Friday, April 09, 2010

The end of time

My friend Dana died this week. Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). I wrote about her struggle with the decision whether to go on life support nearly two years ago, when, to my utter shock, as I thought I knew Dana well enough to know she would not want to live like that, she decided to have the tubes implanted. She had tubes for everything. I won't recall that Dana, I'm afraid, because I never went down to see her. We chatted on IM and Facebook. Because ALS paralyzes everything, she had some kind of visual pointer that allowed her to type. We watched the returns come in the night Obama was elected. We shared the awe and wonder of the scene in Chicago -- all remotely. Remote. That's what Dana became for me.

But that's not what she was, or what I'll remember. Last night as Dennis and I sat at one of our favorite bars in Austin, the Eastside Showroom, I ordered an Anejo tequila shot, and I raised it in memory of my friend Dana, the one who celebrated my 27th birthday with me on a beach in Mexico many years ago, passing a bottle of mescal around a big circle of friends until I was so out of it that when I stood up, my legs just collapsed under me and fell back into the sand! Not that it's a proud moment or anything, but rather, because Dana and I had a whole lot of fun together when we were young and a lot of our best times together were in Mexico. She spoke much better spanish than I did (until that year I spent in Central and South America -- I caught up with her then!), and could get us into, and out of, all kinds of situations I wouldn't have managed so well on my own.

Our friendship went on through her move to San Antonio after she graduated college, her first marriage which ended in divorce, her move to Los Angeles, Dennis' and my marriage and move to Los Gatos. One of my favorite memories is of Dennis' and my drive from Los Gatos to LA for thanksgiving with Dana when we both were in California. Jesus. It took us 14 hours to make what should have been about a 6 hour drive because the traffic on the highway was a complete parking lot for most of the way. I have never seen anything like it. We ended up at 2 in the morning crashing in some whore house hotel for a few hours before getting up and making our way to Dana's for a lovely dinner.

Then she moved to Houston, got married again, divorced, and married a third time, this time to Doug Plette, whom she knew was in fact the love of her life. He is the one who has been with her through her journey through ALS. She was diagnosed shortly after their wedding.

I can't even begin to fathom what those two and their families have been through these last four years. I got only brief glimpses of their lives as we visited a few times back and forth (they lived a bit north of Houston). But it has been the kind of challenge most of us hope we're up to, but privately believe we probably are not. Perhaps I'm projecting here. I believe I am not. But Dana surprised me to no end, with what she put up with and what she would not put up with. Maybe I will surprise myself.

About 6 weeks or so ago, I got a note from Dana. All it said was, "How are you?" I didn't respond. Truth was, I was in the middle of what was a very sad, very depressed period, and you just don't whine to someone with ALS who's enthusiastically living on life support. I had decided in January that this would be the year I came fully to terms with not only my mom's decline and eventual death, but my own, and that has meant going down a few levels into what's pretty aversive, accepting it, and eventually coming back up to greater heights than possible when you're simply turning away from the realities of life. And when she wrote, I just couldn't see how I could talk to Dana about death. I was wrong. I'm wrong a lot.

Today is Friday. In a few minutes I head out to the Assisted Living where my mom is staying, and I move her to the nursing home. It's been a very hard week. She had a bad fall last week, on one of our walks together, and it catalyzed a lot of things for me. It is time for her to move. She needs a lot more help than she's getting now. Death is on her shoulder. It was on Dana's shoulder. It is on my shoulder.

I can see out the front door the sunlight streaming across the front garden, lighting up the new spring growth with a brilliant green that must be seen to be believed. Life is good. Very good. Tears may stream down my face, but I have to say, I am so happy to be alive right now.

5 comments:

Saint said...

I was quite warmed to piggyback on your thoughts about you and Dana. If I am not mistaken, I visited in your home for a short time about 10 in the evening when I was coming from Corpus Christi to Fort Worth after having placed second in the Senior Tennis Sectionals around 1977.
I don't think Dana thought she was going to die, although at some level it was obvious. She prepared no DNR, Will, or permission to access her accounts and although that may have helped her courageous battle, it was tough on the rest of us. I cannot imagine doing what she did and her mother and I have agreed on that. We have had a lot of agreements around Dana, one of which is that she should have done for us what we did for her.
I have watched Joseph Campbell's DVD "The Hero's Journey today and am so glad to have had that experience and found your site.
Many regards,
Gene St. John

Georgia Harper said...

Gene, I remember your visit well. You are forever clothed in your white tennis shorts and shirt, and you are very, very tanned! I want to thank you for your note about Dana. It is reassuring to know how you feel. Thanks for writing. -- Georgia

Saint said...

Dana's spirit continues to be with us. I booted my MacBook Pro and up comes "Georgia BD" so Happy Birthday!! She is present much more than I had ever imagined and sometimes sad and sometimes glad so this is one of the glad times.
I did not know you came to her service in Fort Worth until much time after that took place and I regret not being able to acknowledge that you were present. A very nice observance of her influence. Thank you.
Gene

Georgia Harper said...

Gene, thanks for your well-wishes for my birthday. Your note about Dana being present is very reassuring. And the timing is very nice too. My mom suffered from Alzheimer's for the last 7 years, and the last 2 months were especially difficult, but she was released from her suffering yesterday, and I am so grateful for that. I am sure she'll be present for me for a long time! Thanks again for writing!

Saint said...

I am sorry for your loss. I can imagine very mixed first and long time reactions since there are so many threads at work in that relationship, old and new. I am confident about the presence, made up or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is the knowing. I wish you well.
Gene
I would love to have your email if you are willing.