(This story is a part of a short-story challenge given by Cathy over at Cathy’s Rants and Ramblin’s. Links to those who are also participating will follow.)
These are my in-laws. The photo was taken in 1983 in Hong Kong.
Bill had retired four years before at the age of 50, after 30 years of practicing law. He was three years post-quintuple bypass with aortic valve replacement via Dr. Norman Shumway at Standford.
With thirty years of marriage, ten kids and sixteen grandkids (so far) behind them, he and my mother-in-law, Monica, had moved up to the family farm near Klamath Falls, Oregon.
They had decided to travel and one of the first places they were able to visit was Hong Kong.
By June of 1989, we had lost both of them.
Bill had done so well after his surgery, it came as a shock to the family when he died of a myocardial infarction in late 1985. In retrospect, those six years were a gift; he had been given only two months to live in mid-1979 due to cardiomyopathy following an MI.
The sudden loss of Bill was followed less than than three weeks later by the death of my husband’s grandmother. Monica lost her husband and her mother within three weeks.
Less than two years later, it appeared we were going to lose her, too.
Monica was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was fifty-six. They gave her six months to live.
Monica had other ideas.
She began chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis. Four days a month she would go into the hospital where they would sedate her, so there was minimal nausea or unconfortable side effects, but not so sedated that it precluded a craving for Taco Bell in the hospital now and again. The rest of the time, she lived life like anyone else.
Her hair didn’t fall out. Her coughing stopped. Her tumors shrank to almost invisible – we could see the progress on the x-rays. I don’t remember her losing weight, but then she only weighed about 100 pounds to start with.
I told her she would get more sympathy if she looked like a patient. As long as her liver and kidneys could withstand the onslaught, she could continue the chemotherapy.
The first year she took all nine of her children, their spouses and the oldest grandchildren on a cruise to Mexico.
The next year we rang in 1989 on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
Soon after, the liver and kidney function tests mandated that the chemotherapy cease.
The tumors began growing. Monica tried Interferon therapy to see if it would halt the tumors in any fashion. All it did was cause her mouth to become one large canker sore. To heck with that! She said she would rather die than live with that pain.
She sat before a tumor board in San Francisco early in ’89 – the best medical minds in oncology. They told her they had nothing more to offer.
The countdown had started.
Well, the doctors could countdown all they wanted, but Monica had some living to do!
She went on cruises with her friends. She alternated time at the farm with time down at the condominium in the Bay Area and spent time with her kids and ever increasing number of grandchildren.
She had always wanted a Jaguar. The car, not the cat. She would never have bought it for herself, ever. So the kids bought it for her.
She made plans to go on an Alaskan cruise with a bon voyage party at a local hotel in San Francisco before she left.
This time her doctor told her there was a good chance that she would not return from the cruise. The cancer was invading, getting worse.
She cancelled the cruise. And held the party anyway! If she was suffering in any way, she kept it to herself. If she was in any pain, she didn’t show it. She was not even on oxygen.
Two weeks later she threw another party at the Westin St. Francis at Union Square in San Francisco. Her six siblings, her kids and their spouses all spent a weekend in the heart of the City.
We ate a lot, we laughed a lot and generally had a good time. Monica was on oxygen now and got from store to store via wheelchair. But trust me. We made it to the stores!
Who knew my mother-in-law could be such a party animal?
A week later, we all went to the Strawberry Festival in Los Gatos. Beautiful day. It was the last time Monica would be out of the house.
Three days after that, Monica was too weak to get out of bed and her oxygen was continuous. Hospice nurses became involved with her care – she was not going to die in any hospital. Not a chance. Her family was a constant presence.
Two days before she died, my husband asked her where she wanted her funeral. She arched an eyebrow at him and informed him she wasn’t planning on leaving right at that moment, thank you very much.
Monica was alert up until a day before she died. On that warm June afternoon, my husband decided that her hair looked terrible, and she would not want to be seen like that. So, he and his sisters decided to wash it.
Monica died twenty minutes later, with all nine of her children and her grandchildren present.
Monica gratefully accepted the reprieve of chemotherapy but when that was no longer an option, she accepted the days she was given.
She lived them to their utmost, surrounded by family and friends.
She did not waste her days in trying to prolong them.
Epilogue: Most families grieve a death, our family just got pregnant. Four additional grandchildren were born by May of 1990. My youngest daughter was one of them; a 16-year-old souvenir of the St. Francis weekend.
Monica and Bill wound up with a grand total of twenty-eight grandkids. The oldest of those grandkids are now marrying, my oldest daughter and son to join them next summer.
Oh, and my husband is not allowed to wash anybody’s hair again. Ever.
Cathy gives some tough assignments, let me tell you. Here is a list of the courageous bloggers who chose to accept this challenge: