From: "Seth Waugh" <email@example.com>
To: Walter Donovan, David Newton
Subject: Re: Wings
Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2003 09:06:38 -0400
Dear Walter and Dave,
Unfortunately, my sister-in-law lost her battle several weeks ago. She
passed peacefully and contentedly. I wanted to thank you both for all
your efforts on her behalf. It wasn't for lack of love or friendship that
the disease prevailed, and I really appreciate your passion to help. I
also thought you might appreciate my brother's email written on the day
of her death. I know you guys know the feeling and it's no fun - but everyone
is doing well.
Hope to see you both soon.
I begin this sitting in my grandfather's old green rocker
on the porch in Dickvale. Beside me, in a recliner set at just the right
angle to help her breathe, dreams Devon.
With typical courage, grace and dignity she's showing
us how it's done: piloting herself in for the perfect landing we all hope
to make some day.
A synopsis of the medical situation:
- Extreme distention of her abdomen due to the ever
growing tumors, intestinal blockage, fluid retention, gas, etc.
- Severe edema in her legs because the swelling cuts
off the supply of blood to her legs. We've been sleeping on the pull out
couch in the front room for a week because I was worried about her on
the stairs in the middle of the night. She could walk until 36 hours ago,
when her left leg finally refused to respond to direction and we were
forced to order a wheel chair.
- Shortness of breath
- Pain and discomfort in her legs and abdomen
- Dehydration: We took her in twice last week for IV
fluids, but even that is hazardous because it can add to the accumulation
of fluid in her abdominal cavity and even interfere with the body's natural
palliative end of life processes.
- We've been visited the last 3 weeks by the Home Care
nurse and will sign on today for the full Hospice program. Will probably
get her a hospital bed today, though she's quite comfortable in the giant
green recliner we've borrowed that she promptly dubbed "Chairy".
She has resisted signing on to the purely palliative hospice care because
she was psychologically unwilling to surrender to the forces that beset
her. What battles are taking place inside her mind and soul we can only
imagine, but I will say those cancer cells have not had an easy time of
it trying to take over the body of the toughest, most tenacious woman
on the planet.
- She's heavily sedated on oxycontin and seems not to
be in serious pain. Until yesterday she was still eating and drinking
a little and still had moments of lucidity. Yesterday, not so much. And
this morning she's done little in response to our greetings and questions
but widen her eyes, except that when I said, "I love you," she
managed to croak, "...love you..."
Now she's slipping away, but she has been mostly cognizant
for the past 3 weeks. Alert enough to visit with an endless stream of
well wishers from near and far. We've tried to keep it down to a dull
roar--something we've been largely, if not completely, successful in doing.
Mom and the girls and I have tried to steal what time we could to take
care of a few things:
- Planting the garden was one of our toughest chores.
I'm pretty good in the garden, and Devon and I have always enjoyed a division
of labor out there, with me doing the heavy hoeing, potato bug picking
and weeding while she does the delicate weeding, thinning and all the
flower beds. But there's been no question who's Gardening Director and
who's the lackey. She's always ordered the seeds, mapped the garden and
done most of the planting, while I do what she tells me. This year she
and Alicia and Tina ordered all their seeds together, with Dev ordering
her usual range of zany plants: 8 different kinds of lettuce, broccolirab,
When it came time to plant she couldn't make it to the
garden. I insisted that she draw the map, that she direct us in her usual
way, but it became an ordeal because of the unspoken knowledge was that
she was drawing a map for a garden that she couldn't plant and probably
wouldn't be around to harvest. As it turned out, a couple of days later
they put her back on steroids which gave her enough energy for a few days
that she did get out to the garden and did plant a few things. Gave her
enough energy, in fact, that she did the typical Devon thing of overdoing
it and wearing herself out--an exhaustion well worth the price for the
joy it gave her and us. The cabbage, broccoli and onions all received
- Last Friday I got a lesson in making pizza dough:
mixing, kneading, rolling, tossing. The lesson went fine, though the dough
was kind of tough.
- My next life skills lesson was not so good: paying
bills--the thought of which will bring a shudder to anyone familiar with
my mathematical acuity. I wound up in a rage, throwing things, stabbing
the checkbook with a ball point pen, yelling and screaming at my dreamy-eyed
tutor, who, of course, took it magnanimously. I don't know what the rage
was exactly: something about confronting my inherent infantilism; something
about confronting in black and white the reality of her impending absence.
- And if that weren't reminder enough there were the
cold details to discuss: will, living will, funeral arrangements, burial
- One chore that could have been painful turned out
not to be: the girls divvying up Mom's jewelry. The three of them did
it together, sitting on our king size bed. Each piece came with a detailed
provenance: pins, rings,
necklaces, earrings from various ancestors, childhood charm bracelets,
the penny she squished under a train on her church choir trip to Washington.
They laughed and joked and had a gay old time, and Kaiya spent the rest
of the day wearing the penny around her neck on it's original ribbon.
- Some other cool things have happened too. On the day
we received our trip to the Balsams we also learned that an anonymous
donor had given a prize in Devon's name to the Peru Elementary School.
Having been reminded of this a couple of weeks ago, we met as a family,
defined the criteria (honesty, personal
integrity and compassion for others), suggested a recipient from among
the graduating eighth graders (Erica St. Pierre) and Caitlin and I presented
it last week at graduation. It was donated as a one time prize, but we
will make every effort to see that it's perpetuated.
- Another cool thing is that my father has been making
weekly trips to Peru to read to Devon. Her eyes have been to whacked out
to focus on fine print for long so she's been having a tough time reading.
Upon learning of this he determined to provide his own entertainment,
so every week he shows up with a new bundle of offerings under his arm:
Brautigan, Barthelme, Frank O'Conner, Angela Carter and a couple of others.
He reads short pieces, and Devon, even when drifting in and out consciousness,
has loved every word, or, if not every
word, has loved the soothing sound of his voice.
Yesterday he came to read and Devon was out of it, sleeping
soundly in her recliner on the porch. But he read anyway. To Fido and
me. And he read not his postmodernist favorites but J. C. Waugh originals,
including short stories from various eras and published poems he had written
in the 50's in classes with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I didn't ask,
but I doubt they'd been spoken for 50 years. To say I was moved would
be a considerable understatement.
So here we are: Caitlin's home, Kaiya just returned
from Vermont; the weather (however temporarily) is absolutely gorgeous,
and we're trying our best to keep Mom comfortable and help her bring this
And now her long suffering is over. I wrote the above
words, left the house for 40 minutes to run some errands and she died
while I was out. She died on the porch with Kaiya, Caitlin and Diane at
her side and the aroma of French lilacs in the air. They said her last
words were, "I love you..."
Then she departed her ravaged body and soared off on
her wide, wonderful wings.
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