Postscript to Maggie

It’s been a year since I wrote about Maggie.
It’s been a year of promise with hope for healing, hope for returning to a “normal” life.
Now our hope has evolved into fear and despair as we grasp the true meaning of the circle of life.

Initially, after Maggie moved into the nursing home, my visits were frequent, 2-3 times per week as often as I could. We would enjoy talk of the days when our kids were little, all the silly things we had done and the fun times we’d experienced. She couldn’t wait to be able to be up and about so we could go to the casino once again. We frequently enjoyed dinner together, I would bring in whatever she was hungry for, but her appetite was not as voracious as I remembered. She just needs time, I would tell myself.
Visit after visit, over many months I witnessed no progress. For months at a time she had refused to get up in the chair, she wouldn’t advocate for herself to get the physical therapy she so desperately was in need of, actually the reason she had been placed at this facility.
She then refused to eat unless someone brought food in from the outside.
She had multiple complaints about how her household, which she still was fiscally responsible for was functioning, but refused to talk to the people involved.
Over the long run, she was physically deteriorating.
Basically, what I was witnessing was someone losing control of her environment and behaving as most people would.
Instead of feeling compassion and offering needed support, I became angry.
“Why won’t you try? I would say. ”You need to get well and go back to living a life of joy and purpose.
You need to get up in that chair and demand your PT. If you have pain, ask for your medication. It’s there for you.”
“I will, I will” she said but these things did not pass.

My visits got fewer and farther between. We would communicate electronically but that dwindled as well.
I visited her and brought dinner for her birthday in July. She slept a long while before noticing I was there.
Her CT scan showed progress she told me. Her hip hurt her so much but it was not metastasis. I asked what the Xray showed and she admitted there had been no Xray. “Then how do they know!!!” I asked loudly and most likely improperly. She did not answer. She did not eat much again that evening.
When I left, I kissed her and said I would be back soon but I left angry that there was no fight left, no willingness to try. I left feeling like these were conscious decisions.
I have not seen her since.

Today I received this text from our friend Bobby. “Just heard from Maggie’s son. She has been in ICU at UCSF. She had pneumonia, now her lung are full of fluid and the left lung has collapsed. They are moving her out today and making her comfortable until she passes. When I find out where they move her to, we should visit one last time.”

I immediately called Bobby. “What the hell” I’m yelling at him. “Those are fixable things. They can place a chest tube and get rid of the fluid. I cannot accept she is dying!!”
I had scared Bobby and he hung up. I was furious. I was furious at the disease, I was furious with Maggie that she did not fight it, but mostly I was angry that I had abandoned my friend, when she needed human connection the most.

I knew I was experiencing intense guilt over not being there, for not being the friend she deserved, for being so blind to the evidence and believing what I wanted to believe.
I’m a nurse.
I knew she had a metastatic spinal cord lesion. I had refused to admit the ramifications of this diagnosis. I knew her breast cancer was not in remission but believed things were improving. She had told me so.
I was angry at anybody and everybody associated with her care.
I, I, I….Me, me, me…
But this is not about me.
This is about a valiant woman who raised three sons single handedly against all odds while successfully holding down a career, caring for an ailing mother, orchestrating all family holiday festivities, she so loved to entertain. She had cared more for others than for herself.
During the last months, her many friends had rallied at her side.
I was, however, not one of them.

I will make my last visit and tell her how proud I am, have always been of her. I will acknowledge I have never forgotten her even though I was not by her side. I will tell her how she has touched my life in ways I cannot even describe.

I will remember her as a bright star in my universe and promise to see her soon. We will walk and talk together again.
I will say “Fly freely with the eagles and have the time of your life!”.
Then I will kiss her goodbye.

At what point I will deal with my own behavior, not taking note of how precious and short life is, how we are never promised another day, not being with her as a friend would be expected to be, I don’t know when I will address my sins of omission.
But I do know her memory will illuminate my path as I go forward in life for however many days I have left on this bright and beautiful earth.
I will remember what I was taught:
“Always give more than you take” and as I give back in return for my many blessings, I will see the twinkle in her eyes and that magnificent smile and know she is watching.


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