Katrina Remembered: “Yes, my love, this is how it goes” Part 2

Posted by on 06.21.08 | 9 Comments
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Part 1: The call comes from ‘Bougainvillea’ (i.e. Katrina) asking me to come help her prepare for dying. Katrina and I have been friends for over 20 years. Note: In the late 1990′s Katrina took the nickname ‘Bouganvillea’ from a tropical plant I had carted to Colorado from Florida. I couldn’t seem to kill the bouganvillea, although I left it outside to freeze, the dogs dug it up, the cats peed in it…she laughed and laughed when I told her about the escapades of this plant and said she was like my bougainvillea: she could be devastated countless times, but couldn’t be killed…

And Katrina called me ‘Beffus’ a pet name that my niece had called me when she was a baby, around the time that Katrina and I met.

zhivetin-daydreamersgaze

Excerpts from my journal entries: Left Hotchkiss, Colorado June 9, 2003 at 2:30pm, arrived in Fallbrook, California at 2:30pm exactly 24 hours later. Kim and Katrina are staying at Kim’s parents’ home. Katrina’s pale feet as I come around the corner to peek into her room strike me: she really is dying. Her beautiful face is more sculptured than I’d seen it in years, as she’d carried a lot of weight along with her heavy suffering. We are so glad to see each other, but I already see the gaze of someone who is living more and more of their time on the other side of the veil.

Kim is ‘a natural’ caregiver the kind that makes hospice teams sigh with relief. He anticipates, accommodates, keeps his sense of humor through the entire journey. Right after I get there, he and I go to the store and he puts his head down on the steering wheel and cries. He tells me of his concern about Katrina’s searing self-judgement related to her condition: “She says it’s because she has never been able to really forgive {the brutal abuse she suffered as a child see Part 1}, that she’s gotten cancer,” he said. ” But, it’s like the live oaks, which I’ve grown up around and love a lot. Some them live hundreds of years, some ten years. Some get huge cancerous growths on them. Some die young and underdeveloped. We’re made out of the same stuff as the trees. They don’t get cancers or other diseases because of unforgiveness. Why is she judging her amazing life that way?”

We talk about the narrowness of view of the mystery that Louise Hay and others have put out into the world. Life and death are so much bigger than what we can imagine why would we put that kind of judgement on ourselves? It is a rhetorical question, one that needs no answer. We get the supplies from the drugstore and head home.

Katrina is working hard at dying. She is getting the pragmatic stuff done such as giving away her few precious things. She gives me her much-loved drum, which I now use at fire circles. She and I laugh and reminisce. Her laugh is sometimes brittle from pain, sometimes bitter from regret. I remind her about my grandmother’s near death experience. She had met and loved my grandmother, and so she is better able to absorb the wisdom in Grandma’s experience. We talk also about her beloved grandmother Ruthie and how we both know that she is helping Katrina make this transition.

I make some port wine and lemonade ice cubes for her and we have a ‘party’. She goes to sleep finally and I go to another room to rest. She coughs a lot. I listen, knowing Kim will come and get me if I can do anything. Katrina is confused and sometimes knows it.

June 11: Hospice intake nurse Elizabeth comes in the morning. She gives the confidence that we can handle anything we need to handle. Katrina doesn’t want a hospital bed, but she does want the pain to go away. Hospice starts her on some new meds, but they don’t arrive until late in the evening. Kim and Katrina’s dog Bear is having a hard time, sleeping by Katrina’s bed all day and all night.

I have moved into a different space…a more timeless one. I find myself waiting…for what I’m not sure. I sleep and dream, but can’t remember the content of the dreams. I am also in the dying process, walking beside Katrina, that much I know.

Kim tells me that he’s known for months that something was wrong. He got online and studied her symptoms. He’s very sensitive but not at all sentimental. Such an excellent caregiver.

I’m reading Sylvia Plath’s journals when I take a break from being with Katrina. Think I’ll stop reading that book:  too much darkness and heaviness.

I take the garbage around back of the house and look in the bedroom window where Katrina is resting, sallow, sunken, struggling. In the glass I see my own reflection.

