I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A week of ups and downs

Snow and berries
It's almost impossible for me to get used to how quickly time is passing this fall. It was a week ago that I was getting ready to celebrate my birthday, last Saturday when I went for that hike in the cold and wind with a few friends. The blink of an eye and another week is gone into the past.

I'm struggling here to get started on this post, because although I know what I want to write about, it's not easy. First of all, on our hike last week I was walking along behind Al, and we were talking about how I celebrated my big day. As I've begun to explore other ways to celebrate than sitting down to a big meal, I decided to schedule a massage for my birthday, and it was wonderful. Al mentioned that his massage therapist had recently died, and I suddenly realized he was talking about Beth!

A couple of years ago when my regular massage therapist was temporarily unavailable, I asked for some recommendations from friends, and Al suggested I try Beth. She was not only a massage therapist, but also an accomplished Rolfer, so for three months I saw her regularly, and then afterwards I received three Rolfing sessions with her. We became friends, if only in a client/therapist sense, and two months ago she called me and asked me to have tea with her. She had recently been diagnosed with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer), and she remembered that I told her my mother had it, too.

She was in the midst of some aggressive chemo treatments and suggested that we wait until she was feeling a little better before our tea date. After two weeks had passed, I sent her a text and asked if she was ready for that tea, but she said she'd let me know, as she was pretty sick. Well, as things happen, I didn't hear from her again for the next few weeks, and then Al told me she had died. I was devastated, as I felt that I had let her down. I should have been more insistent, if only so that I could see her once again before the end. But she was relatively young and certainly healthy when I last saw her.

I learned that the cancer was well advanced when she learned of it, and that there was really no hope of recovery, and by the time we would have had our visit, she was already in Hospice care and knew she would not be leaving. Her memorial service will be next Saturday, and I will attend, as we know that these are for those of us left behind, and I need to have some closure. I spoke with her last on October 31st, and within a month she was gone. It was so quick!

When you don't see someone very often, you almost always picture them being the way they were when you saw them last, but as we all know, that's not always true. As I have thought of Beth this past week, I remember the feeling of her fingers pressing into my back. She helped me with some annoyingly persistent pain, and told me that she believed damaged nerves can regenerate. And my own pain was much relieved after a few sessions with her.

Last night I had an intense dream. In the dream, I saw little puffs of smoke coming from tiny holes in the wall of my apartment (although it was a different place than this one), and I called the manager to tell her I thought there might be a fire inside the wall. She ignored me, but I kept insisting she pay attention to my concerns. And then suddenly there was fire everywhere! I went to the bedroom to rouse my son Chris, who was still sleeping, and I pushed him out of the room. I remember throwing books and possessions from the window onto the ground below. And then there were the firemen, coming through the window with equipment to fight the fire. That's when I woke up, my heart hammering from the fear and excitement.

As I lay in my bed thinking about the dream, which seemed very real even after I woke up, I wondered if it was related to my anxiety about Beth having been unaware of the danger in her body as it was being destroyed by cancer. That if she had paid attention to the signs, maybe she would have been able to be saved. IBC is an insidious and aggressive cancer, because it doesn't form a lump and can travel through your entire system before it's detected, as happened to Beth. My mother was one of the lucky ones, since only a small percentage of people diagnosed with it survive more than a few years. The treatment, however, was what caused my mother to develop heart disease, which eventually did contribute to her early death.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful concert, the annual Christmas concert of the Bellingham Chamber Chorale singers. Al is one of the singers, and he had mentioned the concert in one of his emails. I really enjoy hearing the wonderful sound of voices raised in song, especially when they are so good. As I listened I felt a sense of peace and well-being in the room, with the audience as well as the singers engaged in a moment of grace. It's the season of dark days, but the wonderful twinkling lights everywhere, and the gathering of people together to share in such beauty for a little while, helps us to remember that the darkness is always followed by the dawn.

