later. She prepared to guide us through your death.
     I remember placing my hand on your heart and curling my body around your head. I remember saying, “You’re doing great, baby. You’re doing a great job.”
     I remember, through your chest, feeling your heart stop. You made a final exhaling, sighing sound, and you died. You died right there in our bed like you wanted.
     I remember your death every day. I try to share it with everyone who loved you and whom I love. I think we all hope to die so well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Newbs visit Grand Staircase Escalante

       April. Early morning. GSE visitor's center.
     We walk into the building. There is a diorama in the middle of the main room. Taxidermied animals and photos line the walls. Beyond the diorama, opposite the front door, is the information desk. A plump, fifty-something woman sits behind the desk. She is bundled in her forest green, employer-issued GSE fleece. 
     My partner and I walk around the diorama to the desk. 
     "Hi, how can I help you?" the woman asks.
     "Hi. This is our first trip to the grand staircase national monument."
     "Oh! Welcome." She is all smiles.
    "Thanks. We were planning on doing some back country backpacking this week. We have a map from National Geographic. But we have some questions about the trails, and wanted to know if you have more detailed maps, backpacking suggestions--" 
     "Sure. Let's take a look." Her smile broadens. She pushes up her glasses and looks at our map and the trail heads that we have starred on it. She talks to herself and pulls out a couple of maps from a drawer. 
     "I was thinking of this trail." I point.
     "That's a great one. It's in a creek bed along the bottom of a canyon. It's pretty flat."
     I nod.
     "The creek will be rushing right now. Did you bring your dry suits?"
     "No," I say, slightly stunned by the suggestion.
     "Well, that will be a great one to do in July. This one is also fun." She points to another starred trail head. "It takes about three days." 
     "I would start at this end and just see how far you can go. Because up here the canyon will be clogged with ice and mud and debris. You won't be able to get through. Unless you brought crampons and climbing gear?"
     "Uh, no. Okay, what about this trail?"
     "Oh, it's a nice canyon. There's some quicksand, but it's not the kind you see in the movies. It won't swallow you whole, it will just take one of your boots."
     "Huh. Quicksand!" What! My partner and I smile at each other.
     She cheerfully moves on to the next trail head. "This one is a breathtaking slot canyon. Did you bring your canyoneering gear?"
     "Um--" I think I have a bewildered smile on my face.
     "You'll need ropes at least." She looks excited. "There are places where you have to go like this, and this, to get through." She tucks in her arms, squeezes her shoulders together, and makes twisting, ducking motions with her upper body. "And then you'll have to lower your packs. People get stuck!"
     "We don't have any rope." I'm embarrassed at how underprepared we are. My partner chuckles. What were we thinking?
     "Then these slots are out." She points to a few more stars on the map.
     "Are there any multi-day hikes that don't require gear?" I ask.
     "Sure! Most of them are on the southeast side of the park. Do you have a high clearance vehicle?"
     "No," we laugh. 
    There is one more starred trail on the map, but we give up after we read "poison ivy is unavoidable".

     Next time GSE. We'll be ready.