It has always been an interest of mine to consider the nuances involved in my encounters with others, those that are nourishing and even those that are more distasteful for some reason. In recent years, my interest has broadened to include encounters with animals, nature, books, movies and now, online conversations with people who I treasure yet may never meet.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Treasured Day

One sunny day in April, the temperature was in the mid-70s and appeared to hold no surprises. I was acting as a Care Bear to my friend, Kerr’, staying near, keeping her safe. Grief held me strongly in its grasp, still taking me on a roller-coaster ride of deep sadness and despair at the loss of the physical presence of my mother in my life. She had passed from life seven months before this day. My feline sidekick, Sierra, had let go her body in mid-January.
 If someone had asked me just the day before, “Can you take care of {this person} for the day?” I’d have said, “No.” Truthfully, I needed breathing space. A memoir of my adventure as my mother’s Care Bear was finally written, needing only a final edit and review before making a decision to publish beyond that for family and friends. Writing the memoir had emotionally consumed me as completely as had being Care Bear to my dementia-addled yet, sweet, mother. Writing had captured most of my time and energy for the past six months. My family and friends knew that my emotional tank was on empty. I was simply going through the motions of my day, allowing grief to have its say.
Although my care of Kerr’ that day was couched as a favor for my long-time friend, Rm, in truth, this was a call from spirit for me to experience another segment of my inner journey. Something very serious was going on in Kerr’s body. Her vision was becoming intermittently difficult as was her ability to walk safely. The physical deterioration was predominantly apparent when Kerr’ was doing what she loved best, connecting with her beloved horses.
During the previous week, Kerr’ had experienced several episodes of mental confusion and paranoia. Since I had worked in the field of mental health, Rm asked me to talk with Kerr’ and see if I thought that she might be having a mental breakdown because of the stress in her life. Acute financial issues due to a business partner’s poor decisions in a co-owned business had increased during the past year. Plus, it had been only 1 ½ years since Kerr’ had undergone a double mastectomy due to her bout with breast cancer. I did not, however, connect enough dots to believe she was having a mental collapse.  Kerr’s symptoms most likely had a physiological base.
For her own personal and financial reasons, Kerr had chosen to shrug off the suggestions of friends to have medical tests done. Her strongest desire was to physically connect with her father. That arrangement was made. I agreed to drive Kerr’ several hours south on Wednesday to meet up with her father. Rm brought her to my home before dawn on Tuesday morning. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day. She woke up tired yet oriented, chuckling at her efforts to walk without wobbling. I had gotten up earlier and, to my surprise, found myself to be in full Care Bear mode, alert to Kerr’s body’s signals for help.
Kerr’ and I camped out on my screened-in porch for most of that day. My porch overlooks a canal which is bordered on the other side by a protected wildlife area. A variety of birds are always flying up and down the canal with alligators and turtles moving slowly to and fro. It’s a freeway of sorts for animals so there is lots of wildlife to observe. We enjoyed all the activity while sipping coffee and nibbling on a biscotti. Kerr’ had not been eating much so the Care Bear in me was gratified to see her nibble. She later drank vitamin enhanced water and even ate dill-laced turkey sandwiched between some lettuce leaves. The scene was set, no doubt planned by our spirits’ invisible threads of connections with each other.
Our conversation initially centered on light-hearted banter about common life events and the wildlife that graced us with their presence that day. It took a turn when Kerr’ asked, “What was it like when your mother died? What was it like for you?” Though still feeling emotionally raw, I tearfully recounted Mother’s last days in a coma and the comfort that my sisters and I received from family and friends. Although Mother was in a coma, we had tended to congregate in her room, carrying on a variety of day-to-day type conversations. Even at night, one or more of us was always present.  The presence of comfort and love surrounded my mother until her body took its last breath. “I would not trade anything for those last few days with her,” I said to Kerr’.
While I spoke, Kerr’ quietly listened, often grabbing my hand and giving it a squeeze. And then began the most treasured part of this day. Kerr’ asked, “Do you think that I am dying, Dode?” After an intake of breath and a pause, my honest answer was, “I don’t know, Kerr’.” “It’s not looking too good for me, is it?” she responded ending with one of her quirky trills of laughter. I could only chuckle a little myself and honestly respond, “Not too good.”
We sat in silence a bit until a large alligator swam by, both of us marveling at the leisurely movement of its tail just beneath the surface of the water. “That’s grandpa or grandma,” I stated, as we watched the gator move into the shade beneath some overhanging trees. Kerr’ then asked me, “Do you think there’s a heaven, Dode?” There was such a comfortable, peaceful flow of energy between us that I answered truthfully, “I don’t really know, Kerr’. If there is, it’s for people like us, kind and caring.” “Just so,” she answered.
We sat in companionable silence for quite a while after that. After a bit, Kerr’ began to muse a little about her relationship, “the good and the bad of it,” she said at one point. “I wish I had given more time and loving attention to (my partner). Is it too late for me, Dody?” she asked.  “It is never too late, Kerr’,” I answered honestly. Nodding her head, Kerr’ then began to talk in specifics about the many people in her life that had angered, hurt, judged and disappointed her for so long. “I’ve always tried to give people the benefit of my doubt; to help some get back on their feet; to forgive some for deeply hurting me,” Kerr’ stated. “I’ve been so angry, so often but was raised to not show anger and, always, to give people another chance.” Kerr’ softly cried throughout, talking out her angers, deep hurts and sad disappointments until only a few hiccups remained. I was then treated to a special moment as, freed of those burdens, Kerr’ burst out in laughter, wiping away any remaining tears. Even though some of her sentences seemed to have a question mark quality in their tone, the only remarks required of me were nods of my head or a simple word, “yes.”  
Kerr’ and I gave each other gifts that day. As I listened without a need to question or respond, she purged the hard places in her heart of anger, resentment, disappointment and hurt. Her spirit found its peace. The next morning, Kerr’ was weaker yet determined to make it to her dad’s. Fortified with vitamin-enhanced water and, as she requested, her last Egg McMuffin, I drove Kerr’ the 2 hours it took to meet up with her dad. Throughout the next two weeks, her physical condition continued its downward spiral. Finally in a hospital, tests revealed Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in the liver. Pieces of the tumor were ending up in her brain, creating intermittent confusion and weakness. She remained mostly alert and aware of her impending end-time. During the last time I visited Kerr’, she was still oriented, though much weaker. She made funny little jokes about her circumstances and often shared her quirky trill of laughter.

