Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trying Not to Be Sad But Failing Somewhat Miserably

I've been looking at the computer screen for awhile now trying to think of how to write about the main reason that I flew 3,000 miles out to California last week during a month when the weather is about as unpredictable as it comes and have finally decided that I'm not quite sure how to write about my friend of 25 years who is quite obviously dying but doing it in her own inimitable style. I'm going to try though as writing is cathartic and I could use some of that right now.

I knew that going out to Stockton to see Cyndi was going to be tough but I also knew that it was something that I was not willing to not do.  There was just no way that I was not going to take the opportunity to visit the person who probably knows me best in this life, the person I could always turn to no matter what, the person who always knew what to say and how best to say it, and the person who loved and supported me during some of the stupidest - and hardest - moments of my life.  "Tough" be damned, this visit was important - for both of us.

"Tough" might not be the best way to describe it, though. "Heart-rending" might actually be a better description as that's exactly what it is when you walk into a hospital room in the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit and see someone that you dearly love hooked up to more gadgets and gizmos than you'll find in most Best Buy showrooms.  To see your best buddy lying there in the middle of all those whirring, clacking, buzzing machines with the plastic tubing and bags of dripping fluids and charts and bottles and all manner of medical paraphernalia, looking twenty years older and pale as a ghost against the hospital sheets is difficult - darned difficult - as that's when it really hits you that time is winding down; that Death is coming long before you ever thought possible riding that pale horse found in Revelation 6:7-8; and that there's not a damned thing that you can do about it except accept it and hope that he's not coming at a fast gallop but instead maybe taking a slower trot towards his final destination.  And it hurts.

When I first walked into Cyndi's room at Saint Joseph's Hospital last Tuesday and took in that scene before me, it finally fully dawned on me that there were never going to be any more drives up to Lake Tahoe to park on a spot on high looking over the lake and reveling in the beauty that God had wrought, no more trips to the cemetery that I could see from her hospital window to sit on the grass near Timmy's grave and chat with a fallen friend as we reminisced about days gone by at the Stockton Police Department, no more dinners or lunches at our favorite Mexican restaurant in downtown Stockton where we no doubt ate too much but enjoyed every bite of it, no more impromptu trips to San Francisco or the wine country or the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, no more late-night phone calls that would last for hours with topics that ranged from the Armed Forces to how many cats did she own now to our families and their trials and tribulations to politics and how she wanted that vote she had wasted on Obama back to the possibility of past lives and how we surely must have known each other then to be such good friends in this life to everything in between, and never would there ever be that long-promised return trip to the East Coast and the chance to visit Gettysburg together - something that we had often talked about.

The reality of the situation is that my friend is being robbed of her life by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movements.  Cyndi is now tethered to this life simply by the tubing that runs from the ventilator next to her bed into her throat and provides her the air that keeps her alive; life-sustaining air that the secretions that build up in her throat won't allow her to take in by normal means anymore. She's dying - she knows it and I know it and there was pretty much no getting around that fact as I held her hand and felt the paper thinness of her skin - skin that reminded me of my 92-year old grandmother but which encased the muscles and bones of a beloved friend who is only 58.

Fortunately, Cyndi had regained her ability to speak by the time I was able to get out to see her and she did a pretty good job communicating with me, though at times it was hard to understand her and she quite frequently had to stop in mid-sentence to try to get her throat muscles to work well enough to form the words she wanted to say.  Ever the resourceful one, she had a back-up system should her voice fail - next to her was mounted an iPad2 with a text-to-talk program ready to go if talking became too difficult but luckily we never had to resort to that.  Considering that typing isn't all that easy either with the muscle weakness and contractures in her hands, I was glad we didn't have to go that route.  Besides, it's hard to convey that patented Cyndi sarcasm via typed word!

No stranger to adversity in her life, Cyndi is handling this latest lousy turn of events with the same aplomb that I've seen her use in many a difficult situation and she's not shying away from the cold hard facts of the matter.  We discussed her final wishes (no funeral but a BBQ would be nice, cremation is the way she wants to go with her ashes being spread at some of her designated favorite places) and her biggest worry - which is that her husband of 35 years won't be too lonely and become a hermit or worse when she's gone. We talked about some of our good times and some of our bad times and how our friendship was special in that it had not only stood the test of time and distance but that it had grown stronger over the years rather than faded away like so many friendships do.  We talked about the fact that I'm perfectly happy being single and no, she wasn't going to get her dying wish that I meet someone who loved me as much as I loved him even if she tried to play the "but I'm dying card!"