June 12: And then along comes Simon sweet Simon, son of a long time friend of Katrina’s. A true free spirit, little fairy boy. So loving. He’s just 26 years old. He and I find ways to make all of this a little lighter and his laugh and love give Katrina some respite. We make fresh picked blackberry/blood orange sorbet from the blood orange trees that are everywhere on the hillsides here. We add a little port to this concoction and freeze it. Katrina gratefully sucks on the cubes. This is so bitter-sweet. I sleep well.

June 13: Katrina is weaker today. When we’re not looking, she crawls across the bed undeterred by blankets that bunch up around her, on the way to the bathroom. Yikes! All the hospice related equipment came today not a minute too soon. The young man who comes to set it up, Scot, is going to play with his buddies at Lake Havasu this weekend. His father, grandfather, uncle all died at age 56 on the golf course or just after. At 30, he’s given up golf he tells me.

These southern California hillsides are exquisite foraging. There’s all kinds of citrus, plums, ravenous jade and rosemary plants. Avocados are not yet ripe, pomegranates are still in bloom. Amazing agaves, fir trees. Air is not dry, nor is it humid. I would know even if I hadn’t been there before that I’m close to the ocean.

12:30 pm Kim is napping with Katrina. Katrina is also in the arms of Morpheus. I watch them and pray, “Sweet Morpheus please take her gently when you and she are ready. Your arms are strong your spine supple. She’s suffered enough.”

June 14: I am in such an altered state. Where do the days and nights go? I’m excruciatingly alive and dying at the same time. I’m on hospice-time. This is rich work oh my, why am I a hospice administrator rather than a caregiver? What’s up with that decision?

Images from that day that stay with me:

  • Katrina sucking on my Pacifico beer like it’s the communion cup.
  • I am cleaning up her bed and find the opiate patch. She’s surrepitously taken it off!
  • I helplessly watch her trying to suck vital fluids through a lime green straw. She’s so thirsty.

In the middle of the night, Katrina sits up in bed, won’t lie down. Her hair is a bird’s nest. Her breath the most foul thing I’ve smelled in a long time. Her fuchsia night gown is all bunched up around her.

She is telling Kim and I that she’s over-medicated, feels out of control, wants to be more conscious. So, sitting on her bed, rubbing her back, we start at the basics:

“Katrina, you don’t have to take the medications or have the patch on unless you want them.”

“Beffus, I hurt so much.”

“I know, honey. That’s why you have the choice for the medication.”

Waiting.

“Beffus, is this how it goes?”

“Yes, darling.”

Silence and labored breathing.

“Is the pain in my belly only going to get worse?”

“Yes.”

“Is the pain related to what’s going on in there?” (points to her stomach)

I whisper, through my tears, “Probably, my lovely one.”

Minutes go by.

“Ok, I’ll take the morphine. And the valium.”

That is how it goes.

June 15: She’s restless and is in 4 beds throughout the day, trying to find a place to rest. I take Simon to a bus stop in Oceanside and drop him off. It’s good to lay eyes on the ocean. I exhale a minute and head back.

The damn cat ‘Pansy” decides I’m his new love. Won’t give up until I let him sleep on my bed. I start to have an allergic reaction, which I normally do to cats in my sleeping environment. I tell myself that that is ridiculous and it’s not going to happen. Breathing deeply, I go off to sleep without benedryl. The power of our minds is a little scary.

Sunday, June 16: This day is about Katrina’s choices.

  • Who do you want to brush your hair?
  • No bathing? Ok…
  • Which bed do you want to be in, of the 4 in this house?
  • How much pain do you want to be able to bear so that you can communicate? We, with your hospice nurse, can walk that fine line
  • You don’t have to be nice. It’s your death, honey…be whatever the hell you need to be

This is my last day. I have to leave tomorrow, Monday, by noon.

I write this for her:

Sweet Bougainvillea

How sweet to see you accept

Morpheus with your arms open wide

No struggle

No decisions to be made.

 

The hard work of dying you seem

to make into a walk at least near the park, if not in it.

