Friday, August 7, 2009

Gloria is dead

She was diagnosed months before my dad. She outlived him by almost twenty–eight months—much longer than expected, an extraordinary outlier. Last week a doctor told her “You shouldn’t be here.”

Allowing for her age and other factors, my aunt was in the top 0.1% of lung cancer victims. But that’s all moot now. Gloria, my aunt and my mother’s favorite sister of her three is dead. She died yesterday morning, apparently in her sleep.

Gloria was an amazing woman, determined and strong in spirit and strength. She had been shopping for fall outfits with my mom last week. She was driving just two days before she died, albeit in a lot of pain (she took her first dose of morphine a few hours before she died). But on the same day she last driven her car, she told my mom that she thought it was time to begin hospice care. It was scheduled to have begun yesterday.

Actually, I don’t think it was the disease that killed Gloria. Yes, the cancer had metastasized and spread to her brain, spinal column, and elsewhere, causing her great pain. And it was clearly going to win soon. But the cancer had not completely debilitated and wasted her, as it had with my dad, as is typical. She did not spend her last few weeks confined to a hospital bed, her body shutting down around her like my dad. Instead, I think that she had at last come to understand that she really had reached the end of her life (her initiation of hospice being indicative). And in so accepting, her body, exhausted from her unceasing effort to live as long as possible while simultaneously fighting the cancer and bearing up under the burdens of [palliative] chemotherapy and radiation treatments, simply shut down.

Losing an older friend or a family member is a disconcerting experience. We grow up with a sense of the preceding generation being a safety net beneath us, always there, more experienced and wiser, ready to catch us when we fall. With each death the net becomes more tattered, eventually completely fraying into the illusion it always was. We are left with the sobering realization that we are in fact floating over the inevitable void, into which we, too, will eventually will be drawn.

My mother has lost three of the four most important people in her life, all to cancer: her mother, husband and sister. (And she herself has had three instances of melanoma). Now I’m all she has left.

No comments: