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I am an idiot.

If I thought about it at all, I would've said my path crossed exmearden's so I could help her through her final days.

A self-centered idiot.

In fact, my path crossed hers so she could teach me, teach us, how to die with grace and dignity.

exmearden was our teacher. She took us along on her journey with cancer and, in the final month, she asked me to finish the last chapter. This diary is the fulfillment of that promise.

In the last update I did with exmearden, (11/05) she said something in a comment that caught my attention:

I can testify to the fact that shortness of breath is worse than pain. This edema is causing it with me and I have a few moments of brief terror every once in awhile when i can't catch my breath.

The inhaler helps and propping, propping, propping all through the night.

I brought it up the next day, fearing the implications and knowing Kris was going into new territory:

ME:  Your breathing ... THAT worries me.  Take my hand, Kris. Hold on tight.

Kris:  I've got your hand.... I don't cry but I'm crying now.

Ten days later (11/16) the news was increasingly bad:

Kris:  I now have 6 vertebra fractures up and down spine. There are some nodules in my right lung.... Yup, this cancer sucks.

Yet in the VERY SAME EMAIL:

Kris: I wonder about Impeachkingbush? Whatever his Yiddish was, as he's been sick for the while.

and one hour later:

Kris: Did not mean Yiddish....too funny! Meant UID! As in user ID!  Heh...

Two days later (11/18) her BFF reported in:

BFF:  To top it off, she has been retaining fluid. A lot of fluid. The cardiac team has told her it's not from her heart, so more than likely her kidneys are failing. Could be liver related as well. Yesterday, she had a stomach tap done, and 6 liters of fluid were drained. It was a great relief, aiding in her breathing (which had become a bit labored, due to the fluids). Her legs however are still enlarged. Oh, the dreaded cankles! ... So, we know the future is bleak. I've started working with Kris on the "next steps" after she's gone, you know the loose ends....

The news got increasingly bad on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. I did not expect to hear from Kris, our exme, again, but I wrote to her one last time on Sunday morning, 11/21:

Me: I hope you have some good days and weeks with your daughters, sweet woman. But what I know for sure about dying is this: we have some control over when it occurs. If you're done, if your body has become too useless to your spirit to give you any more pleasure, fly away home.  My spirit will be with yours every step of the way.  I will not let go of your hand (so to speak) until you give mine a squeeze and release it. I love you.  Kelley

Less than an hour later Kris wrote me for the last time:

Kris: I love u Kelley. Each day is still precious. I know what you mean about control. I will have to let go soon. Every moment has been a decision. Thank you.

Read that again. There are profound lessons in those few words.  Kris had long since crossed the line from pain to suffering. She was, in fact, mere days from death.  Yet she stopped as if to say, "Pay attention. These things are important."

LOVE:  "I love u Kelley." If you feel it, say it. Say it every chance you get. Never put it off.  You may never get another opportunity.

VALUE:  "Each day is still precious." In the last year of her life, amidst chemotherapy and desperate surgery and pain and fatigue and worry, Kris Froland radiated joy.  I watched people flock to her at NN10, helpless against the magnetic pull of her aura of happiness. She had to choose between despair and joy, and she showed us what the correct choice is, what to value in our final days.

INDEPENDENCE:  "I know what you mean about control." Having control over her body and her life, not being dependent on others, was something Kris talked about all the time. It's a trait we shared - a trait that hurt Kris at the very end. Her wish to die at home collided with her independence, and she was in extremis before she could hire the help she needed to achieve her final goal. I believe Kris would want all of us to learn from her (rare) mistake, to plan carefully for our final days.

INTENT:  "I will have to let go soon."  Up until that point I had wondered if Kris' amazing physical constitution would keep her tethered to earth long after she was ready to go.  She was telling me that her life, which she had valued so much, was losing its value to her and that I should prepare myself.  She was telling me goodbye.

RESPONSIBILITY: "Every moment has been a decision."  Kris learned a hard truth when she was diagnosed. No matter how sick you are, no matter how fatigued, how doped up, or how desperate to pull the covers over your head, you have to stay on top of everything. One of the reasons she wanted to take us along on her journey was so we could learn valuable lessons applicable to our own lives, and this might be the biggest lesson. From the huge decisions - which doctor? which treatment? - to the smallest - has that procedure been scheduled, or that report mailed? - the difference between life and death is ours to manage.

GRATITUDE:  "Thank you." The only thing Kris said more often than "I love you" was "Thank you". Do you say "thank you" every time you feel grateful for a word or deed? I know I don't. But I'm getting better about it. My teacher taught me how important it is to express gratitude for the little things as well as the big things. It matters.

The final comment exmearden made to this community came on Friday, November 5, at 10:15 Seattle time. Just a typical comment for her ... one expressing love and gratitude.

Calling it a night...  

Thank you all so much.

I'll check in again when I can, but it's time for one of my vancomycin infusions, so happy weekend all.

Hope y'all enjoyed the pizza!

Love you, Kelley.  I'll make sure to link from my blog when I can and add to facebook. I appreciate this so much and had a fine time seeing these folks I love.

exme

Three weeks after posting those words, exme was gone. An account of her last few days can be found in Sara R's Memorial Diary in a blockquoted section entitled "It's Snowing!", written by exme's dearest friend of more than 27 years, Michael.

Michael asked me to share one last thing about Kris, a comment about her Community Quilt, one of her greatest treasures:

I hope you all understand.... She was covered with The Quilt when she passed. So, you were all with her.

Originally posted to Nurse Kelley's Blog on Tue Dec 07, 2010 at 04:53 PM PST.

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