It's Valentine's Day today. It's a day to think about how much you love your loves, about the great, romantic things in your life. I'm thinking about that, planning a supper, thinking about what treats I'm going to make for my boys. But I'm thinking about something else, too.
I'm calling my boss at the library to tell her that I won't make it next Wednesday - I have a funeral to go to. I'm thinking about parents who lost their 38-year-old daughter on Monday after a decade of struggle, hospitals, pain. Today must be bitter for this couple who are headed into their elderly years a hell of a lot more worn out than they should be.
My friend, Karen, of whom I wrote a while back, died on Monday. When I was pregnant with my now 9-year-old son, Karen was driving through the mountains of Alberta headed home - probably either after a day of hiking or skiing (I don't remember) - when she started to experience double vision. She'd been having some bad migraine headaches for a while, but hadn't thought much of it. The double vision, though, she couldn't ignore.
She went to her Optometrist who immediately sent her to Calgary for tests. Sure enough, she had a brain tumour. Within about 10 days she was in the hospital having it removed. I remember going to visit her in the Foothills Hospital after (or just before, but I remember them both on the same day) going to Peter's Drive In for a milkshake. I was nauseous from the hormonal changes of pregnancy and the milkshake was something I could stomach. It's funny what you remember.
I remember driving to Canmore to visit her at her then home and seeing all the drugs she needed to be on. Her hair was never the same - there would be layers of scar tissue built up on her head - places where the hair wouldn't grow.
It's hard to believe that a lifetime later (the life of my wonderful son), Karen is gone.
Don't get me wrong. Karen wasn't my best friend. But she was a very important part of my life. At a time when I started having a major mortality crisis, this person in my life entered into the battle for hers. We had a lot of long talks about death and dying - something she couldn't do with other people in her life. I hope I helped her deal with it a bit. I hope I was as much of an influence as I felt I was. Because her situation certainly pushed me to face some things that I needed to face - to figure out some things that I hadn't worked very much on before.
If Karen hadn't had the health concerns she had, I'm not entirely sure we would have still been friends. Or maybe we would have been closer if she had been able to visit me as often as I visited her. Of course, she hadn't been able to drive for several years.
If there is anything that I would wish for anyone it is a speedy death. Karen's was the most long, drawn-out period of dying that I could imagine for anyone. It was manageable when there was still some hope - some procedure or other surgery that might fix the problem. But after the hope was gone, it was a couple of long, painful, sorrow-filled years that no one should have to go through.
When I last saw Karen at Christmas, I'm not sure she knew who I was. And that's okay. She was on morphine all the time and the tumour in her head had emerged from her skull - she had a fez-sized wad of gauze on top of her head covering it up. The tumour came out between her skull and the plastic prosthesis that had replaced the part of her skull that had been removed after a bone infection took hold. It was all torturous. So, for her sake, I am grateful that she is now gone.
This soul, who was no angel in life (she was a normal person with normal hopes and dreams and struggles), I believe is an angel. I think she suffered so the rest of us who knew her could learn things from her.
She was also the most determined person I knew. That woman hung in there much longer than most people would have. For that, she is to be admired.
Thank you, Karen, for all the lessons you helped me learn, and my hope is that no matter where your soul has landed, that you are at peace.