Sharing my month long stay in Malaysia has been my intent for this blog, however… I came home to an oddly incoherent email from my longtime friend and mentor, Darlene. In this short message, sent midway through my trip, she stated that she had finished chemo and radiation for stage 4 cancer. As it turns out, her lung cancer diagnosis began six months earlier with a ‘sore’ arm for which her then doctor offered aspirin and a pat on the head. A month later, Dar finally went to a doctor who listened, who placed a hand on the exact place where her arm hurt and who diagnosed the pain as a spontaneous break – tumor related. Probably cancer. This is how a world collapses.
Dar and I first met when I was in test engineering. She served with the secretarial pool that glued the engineering office together. We clicked. Her dry sense of humor and attention to detail carried us along with another writer into starting the Peninsula Chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America), a now highly successful group with a growing alumni of published writers. I served with her as conference coordinator for the colossal RWA conference in New Orleans in the early 90s. We played at smaller conferences, meeting between events for the odd breakfast and lunch. She never lost faith in my writing ability, even as she misplaced her belief in herself as a publishable writer. She and Lloyd moved to Union in Mason County after he retired, yet we continued to connect. Once I moved to the Okanogan and published, I dropped her a line to let her know whenever I had an author event in the Kitsap area. She never came out to play, blaming her diminished hearing or dislike of driving for not making the events. I simply chose not to drive another couple of hours to and from Union for a meet up. Still, we have our history.
That’s why despite having just unpacked after an excruciatingly long return trip, I called another friend for a place to stay before throwing necessities into my recently emptied backpack. For this trip, the VW carried me seven hours to my destination in Kitsap County. From there a daily commute of an hour each way took me for a visit with Dar in her rehab and nursing facility in Mason County. One day the sky opened up and sheeted the road with what felt like tears from great gulping sobs.
She felt too weak to talk much, so first I filled the silence with babble. Then I offered laptop photos of the recent trip along with those from our Okanogan home. This proved too much for her concentration. She slept often, waking to watch court television. Whenever she felt like it, I rubbed her legs, arm, neck and shoulders with an aromatic lotion, then massaged her scalp. Her meals consisted of barely touched white and brown foods intended to digest easily and help patients regain strength, if only to galvanize them to hunt-and-gather for more palatable fare. I brought her offerings of Ben & Jerry’s, pomegranate seeds smothered in dark chocolate, thick clam chowders and whatever else struck her fancy. She barely touched those either. In three day, she moved once from her bed to her chair and back again. My last day, she claimed to have been thrown into the shower by the staff, yet seemed perkier for it. To her room’s impersonal trappings, I added a bowl of bath salts interspersed with tiny shells smelling of the sea she loves and a palm-sized balloon dog of substantial Kelly green glass. Then I headed for Wenatchee to make a doctor’s appointment scheduled 6 months earlier.
Her daughter Terrea’s marrying on May 21st, which coincides with our family’s wedding in Spokane. Once home, I rifled through catalogs for possible mother-of-the-bride choices in the softest fabrics with the bohemian designs Darlene favors. You see, Dar has lost weight she will never gain back. At another time in her life she’d be blissful. Not now. Rather she insists on waiting for a better day to do those things that are important to her. She’s waiting for a good day to talk with her husband of 38 years, to communicate with her children. To talk with her friends. She’s waiting for a day that may not come.
So. Do we wait for those ‘good days’? Or do we surrender to this moment and accept each one as the gift it is? I told her I love her and reminded her of all the ways she has enriched my life. And now, for me, today is a good day. This is a great moment.