Sunday, October 16, 2011
Immobilizing Pain of the Mind and So Much More
I experienced an immobilizing pain I had never experienced before ...even though it certainly wasn't the first time I have been deeply grieved over the death of a loved one. This time it was my life long friend (52 yrs), Iris. I will come back to this experience.
Her funeral was this past Friday.
She would've really been pleased with everything. So many flowers and aqua ribbons (Aqua was her favorite color) and Irises in the bouquets. Someone sent the most exquisite ...rich in color red roses that I have ever seen. I usually like to read the cards ...but I could hardly go to the casket... never mind read anything. And it was a closed casket. I was greatly relieved it was closed. We had discussed these things in the passed and I was pretty sure she had wanted a closed casket. I just wanted to remember her alive ...not in the casket.
Our sons were pall-bearers. Older son had to take a day off from work and I am proud of them for helping out. I know that would've warmed Iris' heart and they felt good about helping the family and doing this for her.
They had a beautiful collage of pictures of her ...from childhood into adult. So many wonderful, pretty and cute pictures and they truly captured the essence of her ...when she was happiest with her family, friends and on vacations. :) I was profoundly moved to see that the kids had included multiple pictures of me with her ...from childhood ..up through adult years. Seeing us together really caused memories to come flooding in and hurt as much as they warmed my heart. They even had included some with our sons when they were little. And there was one of her ..alone on the beach in shorts ...that was so typical of how I remember her younger. I hope I can see them all again, because I couldn't really take time to absorb all the pictures.
Her daughter is due to have her first baby ...a boy ..in November. My heart breaks even more for her. But, and I can't prove this of course ...I do think that God allows loved ones in heaven to see the special occasions in our lives on earth and so she knew how nice her service was and how many people cared and will miss her. And she will still see her family and grandchildren when important to do so.
The pastor did a wonderful job with the eulogy and had been instrumental in providing peace and encouragement throughout her ordeal. She would have appreciated his words at the service.
So many of her husband's relatives made the trip down from New England as did her cousin Paula and her husband. I haven't seen Paula since we were teenagers and it was nice to see her again. I wish we could've talked more, but they had to get back after the service. And many others. It is really kind of a blur for me and admittedly ...I don't remember all that I saw ...or maybe it is that I couldn't focus on anyone thing for too long. It was all so surreal.
Knowing she was in that casket was just crazy to me ...even though I was very much involved with getting her to appointments and being a support ...and mostly a friend to her through all of this and so I do know how ill she was. But ...I guess it is just like they say ...that no matter how prepared you are for someone's death ...you really just cannot be prepared for the loss you will feel. There are no words. It is a profoundly painful experience ...even though you know they are better off and in our case being Christians ...we know she is in heaven now ...a far better place. But we are here. They are not. She is not.
Iris and another friend helped us so much after Mom's memorial service because they set up all the food afterword for the repast. They were with me all day. later that night, while we were sitting in the family room ...I had said to Iris, "You cannot die before me because I cannot imagine living life without you!" She said the same of me. And we discussed how we would want our services to be. And she like the cemetery she was buried in and more than once had said because she has such good memories in the town she lived in and thought that cemetery was pretty with the pine trees and sun going down ...that she would want to be buried there.
Little did we know that 6 months later she would begin to feel the symptoms (pain from pleural effusion on right side and short of breath going up stairs) of what a couple months later would be stage III and almost immediately into stage IV nonsmoker's lung cancer. She had been feeling profound fatigue and I think that was also part of it.
And people say that life is unfair. This diagnosis just did not make any sense. Of allllll the people I know ...including myself she always took care of herself more than anyone. Eating right and exercising (from time she was a teenager) before gyms even became popular. Never crash dieted or skipped meals, never needed meds of any kind for hypertension or any disease and did not even have pain in her body. She never smoked. She always took care of herself. She had schedules that she stuck to for exercise. She did have antibiotics for Lyme disease in early 90s and even that did not cause arthritic pain. That was it. Hardly got colds or other viruses. She was mindful to get quality sleep too. She just most of the time took excellent care of herself.
She was compassionate toward others to the point it would hurt her. She felt deeply. If there was a negative ...it would be that she worried too much. She would never intentionally try to hurt another person. She loved deeply. She always wanted the best for everyone. She was fun loving. We had a friendship that is rich with wonderful memories. It was not perfect. But ...what relationship is ...particularly if you've spent a lot of time together? We had some falling outs ...but never for long. And counting from when we were little ...our significant disagreements wouldn't even hit 10 fingers in number. (Unless you counted all the times we fought over who would ride the aqua walrus vs the red walrus in the pool :) That is a pretty good track record for 52 years of friendship.
