eggwards: (Uphill Climb)
[personal profile] eggwards
Laura was only 36. It’s a seemingly ridiculous age to die.

I guess the bad thing about being young is you don’t often give a lot of thought to your health. From the best we know, Laura hadn’t learned that she had cancer until it was too late, and certainly didn’t know how far it had spread. I had thought she went for a checkup last winter, but now I’m not so sure.

Two months ago she began having back pains, and went to an urgent care facility that gave her ibuprofen. I’m guessing they didn’t check her kidneys. After a couple of weeks later she decided to go to a gynecologist who ordered an MRI, then promptly went on vacation scheduling the follow up for August 7th. The gynecologist didn’t tell her that prognosis, nor did he refer her to another doctor who could have followed up while he was on vacation.

Laura was waiting for the follow up and was getting progressively weaker until she finally called my mother to come up to Alexandria Virginia, where she had recently moved. She had gotten so weak that she had gone on short term leave from her firm. Mom found that she was having difficulty just crossing the small apartment Laura had, and encouraged her not to wait, and to get to a hospital. Mom called the paramedics and Laura took her last ride.

What I can’t understand is why Laura wasn’t more aggressive about getting treatment and learning more. Laura may be like me, not liking to go to the doctor and not always following doctor’s orders, but if she was in pain, and feeling week, it’s surprising that she didn’t try to work with the gynecologist’s staff to get more information and get another doctor. This isn’t like Laura, and leads me to believe that the gynecologist didn’t share the diagnosis with her.

My father is looking to file a complaint against the gynecologist. I’m surprised he’s not suing.

Laura went to the hospital unresponsive. She perked up and was conscious and talking on Thursday July 22, but was unresponsive again on Friday. I learned that Laura was ill the weekend before when I went down to my parent’s house to pick up the old lawnmower and found Mom had left. Dad didn’t know there was more than some weakness at the time. I got a call from Mom on Thursday and things seemed to be bad, but not dire. Dad was going to visit over the weekend.

That changed on Friday when during work I received a text from Mom (via the fingers of Laura’s new boyfriend Josh) stating that she was dying and I needed to come to see her as soon as possible.

I rushed home, called Chris and started to look for flights on line. We knew we wouldn’t be able to get there before midnight, so a plan was made to get there, stay overnight at the airport hotel, then get a rental car and drive from the Baltimore/Washington airport (which had both the cheapest and the only same-day flights available). We packed one suitcase between the two of us, grabbed the laptop, and made sure friends would take care of Joey.

The flights to the east coast were all delayed and we were looking at having middle seats in two different aisles. We nicely asked the desk clerk if we could sit together and we got the “we are family” treatment, moving us up to an earlier flight that had also been delayed, in adjoining seats. We ran down to the gate which was in a different terminal. We were off, but our bag didn’t make it. I had a lovely night without my CPAP at the airport hotel. Our luggage arrived early the next morning.

Before the flight when I talked to my Dad, who had just arrived at the hospital, I was given the news that it was bad, the cancer had spread through the kidneys (therefore causing the back pain), into the pancreas and liver, and was starting to attack her lungs. Dad wasn’t even sure she would last the night.. I was already steeling myself for the worst, that she’d already be gone before Chris and I could get there.

When we did get to the hospital on Saturday we met Mom and Dad and Laura’s boyfriend Josh. Josh was accompanied by his mother and brother Jim. Laura was in the critical care unit, hooked up to a dialysis machine, a BiPAP for breathing, heart and lung monitors and several iv drips. Though unconscious, every nurse I came in contact with stated that if you talked to her, she would hear you – and tried to point this out by pointing to the heart rate, which would seem to change when you talked to her.

I always wonder about this. When my grandmothers were dying nurses said the same thing. So how would this be heard, like a dream, or in a way where the ears were the only working organs? I don’t know. I tend to be skeptical, something to comfort the visitor more than anything else. Still when I could come up with the words, I talked. It was just difficult to find what I wanted to say.

My mother had no difficulty trying to find something to say. My mother is a chatterbox in even the most normal of situations, but now she was trying to cope with the situation and the blabbering just kept going…about anything and everything. My Dad looked exhausted by the constant talking, Josh and his family, meeting my family for the first time seemed puzzled by it. One of the nurses said that they were happy we were here as they were worried about my mother when she was with Laura alone.

This biggest problem is that mom would talk over everyone else’s conversations. I know that she wasn’t doing it intentionally, but while Dad and I could cope with this, Chris and Josh’s family seemed bothered by this. When we weren’t in Laura’s room, we would often be holed up in a family waiting room. Every once in a while you would have to go find where Mom wasn’t, just to find the quiet.

I was struggling not to fall into total despair about Laura’s condition. As we were driving to the hospital there was already word that organs were shutting down, and she was relying on machines to keep her alive. Given that on Friday I didn’t know if I would get to see her again, I wondered how I would try not to make this just a goodbye. Chris was doing much better about holding out hope. I was starting to get worried that we were just prolonging the inevitable.

Lara was there, looking like she was asleep, but hooked up to tubes and wires and machines. It was very disturbing. Personally I don't like seeing anyone in a hospital. strangely, this was her first time in a hospital as a patient. She actually worked designing hospitals and clinics. I wondered what she thought of this one.

I held her hand and spoke to Laura, saying that she still needed to come to see the new house, she needed to be there for the final Harry Potter Movies and the next Duran Duran album and whatever else I could think of, but it seemed empty. Most of the one-way conversations I was having would end up in tears, and I was thankful that Chris was there to try to help me through it while dealing with his own feelings.

Dad was starting to put out the news that Laura’s prognosis was poor, and we were staring to get information in from the phone, from email, facebook, etc. It’s an interesting, modern world that we can pull so much information so fast. I often took these electronic messages into Laura’s room and told her who had sent messages to get better, read some poems that were sent to her, used it to talk to her. It was a way to try to talk without talking.

Some of Laura’s friends and co-workers can by during the day, but the critical care unit was very quiet that evening. Her boyfriend, Josh stayed with her overnight, and even though they had been together for just a short little time, I could see that he was very devoted and troubled with the idea of losing Laura. He’s a nice guy, a little younger than Laura. He’s been through a lot, but still seems young. Apparently Laura had bonded with him over music. Josh had brought over some CDs to play next to her bed, ut I knew that he was missing something – Duran Duran.

On Sunday it became clear that there was no change in Laura’s condition, and as much as we wanted her to fight, there was no way to use conventional cancer treatments as he liver and kidneys had already been attacked and shut down.

It was another day of going back and forth between the family waiting room that we had taken over, and Laura’s room in the critical care unit. The nurses were very nice and seemed to be OK with the continuing rotations of various family and friends in the room. I remember one time when Chris and I were in the room the nursing staff had us figured out. Well, it wasn’t hard as we were always very close as we held not only Laura’s hand but each other. One of the nurses said that we had some similarities to Josh, who is cubbish himself. Chris did admit to the nurse, “They both share the same tastes in men.” That got some laughs.

A storm rolled in in the afternoon darkening the sky and cooling the hot temperatures that had hit the east coast that weekend. My dad had done well in trying to be strong, but he finally broke down in a hallway and I was able to catch him and hug him for a few minutes. Dad knew the time was coming and he would have to give the final say. I said that really, it was time. We had held on to give people in the area time, but it was only prolonging the inevitable. By the evening, the order had been gien to start to pull the machines away and allow nature to take its course.

Mom and Dad, Josh and his family and Chris and I surrounded Laura’s bed. At first Mom and Dad were doing most of the talking, stating that they were ready to say goodbye, and knew Laura would be going to heaven and hoped to see her when they arrived, etc. I know I was a bit troubled by this as I can’t truly say I believe in heaven or God or anything like that. I didn’t say anything of course. It wasn’t appropriate. I know that they were trying to console themselves, probably more that they were hoping to comfort Laura. We all needed that, in whatever way worked. I was very conflicted over this, as I saw daying as more of something unknowable, and even scary. I guess I was still mad that it was happening, wanting someone to blame for this to have progressed past the point of no return.

I tried to stay by Laura’s side for the entire thing. It was overwhelming for all of us, and people had to sit down, come back to the bed, etc. We still had some music playing, but Josh wanted to pull up some specific songs on his phone. This was something I could get behind. Josh would pull up newer songs by Muse and Kings of Leon, while I countered with older songs by Duran Duran and Ben Folds. After a while Josh Chris and I started to sing along with the songs with a little quiet three part harmony. Dad even sang along with us when I played “Roam” by the B-52’s.

