Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Heavy Heart

My heart feels as heavy as a weighted down cargo ship. I hate February.
The last year and a half has blown a whirlwind of emotions through my life.
I hear Theresa’s fear filled voice over the phone, “Tom wants me to come in tomorrow morning to do a lumbar puncture. Margaret…..I am so scared.” As I listened to her, I was scared too. The sinister aura of cancer was descending upon her once again.
The night before she started chemo.

Fortuitously, Pierce and I were heading home to Montana in just two days. Theresa and I had been eagerly planning what we wanted to do that month. She wanted to show off her TT bike and her training regimen. I couldn’t wait to show her my improved swimming techniques. We had signed up for a couple Triathlons to compete in and were excitedly anticipating them. But even more than training, we were looking forward to the lazy summer afternoons spent at Dad’s pond with the kids, talking about anything and everything.  Sadly, my time with her turned out much different.

Upon landing in the beautiful mountains I call home, my first stop was the hospital. Within those two days, Theresa had been re-diagnosed with leukemia and checked into St. Peter's for the first bout of chemo. I spent the majority of the month with Theresa in and out of the hospital. I savored every moment with her and felt like I was the friend I had always been. No regrets! At her urging, I still competed in the Triathlons. I felt a tinge guilty…..but not once did she complain that she was lying on a plastic covered hospital bed as I enjoyed the great outdoors.  She even begged Tom to let her escape from her ‘cell’ to come cheer me on. At the end of the month Pierce and I headed home to Texas in order to pack our belongings and road trip right back to Montana.  Alex deployed in October; so Pierce and I spent the winter at Mom and Dad’s.

After two failed runs of chemo, Theresa moved to Seattle to partake in a clinical study. We headed out there to be close to her. I was in the throes of morning sickness and am not one of those women that either ‘love being pregnant’ or like to pretend they ‘love being pregnant.’ As a matter of fact, I don’t like it at all. Regardless, I am still disappointed in myself for every complaint that slipped out of my mouth to Theresa. How dare I? I recall Theresa’s encouraging words, “Well….at least you are anticipating life. You could be in my shoes.” I replied, “I don’t know which is worse. I think it’s a toss up.” And for remarks like that, I lay awake at night.

The clinical trial failed too. I was in Montana when Theresa found out. My phone rang and I heard her sobs echo through the ear pierce, “I can’t believe it. I don’t know what to do. What about my girls? It kills me to think I won’t be here to see them grow up.” I had nothing to say. I mumbled some words of, “Let’s not lose hope.” But that was a lie and she knew it. I felt totally helpless.  I cried with her.

Everyone caravanned from Seattle back to Montana within the next week. It was Thanksgiving.  Theresa was ecstatic to spend Christmas at home.

The only option left: Alternative Therapy. I suppose what every diehard would try.  My saint of a mother, delved into research and soon had diet plans worked up, a chi machine, an infrared bed, supplements, enema bags and had talked to every alternative medicine Doc. in the lower 48. Mom woke up early every morning and drove out to Theresa’s to help her with the strict schedule and the twins. She cooked, cleaned, gave back rubs, read stories, potty trained, held throw up bowls and cared so tenderly for Theresa. Many a day Theresa threw up almost everything she ate. Once, as Theresa finished a vomiting spell she looked up from the sink to Mom and said, “Mom….promise me you won’t be sad if I die.” When Theresa told me that……I only wished she would have said it to me.

Theresa got thinner and thinner. As I gained weight she lost weight. We joked it was the only time in our lives she weighed less than I did.

We spent a fare amount of time together, but in hindsight I could have done so much more for her. We talked about dying only a few times. The family agreed that to keep Theresa’s spirits up we needed to focus on thriving rather than dying. To this day, I regret following the general consensus. Theresa and I knew each other too well. What she really needed was to talk about death itself. “What does it feel like to die? Do you hover over your body and wonder why everyone is crying? Is it painful? Are you scared? Are you kinda excited? Will you watch us from heaven?” These are some of the questions I should have asked, but never did. My role was to pump her up for death and I failed. The only time I ever failed her.

As for myself……......caring for Pierce solo and missing a husband that was half way around the world was a challenge. Moreover, stepping into the role of liaison between family members and fearing the loss of my best friend added to the emotional rollercoaster my already hormonal, pregnant body was on. These are no excuses and they don't ease my guilt, but it made for a dark winter.

On Valentine’s day the whole family enjoyed a ski day together. The only members missing: Pat and Alex. Theresa and John geared up the twins for the first time.

Two weeks later Theresa died.

Theresa and I were planning on jetting down to the Patagonia Sale the Friday before President’s Day. Theresa’s spiked a fever and landed in the hospital instead. That Saturday evening we watched the Gilmore Girls together. By the next morning it was clear Theresa had just a few days left on this earth. We spent Sunday evening together. It was the last time she was alert and lucid. She asked me, "Now who will be Gretel's Godmother?" "What do you want me to send you from heaven? Snickers?" Our hands clasped each others tightly. My head leaned against her outstretched legs and I wept, “You are everything to me and I am only who I am because of you.”

Monday was President’s day. The town of Helena looked as dead as my heart felt.  

Tuesday midday Theresa passed on.