I am so relieved that she died well ...with well controlled pain and peacefully. I am so glad her family let me be by her side (said I WAS family) throughout the weekend and last Monday ...when they had their own grief and responsibilities to contend with. I am so glad ...I got to hold her hand, caress her head ...kiss her cheeks and give her hugs and mostly tell her "I love you." , which I said many times over those last days. I am glad I got to read some scriptures to her on Sunday night. I noticed that she had fallen asleep with a little smile on her face when I was doing that. :) I am glad I got to hold her hand and stay by her side for so long on Monday night. First I silently prayed for her comfort and easy transition to heaven, but then admittedly against what all my senses were telling me ...I silently prayed for a complete healing miracle ...all the while aware that ultimate healing comes after death into new life. I am grateful her family shared their precious time with her ...with me ...letting me in ..in those last hours of her life.
And the kids ...her adult kids and their spouses really jumped in and helped her husband and their Mom. They really made a huge difference with their love and support. And their d-i-l ...she was so fantastic ...she could leave her career and go into nursing. She was awesome. the hospice nurse was not scheduled to come in until the day she died and so her husband and d-i-l ...lovingly took care of all of my her needs.
And even though I could see my friend was weakening and I knew there was some pain and confusion ...over the weekend, I was especially glad to see joy and fulfillment in her eyes when she took in that her family was all around her and interacting ...loving her and each other. I saw that in her eyes.
And that is so very important. I remember when my uncle Jim was dying. He was set up with a hospice bed in my cousin's living room. We got to talk the night Mom and I got there. He was weak, but did say some things and he maintained his sense of humor. But ..the most important thing he said is what I think was most on his heart. He said, "The important thing is that you want to know your children will be alright."
I agree with that statement. For me the two most important things are that they would have a faith in God that will sustain and bless them throughout life, knowing I will see them again and that they will all love and be committed to each other. It warms my heart now to see that our sons and d-i-l get along so well, that younger son is such a wonderful uncle to his nieces and nephew and that they love him too. I know son and d-i-l would be the same way for younger son and his family someday. And I know they would all look out for their Dad and Papa too. And I would want them to be as connected to other relatives and good friends as possible too. To have a good support system. That would give me great peace. And like I said ...it warms my heart now to see the love between them and that they have fun together. :)
And that is what my friend's family did for her. She has always been very happy with her kids marriages ...very much loving her d-i-l and s-i-l and seeing their strong, happy marriages always gave her comfort. And her grandson is close to everyone in their family. And she knew they will be there for her husband. And so that last weekend of her life ...last weekend ...I saw that look in her eyes ...of peace, satisfaction, and joy at seeing her family loving each other and her. I noticed it throughout Saturday and Sunday when she was in and out of sleeping. And I loved that she appreciated the sweetness and the humor of her little 3 yr old grandson announcing he was going downstairs to play his drums so she could have music to sleep with. :)
And I am so glad to know that with the assistance of the hospice nurse and family around her ...that she made a peaceful transition from this life... into the most amazing one she is experiencing now. And I am thankful that the hospice nurse and hospice social worker were so helpful to my friend and her family ...truly a blessing for them.
But, back at the funeral home ...seeing her casket covered and surrounded by flowers ...and knowing it was *her* in that casket ...I just felt a disconnect. So much so ...that when the teal (another favorite color of hers that she decorated with) beams in the funeral parlor were pointed out to me ...I had the instant thought to call and tell her that there were even teal beams at her funeral. now mind you ...I was also looking at her casket when I had the thought! Seriously ...talk about disconnect! Or denial! Or just missing my friend. I don't know.
After it was over and we again paid our respects at the casket ...I laid my hand on it ...and quietly said "Oh Iris!" and stopped myself from breaking up badly and then in next breath said "I'll see ya I... and were PLAYING SCRABBLE when I see you again in heaven too!" And I turned and hugged her family. (She liked when I called her I out of familiarity and she was my best scrabble playing partner. We used to play often ..although not so much in last few years and not at all since she was diagnosed with cancer.
It was bittersweet when some people came up to me to ask if I was her best friend. I also didn't want to be offensive to any other friend that may've been there and so I said "Yes ..I am one of her good friends. And for the last time ...i said we were friends since I was four and she was five."
It was supposed to be stormy and rainy, but fortunately it held off until later in the afternoon. She would be real happy to know the location of her plot is like she described she would like. It is always hard to walk away ...for that last time.