I drove with my friend, Rm, for a last visit to Kerr’. She was in a coma at a Hospice facility several driving hours away. The Chaplain came into the room while we were there, wanting to connect with Kerr’s family or friends. “This is an amazing young woman,” she said. “When Kerr’ first came into Hospice, she was alert and oriented to her condition. We had such an interesting talk,” the Chaplain said. “It is amazing to me that a person this young can be so at peace with herself, her life and her death. She is free, with no burdens. Please tell her father.” Kerr’ died in her sleep the next evening.
Kerr’s gift to me that treasured day was her trust that I would listen without judging, without any attempt to reason or question. Spirit’s gift to us both was the shared experience of a peace that passes all understanding when burdens and grievances are let go. I shall forever be grateful for this shared experience.


  1. A very touching post...freely shared by your heart. My mother had ALS and had lost her ability to speak. I would have liked to have talked with her in her final days on Earth. I was in her bedroom when she took her last breath -- and I've come to treasure that time with her.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Mike, and especially for sharing the experience with your mother. I know what you mean by 'treasure.' Being with my mother at her end-time was heart-wrenching in one way yet so precious in another. Dr. Craig Olster is a man with ALS who has a website called The Healer's Campaign. His attitude and approach to life is inspirational. Let me know if you might be interested in viewing his site. Take good care. Keep in touch if it fits.

  2. I agree with Mike: a very touching post. I especially like the lesson you learned: "Kerr’s gift to me that treasured day was her trust that I would listen without judging, without any attempt to reason or question." Keep writing Dody.

    1. Thank you, Sonia, for visiting my first post. I always gain perspective and feel a lift from reading the stories of your guests on Gutsy Story. So appreciate your encouragement.

  3. Hi, Dody!
    Very beautiful blog! I'm much impressed..
    Please keep writing and posting your beautiful stories..I'm much looking forward to the updates. Thank you :)

  4. It seems you gave each other a gift that day. Very emotive, I love the way you see signs in everything.