Around her, I brought the warmed cream blanket snug around her arms cradling her, feeling the heat of her and having her bones melt into my arms. The traffic outside on the gray day was routine, a bustle as always on Parnassus. A siren from the street below reminds me of our being in an ambulance just a few days ago that brought her here. Two very young men in the front kindly offering by words and deeds their awareness of this last ride she would be taking.
It had only been a few days since we were last here, a different floor. The windows in the room showing all the magic of San Francisco seemed to mock our situation. Amidst the promise and potential of this sweet town with all the church steeples exemplary and distinguished, there are houses buttressed against each other and traffic darting about what looks like tiny streets, a celebration of life. But this room is about endings.
It is a crisp beautiful blue Ides of March sky kind of day. Everything moving forward everywhere you see from these windows, except my girl on her bed. Her warm reddish fuzz on the pillow, the feisty fighter now drifting with the lull the medicine provides. A look of peace on her face with a smile to the visitor who is holding her hand. One of the many visitors who have brought the party to her. They have come from Tucson, New York City, Atlanta, Portland-they have brought outrageous charms, books, lotions, a bright red little purse, dolls, puppets, a gorgeous red and orange scarf, balloons, and an impossible red wig which she has worn with panache.
Some have entered her room in tears but the room is full of joy as they sit and hold Elizabeth’s hand. Few words spoken but they are in union with her. Bicoastal is what she said she wanted to be, in the buzz and hustle of the internet world, young and vibrant. All who enter are her cohorts from NY City and the Bay Area. Three sit in chairs by her bed, people are entering and leaving the room having been with her, and if there’s no chairs available, they’re happy to sit on the floor happy that the hospital is allowing the presence of sometimes ten or more people at once.
The young handsome doctor comes in and takes her hand in his, leaning on the bed to be closer to her. As is her way of being, she sees everyone in the room, relates to everyone with slight movements, nods and smiles. Hospice they call this room and it feels like the place of rest after the battle. There is the absence of poles holding drips, the absence of monitors and equipment-all the steel and plastic that has been the means to keep the battle going, maybe even to win the battle, are not in this room. The young vibrant bombastic personality of Elizabeth was how the war was waged, with interns, doctors, nurses all lined up for her and with her. Now they are gone, the room is serene and she sits like the victor, not the victim of this encounter with ovarian cancer.
A victor because every step she took from the first unexpected diagnosis by the doctor who took me into a private room, was full on. She dazzled the staff with her Betty Boop NY City rags worn jauntily to chemo; she made friends with her direct manner and grace with all the staff. Surrounded by love, she and I wrote poems on Valentine’s day that ended with” Love Conquers All. ”
Combined -our ability to turn the tide was well known, it was our history together. Our enthusiasm to bring about all that was needed in the family was witnessed by most who knew us. Our conflicts and fights were equally well known, full of passion and heat. Still we knew together, aligned, we were a force to be reckoned with. We figured we had a chance. It was always we, not hers alone to bear, ever.
It would be 93 days from what was supposed to be laprascopic out patient removal of a cyst to when she left us. Throughout, we never considered she wouldn’t reach her 40th birthday in October. What we thought we might have to deal with would be a series of recurrences after remissions as a potential future. We would have taken that option. But then, in a moment, the chaos of her condition became all that there was and there was no return from there. But then, there was surrender. Surrender to all the love that was hers from all of her family, all of her friends who came to do battle, hold the line and tangle with this dreaded disease with her. It was like a race to a finish line nobody wanted to reach. It did at 6 am on March 25th, 2003.
The truth of that moment is not at all what I would have expected or could have imagined. She has never left me; I have never left her. I am refreshed always by the presence of her in so many corners of my life. I am aware of the color of the rainbow that is gone forever, but I can still feel and see the color. Tortured by the simple little things that ran like a current through my body and soul throughout those first months, I found redemption. Days, weeks and months of the picture of her on her bed when I last saw her, without a blanket on her gave me moments of anguish. I suffered with that particular memory well into that first year without her. Then one day, I closed my eyes and I saw myself go to her and take the covers and wrap her in the blanket holding her as I had when she was a child. The hurt went away, some peace came. Life moved on. But not without her. I think about that Valentine cards we created that year and how true they were. What my daughter taught me is indeed Love Conquers All. Love is forever.