Sunday, April 10, 2022


Sooooo...when you go so long without writing, and then find yourself finally flexing that muscle in order to write an obituary, maybe it's time to sort some things out. I realize that opener deserves a little more information in the who, what, when, where department, so we can start there. Marlene peacefully left this world, 13 days after the doctor gave her 48 hours to live, the day he told me her blood work numbers were "not compatible with sustaining life" and the fact that she was still speaking was baffling. Maybe he just didn't know Marlene well enough. 

The first day, a couple of Jeff's friends and I went to visit her in her new "end of life" state, she was sitting in her wheelchair in the lounge of the nursing home. The three of us exchanged sideways glances, as I swore the word I received made it sound as though we should get to her promptly. I had been told that Marlene elected to refuse a blood transfusion and that she understood what this meant for her prognosis. We didn't want our visit to be all gloom and doom, but we did want to make sure her decision made sense to her, or that she even remembered what she had been told. The first inkling I got that she understood our sudden presence was when she asked me if I had purchased the two new pairs of jeans she had requested, and when I responded that I had not, she said "Well, I probably only need one now." Subtle, but effective.

We helped her sort through photos and chose one for her obituary. Up until that moment it had seemed like I had all of the information I would need to try to help usher Marlene into the next phase, but I suddenly felt like I most certainly did not. Part of the problem was trying to entertain what she felt was important - how much money was in her bank account, having a ring made for one of her granddaughters, versus what I thought was important - who to call, what her favorite flowers were. 

This was my second go around as a health care proxy, so I understood the nuts and bolts. However, those nuts and bolts, while essentially holding everything together, weren't providing the finishing touches. I could read the checklist of what loved ones wanted with regards to resuscitation, heroic measures, feeding tubes, and so on. The reality in both cases was that I never had to actually have any crummy powers appointed because both of my loved ones remained alert and conscious to make their wishes known. 

With every inquisitive/informative phone call, I confirmed that I was not calling the shots, but rather just being kept in the loop. The whole business of death is awkward and uncomfortable as an idea, as well as literally, I am sure, for the one actually experiencing it. Trying to honor the wishes of the dying, while managing the "needs" of the living. When Jeff was reaching the end of his time with us, I became the bitch gatekeeper responsible for limiting/monitoring the flow of visitors, as that was something we thankfully had discussed. Marlene and I hadn't really had such discussions, and I was not comfortable stepping as hard on her family's toes this time. I had to recognize their grief, and put aside any personal feelings about how some of them had carried themselves up until that point. It was their prerogative to play the part.

So what's to sort out? Well, I know a lot of people journal and am impressed by the merits of such a task to work things out. For me? This. This right here is my journal. You see, if I tried to write for myself, I am fairly certain the entry would say "I'm sad." I wouldn't bother trying to complete the thought, but since the five of you are kind enough to read whatever verbal diarrhea I leak here (one of my more flowery analogies, sorry), the least I can do is try to have it make sense. Sometimes I get really crazy ideas like "what if it isn't just me and something I have to say gives a new angle to something you're feeling." 

Marlene and Jeff's passings both left me feeling like I could have done better. I think ultimately it may have to do with the fact that both cases ended with them leaving this world. It was no big surprise on paper either time, but I think hope carried me through my effort to support each time. Maybe I lost sight of what I was actually assisting with. The other day a friend gave me some input, as I tried to process my thoughts on the losing battle of jumping on a sinking ship. She said that my swimming out to that sinking ship to try to help was the important part. I took what she said and tried to reconcile it with my usual exhaustion from feeling like I am treading water while others look like these graceful Olympic swimmers. She told me not everyone swims out to the sinking ship, so I started to think that maybe my splashing about frantically wasn't a complete failure.

I let myself get bogged down in the things I couldn't do for Marlene...get the right doctor to get the right meds to ease her Parkinson's symptoms, make the nursing home feel more cozy or serve better food, visit enough to make up for the hours she spent lonely, bring back her son or any other part of the incredible life she once lived. I wanted evidence of the mark I was leaving with her, beyond the bank statements showing that her bills had been paid. I felt like an imposter when people thanked me for all I'd done because, as mentioned, the ship still sunk. 

I am grateful to have people willing to tolerate my insecurities and throw me a life jacket, those who told me that what I did gave her security, friendship and love. Those are not insignificant things, I suppose.