She told me that she'd had a good long life (I said I failed to see how 58 qualified as being long) and that she had gotten to see and do a lot of things that she had wanted to do in life; she said that it could have been worse, she could have lived during a time when you had to go to the river and pound your clothes with rocks to clean them or where there was no Pepsi (she's been a Pepsi addict for as long as I've known her).  We talked about the people on her list she had all intentions of coming back to haunt or at least giving a cosmic kick to and we talked about the people she'd meet in heaven.

And she told me not to be sad that she was dying.

Well ... that's something that I can't do and I told her as much in between trying not to cry (and in turn making the nurse who had come in at that time to give her a breathing treatment cry also).  I told her that if there was ever a time to be sad about something that this was it and I was going to by-golly be sad whether she liked it or not.  She finally acquiesced and said that okay, I could be sad but just a little and not for long but to be honest, I'm having some trouble with that.

Anyhow, more later as I'm quite violating Cyndi's edict not to be sad right here in this very post where I've pretty much decided that whole 'not being sad thing' is going to take me a long time to master - if I ever do at all.


  1. Oh Linda this is so beautifully written. I don't cry easily but your words really got to me.

    You captured your experience so well I felt like I was there in the room with you two.

    Cyndi certainly is an inspiration. She doesn't want you to be sad because she loves you.

  2. What Patti said. You certainly have a gift. You are so good at putting your feelings into words. There's no point in trying to NOT be something that you ARE. Give yourself over to it. There is nothing else for it. You just have to be and do. Time will eventually take the sting out of it, but never that sadness.

    Big hugs my friend xoxo

  3. I'm so sorry you are going to lose your bestest friend, but I'm so glad you got to see her before she leaves. xxx

  4. I'm so glad you visited her. All I can offer is hugs... Hopefully in person should you decide to visit Cyndi again.

  5. Oh Linda, I can not even imagine how hard this must be. I lost my best friend years ago in a car accident and did not get to say goodbye. I'm glad you did. Cherish your memories.
    Hugs from Ohio,

  6. A heartfelt tribute to the wonder that is friendship. The loss is coming and grief will take its own time to do its healing work. Then the words will come again and while you may not have in person phone calles, the conversation will continue.

  7. As difficult as it may have been to make this final trip and then, to put it into words here without experiencing major sadness, it is(was) a move that fortunately you were able to make too. I've been down that route several times too in my life (none taking me cross-country though) and truthfully, I don't think things would have been complete had I not made those visits -for a last goodbye. It does help immeasurably after the fact to be able to look back and remember that time, the importance too of telling and showing the other person how valued their life was to you. Yes, you will move on and yes, no matter how you deal with this, it will be painful, for sure, but the friendship you shared with her will stay with you in your heart and mind forever. Peace.

  8. grief is a necessary feeling
    you can't get to the better ones if you skip a step
    I'm sure Cyndi knows that, she sounds like an amazing person and that she wants you to feel all your feelings
    she also doesn't want you to suffer

    I have learned that there is "good" sad - the sad that comes from good memories and from loving someone deeply and from wishing the circumstances of a moment were different

    you are a good friend Linda
    and a good soul

    stay in the moment and keep moving

    lots of hugs

  9. People are in our lives to teach us lessons. Your friend cyndi sounds like a heck of a woman and should be celebrated every day of your life. Be sad for a bit but also be happy that cyndi has touched you so.

  10. hi honey. i am SO glad you went. and talked to her about it too. so many people that don't "know what to say" stay away and that's worse than saying the wrong thing. it really is. you are a dear friend.

    hugs, bee

  11. What Empress Bee said. You'll feel sad because it's just they way of things with you. I can so understand that.

    I'm happy you went too. It was the right thing to do. :)

  12. Anonymous11:20 PM EST

    I've never met your friend, but I felt as though I did through your blog...and today your post made me cry. I just cannot imagine.

  13. Of course you can feel sad about the failing health and imminent passing of your friend. You'll balance the sadness with laughter as your memories cheer you.

  14. So very sorry. Just so very sorry.


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