04 May, 2010

It's Time

I've been struggling to write this next blog post and have written a few different versions already that I've then subsequently closed without saving. Perhaps this one will make it all the way.

Both Jason and I received a Facebook message from a friend a few months ago letting us know that she had been diagnosed with lymphoma. The news was less shocking than you'd imagine as this friend has had a passing acquaintance with various forms of cancer for the entire time we've known her. While we didn't reconnect with her as often as we should have, it seemed like everytime we did, she had just gotten out of the hospital for this or that. Her health was shaky, at best.

It turns out that lymphoma wasn't the correct diagnosis and that the situation was much more dire than any of the previous cancers she'd had. Within a month, she was undergoing chemo treatments for a mysterious form of cancer that began as a large tumor in her stomach and had started to spread to her liver. Her boyfriend, Jake, kept us informed of her progress when she was too weak to talk and one night, when Jason was out at a consultation, my phoen rang and it was her. I picked up immediately and turned off the television. We had an amazing conversation full of positivity and hope and liberally sprinkled with cold, hard facts. Her first round of chemo had gone well and the doctors were very pleased with how much the tumors had been beaten back. They would continue the same path and hope for even better results the next time. We made a date for me to come up the next week and I hung up from that conversation feeling full of hope for Lisa's prognosis.

That was the last time I spoke to her. The date we'd made ended up having to be cancelled because the doctors had pushed her chemo up to more aggressively attack the tumors and after that second and final round, they discovered that the cancer had gotten smart and dodged that which threatened it. It began to consume her liver, a much more important organ than I'd ever realized which was needed to process the toxins in the chemo. They called her in and told her the bad news. I wasn't there, I don't know how she took it other than through other people's words. I can only imagine how I would have taken news like that, so add a healthy dose of grace and dignity to my conjectured response and that's how I imagine her reaction. The thought of processing news like that devours me.

Jason and I made plans to go see her Sunday April 25th, to say goodbye. On Saturday, Jake called Jason and told him we needed to move it up. Jason had a couple of consultations that early afternoon so we made arrangements to meet up at an Oasis on I-94 since we'd be coming from two different directions and continue on together in one car.

When we got to Lisa's parents' house, we joined a large crew of family and friends who rambled between her room, the living room, the kitchen and the breezeway for smokes. Lisa was unconscious and had been since about noon, right before Jake called Jason. She was never to regain consciousness.

I met three lifelong girl friends who were there originally for a fun sleepover that had tragically turned into a death watch. June, who has known Lisa the longest - since kindergarten - is a petite blond with the bluest eyes and sunny disposition. Nicole shares Lisa's love of all things hippie and is powering through supporting everyone while pregnant. Julie is a constant tower of support for Lisa's mom and Jake as they helplessly watch their girl die. Lisa's friends are vehemently supportive of the process as only intelligent, accepting individuals can be. They massage her feet and hold her hands and hug her mom and fight back their own tears. Truly an amazing group of women to be surrounded by.

Less than twelve hours after we said our goodbyes, Lisa peacefully passed from this world.

I still get teary with a phrase like that. Facebook suggested that I reconnect with my old friend Lisa Rosemann last night. Talk about a rock in the pit of your stomach. I'd give anything to do so, thanks for bringing it up, Facebook. And yet it gets away with it because it is a program and no one gives a program a dirty look when it puts its foot in its mouth.

We followed through the entire process. Went to the wake on Tuesday night. The funeral home was crowded almost the entire evening with friends and family and neighbors and acquaintances and even the mayor of Antioch showed up at one point. They had an open coffin and had put a wig that Lisa chose for her open casket as the chemo had worked well enough to take her beautiful head of hair away. Another thing I can't fathom: choosing your own funeral look at this age.

The funeral was Wednesday. Jason was a pall bearer and told me in the ride up that Catholic tradition is that the pall bearers are the messengers and that they should have a hand on the casket at all times possible until the priest has duly sent the soul up to heaven. I'm not a religious person, at all, but I thought that was particularly poetic in a time like this.

I've been to a couple Catholic wedding ceremonies but never to a Catholic funeral mass. There was much more singing in grief than there is in celebration. I hope the pomp and circumstance of it all comforted Lisa's parents - I found it to be entertaining in those moments when I forgot why we were there. I found the incense swung over the casket to be cloying and not unpleasant. And in the end, I cried. And cried. And cried. I cried quite a lot last week. As did so many others.

I took away from it all: Love and mortality. Both are bound to get ya. Hopefully with several decades between them.

Much love, Lisa.

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