The food afterward had been catered and was very good. I met her husband's relatives she had often told me about and we enjoyed some conversations with them. Very nice loving and supportive family. And so many others were there too. She absolutely would've loved how it all turned out and been so appreciative of everything. I do think that perhaps when these things happen ..that people on the other side ...perhaps even other relatives/close friends that already passed do get to see these things. But, regardless ...she is happy now. And she will be very missed.
I stayed in the car after we dropped our neighbor off and Mr SeaSpray went inside. I opened the roof, put the seat all the way back and just looked up at the clouds ...pondering the whole day and trying to comprehend the reality of never speaking to her again. then I called older son to tell him I thought it was so considerate of him to take the time off from work to help the family out and that Iris would've been so appreciative. And we just talked for a bit. I still could not get myself to leave the car, although the rain caused me to close the sunroof. And finally ...I went inside ..got undressed and just went to bed. I actually fell asleep quickly, but then when I woke up ...the reality of all that had transpired hit me ...my friend is gone. It was so painful to go through with her. I'm glad the suffering is over, but I am going to miss her beyond what any words could ever describe.
And each time I woke up ...i wanted to move. i wanted to get up. But for the first time ever ...I just could not move. Not a foot, leg, hand or even a finger. All I could do was remain motionless. i wanted to change position because I had been in it for hours. I could not turn over ...I could not move a muscle. I could breathe. Tears could fall onto my pillow, but I couldn't actually cry. I could close my eyes and go back to sleep. This happened several times ...during the daylight and then after it was dark. I just felt my immobilized ...dead weight still lying on my side ...until finally sometime after it was dark ...I just got up.
This experience ...the depth of my despair in those moments ...thinking of everything that happened along this disease process and right toward the end ...having that awful falling out (I STILL can't believe that happened ...after trying so hard to be there and I was ...I really was!) and the thoughts of never again on this earth being able to share anything with my lifelong friend, reminds me of something I read years ago in "The Sketchbook" by Washington Irving, chapter of, "The Broken Heart", in which he said, "There are some strokes of calamity that scathe and scorch the soul--which penetrate to the vital seat of happiness--and blast it, never again to put forth bud or blossom." I believe that was the depth of emotional pain I experienced, rendering me motionless for hours. Maybe I had to go through it ...to let it go. If this seems odd to anyone ...because she was not my husband, child or grandchild. Nor was she another close relative. And I don't pretend for a second to compare my loss to that of her own husband and children ...because they are feeling pain in ways that I do not ...having to say goodbye to his wife and their mother. We have our own experiences with these things.
But, for all of our differences and living at a distance for most of our lives ...we were soul mates ...like 2 peas in a pod ... we had the kind of friendship that transcends time and space ..the kind of friendship that will always right the wrongs in the end and thankfully they were few and far between. I just wish we did not have that blowup at the end and had I realized it was the cancer talking ...I would not have been so hurt or taken it so personally. I think it was the cumulative effect of all the bad things that had transpired with my friend since her diagnosis, coupled with my profound sense of loss at losing her forever on this side of heaven that just bludgeoned my heart and mind so forcefully ..I literally could not move in those moments. And I have to say ...it is weird when *you* can feel your own dead weight in your arms and your legs.
Having said all that ...for anyone who has made it to the end of this post ...I want to tell you that was also my turn around ...let go experience. I miss her already and I am sad ...and no doubt will have many times I think to call her or will miss her. And as a Christian ...with our belief system ...I know we will be reunited with our loved ones and continue to learn, grow and have awesome experiences in heaven ...beyond what we can comprehend here. I once heard a person who had died and had a life after death experience in heaven state that we are more alive there than we are here. (Interesting concept to ponder) Even so, honestly ...I am not all that anxious to do that yet because God willing ...I have a lot of living to still do in this life.
I look forward to being with my family and friends, doing fun things and the many more wonderful experiences in our future ...seeing our kids, grand kids and even great grandkids (someday :) being a part of their lives. There are many things I still want to do. I am most grateful for my life and I hope I will have a long, productive and quality life in which I can be a blessing and experience blessings.
I may or may not leave this up. It was healing to write. Obviously such a personal experience. A definite turning point in my life.
To everything ...there is a season.
I feel such gratitude for the rich friendship we had for so long. It was not perfect ...but pretty darn close. I know it was meant to be. I know it was a gift from God ...the way it all worked out ...our meeting ..all those fabulous magical childhood summers and that we maintained our close friendship over time and distance ...it was a meant to be ...gift to both of us from God.
Farewell my dear friend. :)