Three month retrospective: Part I

I am long overdue for a blog post, and by now I have enough material for several. I’ll start by backtracking to May.

The month began with my 23rd birthday.  At Friday Night Waltz that evening I didn’t get an official birthday dance, but Bob roped a few people such as John and Tracey into giving me an informal birthday dance during one of the waltzes — a nice surprise.

At KaBoomThe next week, Graham returned from Romania and I surprised him at the airport on my way to see KT Tunstall playing in San Francisco. The concert, which I saw with Alex, was lots of fun. KT is a talented singer and songwriter with a charming accent and good stage presence. She played two songs which I liked in waltz from her latest CD, “Beauty of Uncertainty” and “Paper Aeroplane.” A week or two later, Graham and I joined Mummy, Esther, Steve, and Riley for another concert in San Francisco, KFOG’s annual KaBoom! live concert with fireworks. It was the foggiest KaBoom I’ve ever been to (and this is around my tenth year going), but the fireworks were still a good show. Between KT and Kaboom, though, was Stanford’s Big Dance, an annual all-night dance party. This year was my “triple crown” — my third year staying the whole time. Lots of excellent dances over the course of the night with all my favourite dance partners.

While not out enjoying myself with music and dancing, I spent a lot of time at Nana’s house. Her cancer returned last year, and she’d been on a steady decline since then. Esther took off her entire spring quarter to care for Nana, and Judy soon joined her when the task proved too much for one person. Nana passed away on May 22, over three years after she was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Her fight with the disease was both heartbreaking and inspiring. She was a woman of incredible strength, and remained astonishingly able both mentally and physically until near the end. Refusing to move to a full-time care facility, she stubbornly insisted on sleeping in her own bed and bedroom, even though it meant climbing the stairs every night, which she did until less than a week before she died. No surprise, I guess, coming from a woman who biked to work nearly every day until she retired at age 90.

Even though her deteriorating energy made extended conversation difficult, she continued to read and watch the news, keeping herself informed and educated as she’d done all her life. This made it particularly sad when her short-term memory started to go, necessitating gentle and patient repetition from everyone interacting with her. She always seemed so strong that it was hard to imagine her giving in to anything, but by the end her tumour was the size of my fist. She spent her last six days in bed, constantly attended by her children and grandchildren, on medicating for her pain. On Wednesday night, I visited, and Esther and I sang for her, and though she didn’t open her eyes, I like to think she heard us. On Thursday, Esther called and told me they’d done the last rites. I’d originally been planning to attend Faster Polka that night, but had Graham drop me off at Nana’s instead.

Nana in her twentiesI took over from my uncle in the seat at Nana’s bedside, joined by my aunt Georgia. Nana’s breathing was laboured and erratic, which was harrowing for everyone keeping vigil. Only ten minutes after I arrived, however, she took a breath and then didn’t take another. The pause stretched out longer and longer, so we called everyone else to the room, realising it had probably been her last. Seconds later, my mother’s car pulled into the driveway, and I ran down and told her she’d better come up right away. Nana’s pulse beat just long enough for Mummy to say her last goodbye. Nana seemed so peaceful, and the room was quiet in the absence of her rattling breaths. She couldn’t have asked for a better way to go — in bed at home where she’d lived in for 50 years, surrounded by people who loved her — and she lived one of the longest, fullest lives I’ve ever known. No one I’ve loved as much has died before, and I’ve never experienced dying and death so intimately. It was, and is, difficult and sad.

Comments 3

  1. semer wrote:

    That was so lovely it almost made me cry. It’s things like this that make me hope there’s an afterlife so your Nana can read all of that herself.

    Posted 21 Aug 2008 at 09:58
  2. zaldreon wrote:

    I’m sorry and wish to offer my condolences. I agree with Sandra- you’ve written a beautiful note. It sounds like she was a truly amazing person.

    Posted 23 Aug 2008 at 00:19
  3. anonymous wrote:

    I’ve been wanting to learn about your experience with your Nana’s death. Of course it’s moving and compassionate and tender, like its author…
    xo rb

    Posted 27 Aug 2008 at 22:57

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