When cool autumn air begins to chill the night, I always feel a sense of reflection, but lately, my mind has been turning to this time last year for another reason.
My husband, two-year-old, and I were adjusting to life with a new baby in the house. I had just returned to work after four months of unpaid leave (thanks to an extension granted because of our newborn’s rocky start.) We were all getting used to having another adult – our children’s nanny – in our home several hours a week (yet being ridiculously unable to afford it). And my closest close-to-home friend was painfully withering away in hospice – against her wishes.
I knew I needed to spend more time learning about my son’s diagnosis, advocating for his various therapies and support, and being more active in helping him develop. I felt torment that I wasn’t doing more for my boy, which I now realize is an aching guilt trip that never ends. But at the time, I tried to let it all go and just be mommy, something I earnestly believed I knew how to do.
But what kind of mother was I when I was leaving one kid with the sitter as much as possible so I could finish my day’s work, store my expressed breast milk, plop the baby in his car seat, and spend hours visiting my sick friend so many nights a week for so many weeks on end?
Too many times I forced myself to return to the medical campus that had traumatized me all summer. I involuntarily started deep, rhythmic labor breathing to calm myself every time I drove up to the Anschutz medical campus, a practice I had unwittingly begun the night my son was airlifted there to the Children’s Hospital at two hours old, and my husband and I pulled up to the door about an hour later, with my uterus still contracting and my body full of adrenalin from childbirth. But instead of caring for my sick child, all the rest of the summer and fall, I tended to Krista in the cancer pavilion.
What was happening to Krista was hauntingly reminiscent of the previous weeks in the hospital with my boy, Raphael: A nasogastric tube hanging out the nose, sucking foul-looking bile out of the stomach. Intestinal surgery, another upper GI, more x-rays, tests, and blood draws. The dreaded rollercoaster of good news followed by worse news. Unanswered questions, nonstop medical machinery, and the chaotic interruptions of well-meaning visitors and unscheduled healthcare staff. And there was the wondering about how long a person can survive on just TPN (total parenteral nutrition fed through an IV when one’s GI tract won’t work) before liver failure sets in, or worse.
All the while, my friend’s fight was hopeless because her husband and teenage daughter – for whom she gave her very life – had given up on her. She didn’t choose to be in hospice, and she begged me and her sister to get her out of there and find some alternative treatment. She didn’t want to be told she was going to die. But her husband had already arranged for her cremation, and he kept talking about it. I believe his years of lack of support ultimately poisoned her and everyone she loved, and it’s left me with a bitterness I will never shake.
It was I, and Krista’s sisters, Holly and Lauren, and her close women friends, who had supported my friend in her battle and cried with her throughout the years. We cheered her in the hospital, brought food and help to the family, and ran interference with medical staff. It was we, her Florence Nightingales, who sat vigil and held her hand and rubbed her back and kept hope alive so that she wouldn’t be alone.
One night late in my pregnancy and at about the time a surgery had left my friend with a colostomy bag, I visited her in Boulder Community Hospital, where I planned to give birth soon. So slowly, she and I waddled through the halls until we both had to stop to sit for a moment: I, to finish a pre-labor contraction and she, to get herself through a sharp stabbing pain in her abdomen. We laughed about it.
I had no time to do it, but still I kept an online CarePage since August 2009 to share the latest news about Krista’s cancer fight with so many who loved her. It is all that’s left. My November 5, 2009, post began: “The kindest person I’ve ever known passed away last night…”
I’ve missed her so over the past year – the hardest (and sometimes, miraculously, even the most joyous) one of my life. Krista was the one I used to call every week or more to talk about life’s ups and downs, and boy, did I need a friend, especially in my own time zone, to talk to this past year. I kept calling her cell phone just to hear her voice on her outgoing message for as long as it lasted.
She was the best.
Now, a year later, I am actually relieved that Krista is free. Free from a futile fight, free from a husband for whom I have nothing nice to say, and free from always having to do so much for so many others.
At times, I envy that freedom.