I looked down at my phone as it rang. My heart sank as I saw my cousin’s name. His mother, my Godmother, was in intensive care. She had developed an infection during her cancer treatment and its cause was still a mystery.
I had texted to let her know I was thinking about her. Unable to respond easily thanks to the snaking IV tubes, her partner had kept me in the loop on her behalf. It had been over a week since I last reached out, and I was feeling guilty.
Trying to sound upbeat as I answered, my gut felt differently. “Nance…” His voice dropped off. “Is everything OK?” I asked. “No…” There was a long pause at his end. My thoughts raced. I hear his voice, far away. “They’re trying to bring her back.” My brain could not process that sentence. Back from where, I thought. Stupid question.
A Long History
This woman has known me since before I was born. She and my mother met when they were barely twenty and shared their first apartment. Best friends, room mates, and then sisters-in-law when they married brothers. She and my uncle stood as my Godparents at my christening. She more than held up her part of that bargain.
I remember sitting at the impromptu “kids table” in the middle of her kitchen with my sister and cousins, chatting and eating supper. She traveled to cheer us on at drum corps competitions in my teens; attended my wedding in my twenties; and sent a birthday card every year for forty-nine years.
I will be most grateful for her support through Mom’s illness and passing as well as the rocky time between Mom’s death and my Dad’s diagnosis. She didn’t need the back story around my relationship with Dad to understand where I was as I tried to redefine my connection with him after losing Mom. There was no need to explain how I felt – how angry and frustrated I was with his choices and decisions. She helped me find some peace.
“It Doesn’t Look Good”
My cousin’s voice brought me back. “I visited her yesterday, and she was doing well. Sometime overnight she took a turn for the worse. It doesn’t look good, Nance.”
I was not ready for this news – are we ever? This woman has overcome so much in her life. I figured this time would be no different. She had come back from the brink more than once – the last time was a year ago. She spent three months fighting for her life and had won.
I’m speaking as if she has lost her battle. She hasn’t. She is on a ventilator, which is keeping her body going. I am worried about her spirit. I want her to live – I love her and selfishly want her to be on this earth for many more years. But it’s not my call. I have grown enough over the last decade to know that the human spirit is a force to be reckoned with, but the body has a say in the outcome. I have no business asking her, her spirit or the powers that be to keep her alive.
The youngest child in her family, she lost her father before she turned ten. Her mother died when my aunt was in her twenties. She lived with a heart condition. Experienced a difficult divorce. Survived breast cancer.
In the last ten years she had lost friends and siblings, received a second cancer diagnosis, survived open heart surgery to prepare for chemo, and had treatment interrupted by an infection that almost took her life.
Over the course of writing this post, my cousin called, sobbing, to let me know she was gone. Her body couldn’t fight any longer though I know her spirit would have tried everything it could to hang on. She was a fighter, a strong woman who may have not seen that in herself.
She was a piece of my foundation and I can’t believe she is gone. I feel unstable again, wobbly. My throat is tight, full of the words I didn’t say to her. To thank her again for being such a support during the hardest times of my life. For listening, and understanding. For telling me what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. For knowing my story and for being such a key part of it.