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From: "Seth Waugh" <seth.waugh@db.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.

God Bless,
Seth


Hi,
   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, etc.
   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 her touch.
   - 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 plot.
   - 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 baby home.
    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.
Love, N

 


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