There was a monitor showing heart rate and respiration that floated above my head. I tried not to look at it as it seemed to be a poor countdown as the heart rate slowly slowed down. As we were singing I had forgotten about it, but Chris has noticed when an alarm had come on showing that Laura had passed. He began to cry and hugged me. Chris told me later that he was still hoping for a glimmer of hope, but seeing the monitor he finally know that no miracle was coming.

With that the room knew that it was done. Everyone erupted in tears and began hugging each other. My mom had been silent for some time, and unusual situation, but she hugged me and told me that I needed to stay in touch more as I was the only child they have left. With in a few minutes my mother the chatterbox was back on, so I knew the defense systems were back up.

I think we had done a good job about talking about Laura, and expressing our feelings about her with one another. Having josh and his family there helped us open up about Laura in order to tell them about her, as they told us about her as well. Co-workers and friends coming by filled in the story. When the chaplain can, she found a family that had expressed a lot in the course of the weekend, which I could tell was not the case with grieving families, she normally sees. I think we had a lot of time to process and think and let out the tears and say goodbye – as much as we could do in the timeframe. I don’t think that means that we are over it, not by any means. I know I’m still dealing with the grief now a week later.

It was hard to sleep that night.

The next day we went to Laura’s apartment to go through her stuff. I would have loved to had more time before doing this, but Chris and I would be going home the next day, and Mom and Dad needed some help. Laura had been living more than a thousand miles away. She had a lot of stuff in that small apartment. We knew that we had no way to bring back all of her stuff, and no way to store it, so we had to look for what was important, and we would have to donate the rest to local charities.

Laura amazed me by how much she had held on to. There were toys and books from both of our childhoods. As much as I was trying to stay strong as I would go through things, I would find a well known stuffed animal or picture or even old dance outfits from when she was four. There were so many memories, and so many surprises when I’d end up saying “I didn’t know this still existed!” I didn’t know how much of a pack rat she was, and I kinda wish she wasn’t because I didn’t like having to pass over some of that stuff and leave it hoping that someone else will get good use of it sometime in the future.

We gave three boxes worth of CDs away to Josh. I took a few bags and a stuffed animal that I had actually made for her when I was learning to sew. Chris worked on the computer to help us get Laura’s online accounts taken care of. He was smart in getting some sheet sets and cooking supplies that we could use at home. I found Laura’s diploma.

It felt bad picking over things like this, but there wasn’t time to make this a better situation. Laura’s friends and co-workers were also there this past week to help my parents with more stuff, working to clear the apartment. One odd thing was that Laura had my grandmother’s china and crystal. None of us really had a use for it. Laura had made friends with her hairdresser in Baltimore who’s parents own a bed and breakfast there. Mom and Dad had stayed at the bed and breakfast a few times and had become friends with the owners. I’m not sure how it happened, but right now if you are ever at Aunt Rebecca’s Bed and Breakfast in downtown Baltimore, you can ask to eat on the Edwards family china.

On Tuesday Chris and I had to return to Dallas. The flight wasn’t until later, but we wanted to avoid traffic in DC, so we headed up to Baltimore so I could show the brownstone where Laura used to live. We walked around the Bolton Hill neighborhood for a bit, then we drove by Charm City Cakes, which was nearby. We needed to get lunch so I knew there was some stuff to the north, and as we were driving we accidentally found Miss Shirleys, which was one of Laura’s favorite places in Baltimore. I had a few sweet potato fries for her.

Unfortunately we missed the get together at a DC brewpub with some of Laura’s co-workers and friends. My parents did attend and said it was a good event. As we flew out I felt sad, that I was leaving something of Laura and myself behind. We flew clearly over the national mall and I remember seeing all of those buildings because of Laura, and learning more about architecture because of her. The move from Texas to Baltimore/DC had been good for her, and good for her career, but now I’m sad that she had been so far away.

The weekend has been one of feeling powerless when you really wanted to do something, anything that would have changed the outcome, but there it was, and leaving felt that there was a finality,but still not wanting to let go.

I may write a little bit about Laura’s life as a whole, but for now she was a wonderful sister, a great architect and a wonderful friend. Little things have been reminding me of her all week, and it’s been hard reconciling everything now that I’m back at home. The memorial service in Conroe Texas won’t be for a couple of weeks more, so there’s more to do. Still, I can’t think of how I could ever forget her.
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February 2013


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