Sunday, September 30, 2007

Saying Goodbye

I've written a few times here about my good friend Gertrude. This week, she turned 97. Before I met Gert, I'd never known or had the opportunity to really talk with someone who's lived that long. I am grateful to her for giving me a new perspective - for opening my eyes to struggles I had never known - for sharing her wisdom with me - and for appreciating what I brough to the table of our friendship.

This year's birthday wasn't exactly the happiest day.

About a month ago, Gert was hospitalized for anemia and dehydration. She spent two weeks in the hospital - getting thinner and sicker, despite the IV fluid and transfusions - by the day. After she was moved to a nursing home, the decline continued. Two weeks into the nursing home stay, she was moved back to Rhode Island Hospital, where it was confirmed that the colon cancer she has twice battled succesfully - has returned. Because of her age and how far the disease has progressed and because of how weak she's become and because of her wishes, it was decided that radiation and chemotherapy were not viable options. On Thursday, her 97th birthday, she was moved to a nursing home with a hospice staff.

I am struggling so much with how to go about saying goodbye to my friend. Although she has some very good days, days when I think she just might pull through this, I know that that's foolish thinking. I can see in her eyes, that she knows it too. And it is breaking my heart into a million tiny pieces. Many times in the past, when Gert has been sick, I was heartened by the look of sheer will and determination in her eyes. It was a look that said, "I'm going home from this place. I'm GOING to get stronger. I'm GOING to defy the odds." That look is absent this time. Her eyes tell me that she's tired, really-truly tired.

I suck at saying goodbye. It is just not something I'm good at. Especially now - with Gert. I feel like by saying goodbye, by letting my heart let go a little, by trying to come to terms with the world losing this wonderful soul, I am giving up on her. I am wrestling with two distinct, at-odds emotions - grief and guilt. Is it OK to grieve the decline, even though I feel like I'm quitting on my friend by doing so? Is it OK to prepare my heart for what will ultimately happen - or is this short-changing her strength (I mean, maybe she *will* pull through)? And how do I sit with her, holding those hands - so small, but that have held a whole world I'll never know -and not cry? How do I keep my emotions in check? How do I bring the most positive, strong energy I can to her when a piece of me is breaking inside?

This is not the first time I've lost someone. I realize that these are all normal emotions. But this time, this loss, feels so final. I have no grandparents left living - I have no great aunts or uncles. Gert has been a connection to the past that has meant the world to me. I see in her the same strength, born in hard-work and struggle, that I saw in my grandparents. I have found in her a connection to history. And she has inspired me to take advantage of my own ability to stay strong, to work hard, and to make the most of every able moment I get.

I know these next days - weeks - months? will be trying. I hope that I have the strength and the will to help my friend to stay as graceful and as steely as always as she makes her way onward. And I hope with all of my heart that she'll know, as she exits, what a difference she's made in my life.

Your good thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

12 comments:

Cin said...

Hi. I was brought to your blog from Kerri's site.
I feel your pain. Grieve however and whenever you want. There is no "set" way to grieve. I can tell by your post that this woman has brought a lot of joy and happiness to your life. Right now, just show her how much she means to you. Shower her with love.

cesnh said...

By saying good-bye, and allowing yourself (and Gertrude)to grieve, you are NOT giving up. Spending time with your good friend will mean so much to you and especially to her. She's a lucky lady to have you and it sounds like she knows that. You're fortunate to have such a wonderful relationship.
I like the comment above, "shower her with love."

Major Bedhead said...

Tell her how much of a difference she's made in your life. Just let her know all the good things she's done for you and how much she's meant to you. It's going to hurt like hell when she's gone, but you'll know you were able to share that with her and she'll go knowing how much she meant to you. I think that will be good for both of you.

Ah, Nic. Hang in there. These things are so tough. I wish I knew the perfect thing to say, but there's no such thing. I'm thinking about you....

Paige said...

How lucky you two are to have each other. Try not to worry about the "right" way to grieve right now, just continue to be as present as you can with your friend, all the way through to the end.

My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

Nicole P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole P said...

Cin - I love how you put it - "shower her with love." This is the best thing a friend can do, I suppose. Thank you.

C - I am the lucky one. For sure. I hate the idea of missing her. I just want to be strong for her - and that is SO difficult. Thank you.

J - I've been trying to shore myself up - to try to get through really saying what's in my heart - but I want to do it while in way that will make her feel strong and supported - and I'm not sure I can. Your thoughts mean the world to me. Thank you.

Paige - I hate the end. And although I know that endings are needed for beginnings, the anguish they bring - the anguish this one is bringing- makes my heart feel cracked. Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me. Thank you.

Scott K. Johnson said...

Hey N, thinking of you as you go through this.

Shannon said...

You are being a true friend by being there with her during her last days and not letting her die alone.

Chrissie in Belgium said...

You and Gert have such a long honest relationship with eachother that I do not think you have to hide your emotions. She knows them. Words are just not necessary any more. You both know in your hearts how you feel towards eachother. Nicole, you have to look at it this way - one cannot live forever. She is very lucky having lived so long and you are both so lucky in having shared eachother's lives. So there are really no regrets, no unresloved issues. THAT can give you peace.

Amylia said...

Tell her it's okay to let go, if she wants to. It's okay to be at peace. Once I said those words to my grandma, I cried like crazy later, but I wanted her to know it was okay--she didn't have to hang on for me if she was going to die, I wanted her to feel okay about it, about letting go.

Just tell her how much you love her and what a wonderful person she is and has been to you. What a gift. I am sure she'll appreciate a visit.

thinking of you and Gert....

Amylia said...

I meant to just say to keep your heart open. To be present. She will feel you, feel your heart, and you hers. To be present, to be there. That is more than enough.



((hugs))

Amylia said...

cesnh has a good article up about visiting loved ones in a nursing home over at http://nhstuff.blogspot.com/