Yes, it is that day again: the 16th. Ten months ago, Katie left her body on this earth and became free from cancer, from suffering in her body.
Ten months ago this morning, I went into her room to close the window part-way, because it felt cold, to me, and she said, very firmly, "I need that open." I re-opened it all of the way.
Ten months ago on this day, I asked David to go and sit with Katie, since he was going to spend the day cycling with my dad. He went into her room and asked her permission to clip his fingernails while he sat with her. She was dozing and watching TV, and answered, "Fine." After a few minutes of the clicking noises (nails being clipped into a wastebasket), Katie turned to him and said, "I changed my mind; that's bothering me." He said "Okay," took the clippers and went out of her room.
Ten months ago yesterday, I asked Gregg to take a leave of absence from his job and stay home to help me care for Katie. I perceived a change in her breathing, and I knew I could not lift and turn her by myself anymore; she was nearly as tall as I am. After we consulted with Amy (our hospice nurse), Gregg agreed to stop working. The first day that he stayed home was August 16th, 2007. He went running, took a shower, and then I was going to go running, but first, we needed to change Katie's clothes. It took two of us to do it as gently as possible, since her legs were paralyzed --and therefore, totally slack weight. As we were changing her position, she told us, "It makes it hard to breathe when you do that." This had never been the case before. We gently and quickly laid her back down, asked her if she was in pain, and though she said she wasn't, we gave her morphine (which helps with breathing difficulties, as well as pain). Then she rested a bit, looked me right in the eyes and said, "You stay with me." I said, "Sure I will," and laid down next to her on her bed. She had closed her eyes, so I asked her if she could feel me next to her, and she said, "Yes."
Katie began to perspire. I asked Gregg to get a cool cloth for her, so he did that, and I put it on her brow. I dabbed her neck, chest, etc., with it; she told me clearly that she wanted it back on her brow, so I put it back there.
Ten months ago this morning, as Maribeth was dropping off something that she had picked up for us, she heard me call from Katie's room, "Gregg, please come in here." It was Maribeth and Alan's wedding anniversary that day. Somehow, she knew what was happening; she left our house and called Bev, my spiritual director, from her car.
Ten months ago today, I called for Gregg from upstairs in Katie's room. He entered the room, saw the changes in her, and we called David to come in and be with us. We told Katie we were all with her, and that we loved her. Katie began to breathe very slowly, yet without difficulty. There was no strain, no struggle or pain. Then she opened her eyes wide, closed them again, and began to whisper. I put my ear closer to her mouth, trying to hear what she was saying, but I think she was not talking to me. She said something about "Two years ago" or "It's been two years," which makes me think she was talking to Diane Fuquay, MD. DIANE, who she knew was already on the other side. Diane, my friend, Katie's and David's pediatrician, a brilliant doctor, a cancer patient, a gentle, strong, wise, loving mother, who Katie admired and missed, whose memory guided and inspired Katie through her chemo and surgery. It seemed that Diane had come to meet her. Then she breathed more slowly, more slowly, and stopped altogether.
We looked at each other; was that it? What just happened? Has she passed, just like that? Was that it? Get a mirror; no, get the stethoscope. Try checking her pulse at her wrist. Can you find her heartbeat? No? Can you find your own? No? Okay, give me the stethoscope; it needs adjusting. We said to her, "Sorry honey; isn't this just like us? The 'Keystone Cops'!" and we laughed at ourselves, in spite of the situation. But no pulse; no heartbeat. You'd better call hospice; ask Amy to come. Shaking our heads in disbelief. No fear, no panic; just a feeling of What? Now? How can this be happening? Though we knew she was dying, we didn't expect it to happen so quickly.
Amy came, and confirmed that, yes, that was it; Katie had passed away. She asked if I wanted her to remove Katie's NG tube, and yes, I did want her to do that; then Amy and I washed Katie's body, put lotion on her skin and changed her clothes. I removed her jewelry, and chose an outfit for her that she would have liked: her brown gauchos with the camouflage tank top. She had chosen the tank on a shopping trip (without me); it had a skull & crossbones on it, made with rhinestones! UGH. But I thought she would have LOVED that touch, to leave home in an outfit like that. I kissed her and cut a lock of her hair to keep.
Bev came over, brought a rose for Katie, kissed her and put the rose in her hand. Then Bev and I sat with Katie in her room for a long time. I wasn't ready for the funeral director to come and get her, yet. We sat and spoke about her, and to her, and we could see that the wind was coming from the south as the white, puffy clouds rolled past in the blue sky. Then, strangely, the wind came into Katie's room from the NORTH. Her window was open, and that window faces north. The wind came in through the north window, rustled and moved all of the papers and posters on her walls, making a circuit of the room. This happened several times, until we stopped and said, "We see you, Honey; we feel you." I have since been told that it is not unusual for the spirit to do such things as it leaves the body.
After a while of sitting like this with Katie and Bev, I thought that Katie began to look less like herself, and I feel that she had given us the sign that she was free of her body. So we let the funeral director come in so that he could do his work. When he came in, Latte also got into the house, ran up to Katie's room, jumped up on her bed, walked across her thighs and gave her a kiss. He then walked to the end of the bed where Gregg was standing, walked back to Katie, and flopped down beside her, purring. He was not in any way freaked out. I think this is interesting.
We left Katie's room, went into our room and shut the door. I couldn't watch them put her body in a bag. I couldn't watch them take her out of her home for the last time. Gregg held me and David and said, "It's just the three amigos now."
Ten months ago this morning.
Today, I went to have the oil changed in my car, and the auto shop is near one of my favorite beaches. So while they worked on my car, I took a walk on the beach at low tide. I found two pieces of pottery that Katie would have loved, and I began to think deeply about her. The sun was shining, there was a great breeze, the gulls and herons were fishing and the smell of saltwater was invigorating. I used to take the kids to this beach when they were younger, looking for shells and sea glass, wading in the huge tide pools, and the memory filled me with longing for Katie; I started to have the pain of the "Why?," again, though I know there is no answer here. So I began to give thanks for all of the beauty around me, for the time that I had with Katie, for being her mother, and then I felt her presence...especially in the sunlight glinting on the surface of the water. I wish you were here now, but I guess you are, in a way. Of course you are here, where we had so much fun. I love you; I miss you!