 

Your graciousness and beauty abide.

Sweet one,

There’s a pink ring around the moon just for you.

Swim deep swim far

Kiss us goodbye and go.

Pax, my love.

Well, in a few hours, it’s not that easy.Those moments of peace are intersperced with crushing pain and feelings of helplessness.

Katrina tries to take control of the situation, angry. Next moment, she’s a whimpering child.

I pray on some level: You go girl. You’ve got two willing caregivers. Ready, at your beck and call to move heaven and earth. Don’t go quietly into that dark night.

Kim whispers to her, “Katrina, we’ve lived the life uncommon.” She smiles, squeezes his hand. They are complete.

He mourns for the future, she the past.

I stand to the side in awe of the mystery of their love, amongst the clutter and chaos of their lives. Finally she goes back to sleep for awhile.

I spend some time reflecting on the connection between Katrina’s life and the life of my own mother, abused for many years by her father and who died at 58 of ovarian cancer.

I am committed to being here, now. I pray:

“Jesus, you who lives closer than my own skin

Embody me

My salvation lies in being here now of the earth.

Can’t escape.

Love love love.

No fear.” Amen

I am deeply peaceful and sweetly agitated.

More images from this day:

  • K and K napping holding hands,
  • Katrina who breath and body smell like death, is flirting with Kim! Always the earthy one, she tells him that he hasn’t yet pulled out all the stops and put whipped cream or chocolate syrup on his penis in his ongoing attempts to get her to eat something…we all laugh.
  • Kim is so present. So unaware of the gift that he is tender and anticipating her needs.
  • Katrina giving me blessings to last for the rest of my life on earth, private loving blessings.
  • Katrina crying dry heaves of regret for missed opportunities for being loving. She says she has wasted a lot of time on distracting herself and trying not to be in pain throughout her entire life. Her wisdom doubles me over with grief. How am I wasting my time? How am I missing opportunities for loving?

Katrina has a dream Sunday night that she’s walking through endless white rooms. She’s taken to a room with many little drawers. There are healing herbs and other things she can’t describe in the drawers. There’s a system of knowledge that she can’t quite understand, but she gets it that her next ‘job’ is to understand and work with this system. She’s only partially incoherent as she tells us this dream, but we get it too.

Later that night she wakes up from some dream and mumbles, “What if we have the right medicine for the wrong war?”

Indeed.

I leave on Monday, June 16. Leaving is very difficult. I don’t process much on the ride home, I just drive the truck. The desert landscapes are my prayers.

I’m in contact with Kim throughout the week. Katrina dies on June 19, 11:45pm, 15 minutes before solstice. It is a peaceful passage. No family is with her except Kim. And the good hospice folks.

A year later, I call Kim on the first anniversary of Katrina’s death and he tells me that he’s just gotten remarried. I give him, for what it’s worth, my unbounded blessings. I’ve since lost track of him, but send him love and light in his new chapter, especially as I write this.

Would I have been called/able to leave hospice work and my home and life in Colorado to move to Oregon without this experience? I’ll never know. The death of my mother when I was 23 was the starting place of working to understand how to live with dying. Katrina’s death when I was 48 somehow completed that phase of the journey, including 20 years of working for hospices. In finding Oregon, I’ve found home. I’m also very sure that Katrina had something to do with helping me find ‘home’ and with me working with a child abuse intervention and advocacy center, because I wouldn’t have dreamed that up; in fact that was one thing I said I could never do–work with abused children.

The gifts that Katrina gave me in her tortured life and in her conscious death are immeasurable. I pass them on. Paying it forward, so to speak.

Dear Katrina

My life goes on.

But not without you. You are in the drum you gave me. I beat it often.

You’re in the earrings you made me. I wear them often.

You’re in the heart that beats through the work I did with abused children, their families and professional caregivers.

I love you, miss you so much.

I hope that whatever medicine you’re studying, whatever songs you’re singing, you are at peace. And I know that you are healing me and many others. I pray that you will help heal the hearts of all children everywhere.

See you soon~~

Beffus aka Beth

timeline

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