Thursday, May 16, 2019

Navigating Hope Drive

“In 1.6 miles, take a right on Hope Drive,” my navigation system instructed.

“Eff. You. We’ve been on that road before, Google. We have been on that #$&%^* road before,” I replied aloud.

Google maps was giving me literal directions but, at that moment, the irony was overwhelming.
I made a right onto Hope Drive, parked my car on the street and walked another block to visit my dying friend.

Occasionally I will run across feel good stories about cancer being a gift in someone’s life. But cancer is no gift. Cancer is a thief. Cancer stole my breasts, my peace of mind, my sense of security that leading a ‘healthy lifestyle’ would ensure a long life and cancer stole so much of my children’s childhood innocence.

And cancer stealing my friends. One by one. Month by month and sometimes week by week.

More devastating is how it steals them piece by piece, bit by bit.

Our visit was brief. Her husband explained the night before had been a rough one and her dosages of pain meds and sedatives had been upped. She didn’t recognize me. I told her I loved her. I smiled at her. I asked if I could give her a gentle hug and she agreed.  

I distributed my hugs to the whole family and left with a smile of my face and gratitude in my heart for the gift of being able to say goodbye.

And I left absolutely devastated.

I sat in my car for 15 minutes bawling and swearing. H was dying. She wouldn’t make it to Mother’s Day in a month. She wouldn’t even make it to her son’s 9th birthday only 2 ½ weeks away.

All the words that are socially unacceptable to say in public, I yelled in my car. And I let the tears fall.

And then, I made a very conscious decision to get back onto Hope Drive and return to work.

Two days later, I visited again.

This time, H announced, “Stacey!” as I brought flowers from my garden into her room.

Physically she remained ravaged, but the eye twinkle was back. She asked about my children, fully engaged in the conversation, minutes later her eyes were tired and her speech faded. She looked at me in earnest and said, “The thing I don’t like is that you cannot go to the toilet by yourself. You have to poop in a diaper.”

“And, I cannot eat when I want to eat.”

“What do you want to eat?” I asked.

After contemplating for so long that I was convinced she had lost the thread of the conversation and the question, she responded thoughtfully and quietly, “I want to cook.”

A simple ask. A task, in fact, that some of us bristle at – cooking. To many, the daily responsibility of meal making feels like a chore. To a dying woman, cooking would feel like a gift.

H can no longer hear well. She cannot process long sentences. She cannot handle visitors and conversation for long periods of time.

Her belly is bloated and her limbs are wasted.

Her face is skeletal and her eyes are jaundiced.

Cancer stole her mobility, her dignity and her future.

My friend is 38 and she will not make 39.

Cancer will steal my friend.

But I refuse to let cancer steal my hope.

After this second visit, I left H’s house with that familiar dichotomy of emotions that I have only been able to describe as “Grateful and Gutted” – grateful to have had a connection, gutted to bear witness to another friend suffering the indignities and finality of terminal cancer.

I wiped away the tears I’d refused to shed earlier, and typically refuse to shed in public, found my car and, once again, made a conscious effort to continue back on Hope Drive.

One week later, with hope in my heart, I was back on the literal Hope Drive.

This time, I thought with some sense of warmth, it’s not a trick. I’ve had multiple ‘final visits’ with a friend I didn’t think would live to see the end of a week.

One more visit after one more visit.

Her son turned nine. 

On the eve of Mother’s Day, my sense of urgency was triggered. Whether it was time in the garden or the reality of the next day, I texted her husband and asked if I could visit.

When I walked in the room, I knew this was our final visit. Gone was the twinkle. Gone was the recognition. Gone was my friend.

She wasn’t lucid but I spent time telling her that I loved her. That I was proud of her. That I was sure her boys had inherited her strength and perseverance. That she was a good mom and that she was a wonderful friend.

Then I spent an hour downstairs visiting with her husband and his friend. They shared amusing stories from their past. We laughed. H would have been happy about this part.

H died yesterday afternoon. While her body was ravaged, her indomitable spirit managed to ensure she not only made her son’s 9th birthday but she also lived through a final Mother’s Day.

Today, as I drove to work, she was on my mind. I thought about the sheer force of will it must have taken to make it through those key days. And then I thought about hope. It must have taken a fair amount of hope as well.

And, as pulled into the parking lot at work this morning, I was greeted by a rainbow.

“Thank you, H.” I said aloud. “Thank you.”

While I’m giving myself full permission pull off on the side of any road for a good cry, a primal yell and perhaps some inappropriate swearing, by and large I plan to continue to travel along Hope Drive.