I don't know why I have been given the gift of long life, but I am reminded once again that it is not granted to everyone. Some of us live to a ripe old age, and others are taken early. But no matter whether it's a long or short life, it's important to cherish and appreciate every single moment. I do hope that you, my dear readers, will take some time to give thanks during this holiday season. I will be thinking of you while I am smiling into my teacup, thinking of that tea date that is waiting for me on the other side.


Anonymous said...

Music does quell the beast in all of us, doesn't it?
As you said, it's not how long one lives, it's how well.
My condolences to Beth's family and friends.

John's Island said...

Good morning DJan. You have written a wonderful post that gets at the heart of how difficult it is to be close to someone going through the awful battle with Cancer. I do think your awareness of Beth’s condition was the source of your dream … the fire in the wall … the lack of attention … and then flames blasting out of the wall in full terror. Coincidentally, I have a good friend, about 70ish, whose life partner is going through Pancreatic Cancer. In her case, she has been able to hang on for several years, but lately has gotten very close to the end. Just this past week they went to the doctor to talk about “death with dignity”. These things are just so difficult. I don’t think Beth would hold it against you that you two didn’t get together one last time. And one thing I’m certain of … You were so right when you said, “…no matter whether it's a long or short life, it's important to cherish and appreciate every single moment.” Thanks, as always, for sharing and wishing you have a fine week ahead. John

Linda Reeder said...

I am at the cabin on Whidbey Island this morning. I just glanced out the window to see a sparkling new morning with the low sun creating a mirror out of the satiny lagoon. It's going to be a day to be grateful for, as are all of these precious days.
Thank you for your lovely words and inspiring message once again. Gratitude is the attitude.
Now I need to get moving. I am being called by calmness to take a walk.

Elephant's Child said...

Such a beautiful and moving post.
Thank you.
And I love that image of the tea party on the other side..

Arkansas Patti said...

I feel your pain in this post as you go where it is all to easy to go, the land of, "if only I had---." It is like when someone is taken suddenly from us by accident. We often regret not being more caring right before we lose them. You are so right, we need to be more cognizant of now and not rely on tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You did your best, and that is all anyone can ask. I'm sorry, though. Had she been up to it, you two would have had a very nice visit. Having a tea date on the other side will stick in my mind for a long time, I suspect.

June said...

I am sorry about Beth's passing, and I well know the sadness of the if onlys and I should haves. Such a short time from diagnosis to departure! The shock of it is part of the pain, I'm sure.

Good for you! to have enjoyed the concert and the lights, and the beauty that is here for you. You made me think of this exchange from "Our Town":
“EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"
STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”
― Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Sally Wessely said...

You are such an empathetic person. You have touched me deeply with your response to Beth's death. It is sobering how many young women still die from breast cancer.

Thinking of you. Thank you for another reminder to live life well.

Red said...

Sympathy to you in the loss of your friend. Sometimes we don't know the importance of the friend until they have left us.You have described clearly how you remember the friend you lost.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I am sorry to hear about the death of your friend, I remember you blogging about the rolfing. Sometimes people travel in and out of our lives like the speed of light.
I bet you will have that tea someday and that will be the best ever! :)

Linda Myers said...

I learned this week of the death of a neighbor of mine in Tucson. There's a sense of disbelief still with me. How can that happen?

Rita said...

So sorry to hear that. One never knows what will happen in our lives. Things like this make you realize how brief our time is here. Sometimes much briefer than expected. I think a tea date awaits you, but not for a long time yet. :)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I think that the way we die is as important as the way we live and that it's a choice, at a soul level, that each of us makes. Don't feel bad, DJan. Beth knew what she was doing.

Stella Jones said...

Glad to hear you went to a concert and enjoyed it DJan. Music is so therapeutic and also a release for our emotions.

O-town Ramblings said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the death of your friend. Having been to a viewing for an acquaintance earlier this evening, I too have been thinking about how important it is to live life to its fullest. People we love, or even just friends that we like to know are alive and well, can be gone in an instant. I hope the coming days and weeks bring you some peace of mind about Beth's death.