Dear Vicki

Dear Vicki,

I have been thinking a lot lately. About you. Maybe I should say, more, not a lot. Ever since I found out about your illness it was a lot, but now, since your post “Still Me”, I guess it’s more.

I think about your grace and your dignity. The way you inform us, the worried, when you have other things I’m sure you’d rather do, and certainly other things you’d prefer to say. I think about your sons, all of them. Your stories, your husband. Your parents.

And then I think about me. And maybe, in this case, me doesn’t just mean me, although I can’t presume to speak for more than me, but maybe it means all of us: your friends and extended family. But I will tell you how I, and probably they, feel.

It’s hard to say this, because then it means it’s real, and I don’t want it to be. But, here goes.

I don’t want you to go.

Because I know you have amazing doctors and you are so smart and thorough, I know I can hope and pray for a miracle, but I think of your beautiful boys on stage, speaking their truth and alluding to the inevitable, and I get it.

So, I’m going to say it again, I really don’t want you to go.

You were a part of beautiful childhood memories. When I think of hanging out with you, I think of sunlight on our small hometown and your raspy voice. I think of how you would smile and laugh and kind of throw your head back, your curls shaking behind you as you did. Bike riding, laughing, talking of boys and crushes.

And now, hearing your story, seeing your views on life, family and politics even, I think, I wish there wasn’t that thirty years in between. We have such commonalities.

Then I close my eyes, think of that sunlight and that gap in time disappears.

And I’m left still thinking, I don’t want you to go.

I just wanted you to know.

I hope it’s okay to tell you these things, it feels strange and dreamlike that I have to.

You and your family remain in my heart and in my prayers. I wish you comfort, happiness. And time.

Love you.

H

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Still me.

Love and light. It is too soon for this woman that I have been blessed to know. Peace in your final journey here, love always, and many thanks for your shining presence in this world. I know your spirit will exist in volumes around your family. May they feel it with all the power, beauty and strength you have and will always be. Till we meet again. xos

Vicki Kelly

This is so hard. I usually find writing to be effortless, therapeutic almost. This entry, however, has me procrastinating, starting and stopping and even now as I try once again I am aware I could hit the delete button at any moment.

I know I need to write an update. I have put very little out about my condition since I came home from the hospital a few weeks ago. So, here we go…

Let me start by saying that more than anything, I am a lucky person. Maybe the luckiest. I have the most amazing family and friends who have sent many messages of love in one form or another. If I haven’t written back, or returned a call, please forgive me. Please know how grateful I am and how much your support helps me through these times.

Let me get right into it… my disease has progressed a…

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mom

Six years ago today, I said goodbye to my mother, for the last time. It wasn’t unexpected that she was dying as she had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer three months earlier. But it was a surprise that it was this day.
I was always afraid to have another child after my first two because in our family, as it may be with many others, it seemed true that with the entrance into this world of one, came the exit of another. Crazy to believe, but it was kind of hard to ignore the pattern. My grandfather died around my birth, my aunt died when my first son was born and my father died when my cousin, who is like a sister, had her third child, etc. My mother was getting slower and slower and I was terrified to have a child. But I did.
Her health failed significantly within a week after his birth and by the time he was three weeks old, we were in the e.r.
She was diagnosed with kidney cancer right before Halloween, and with some significant blood clotting issues, surgery seemed virtually impossible. Three times between her diagnosis and her death, her surgery was postponed: once before my birthday, in November (ironically, the anniversary of my dads passing, a whole other story), before Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The surgery, in the end, was her only option for killing the cancer, but it ended up killing her. Had the date not been pushed back, we would have missed three beautiful holidays.

She went into cardiac distress as a result of the surgery, on my youngest’s three month birthday, basically a massive heart attack.
I thought, no, not today.
I remember her coming into her room after a surgery that felt like it took too long with a ventilator bag and a lot of worried looking attendants. Visiting hours were called to end and she was wincing in pain and said, ‘You aren’t going are you?’, with a look of absolute fear. I said very calmly, in order for all present to know that they stood zero chance of getting me out of the room without handcuffs, and perhaps not even then, ‘I am not going ANYWHERE’. One attendant answered my barrage of what the hell happened questions with, ‘you know, your mom is a very sick woman’, to which end I replied, ‘ no shit. She has stage IV kidney cancer, a weak heart and blood clotting issues…now what happened?’ In no way do I blame them, in fact I am truly grateful for their work and the hope they gave my mother as she went into surgery knowing she could fight. They were wonderful. Things happen.

The doctors put her into a semi comatose state and I could tell that her remaining kidney was failing to function, let alone take on the responsibility of the other, now blocked one. I watched anxiously as the bag ceased to show signs of fluid, even though she was hooked up to many i.v.s. The doctors confirmed my worries and suggested dialysis.
I am not medically ignorant, but I confess I truly didn’t understand this process as a blood cleansing process and didn’t consider the taxing effect it would have on her heart. Before she went in for the procedure, she could flutter her eyes open and hear me, even giving slight nods when I called her name and told her repeatedly that I was here with her, right by her side. She could squeeze my hand when I asked and could even manage a worried look when I told her I was going home for just a bit.
After the procedure, she was gone. She hadn’t passed, yet, but she wasn’t there. I knew it was a matter of time before she slipped away, and hoped, as I knew how she felt about most things, that she would go before her body showed signs of what the dialysis could not do.
My mother was beautiful, in her own way, and never knew it. We all possess some modicum of vanity, even if we ignore our true beauty. She would not want to bloat or ‘look terrible’. I knew. I wanted to protect her in every way possible, yet didn’t know how, but was pretty sure I would figure it out.
So, after we did the dialysis. I could tell right away, it was too much.

I wanted her to come back. I wanted her to wake up. To get better. Just to not go. So I kept asking her to please, if she could, try. After seeing her face so slack, I knew she could no longer.
I wanted to bring the kids to say goodbye, but I didn’t want to. In the end, I opted not to. I finally went home, the past three months of a new baby and her illness had worn me down and I needed to rest.
I had taken to keeping my phone under my pillow, and when it rang at 2:30 a.m., I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. The attending suggested that if I wanted to say goodbye, I had better come in soon. My heart dropped, it raced, I think it may have stopped. I went to the hospital, to the icu to say goodbye. The attending was wonderful and although she didn’t strike me as the type to cry, she was, as she stood in the room behind me. I asked how long and she said it could be any time. She had had another heart attack, but managed to hang on. I’m guessing, just for this. For me.
I asked about taking her off the life support, and she said it may expedite things, but being on it would not give her much more time.
I used to ask all of the time why aren’t we able to give our aged the grace and mercy that we give our dying animals through euthanasia. Now I know. Not that it was the same, but to me, I became a part in deciding when. I hope never, ever to be a part of that again.
Her face slack and lifeless, but still mom, was restored. No tubes, no i.v.s, no mask. All life support removed. I held her hands, I rubbed her legs and feet when they worked on her and I couldn’t be next to her side. I did not want to take my hands off of her or stop talking to her. She needed to know she was not alone and that I was there. I spoke to her and told her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her, but I understood she had to go, that this was too much. I told her she would be missed and that she was my best friend, and no one could have made me feel more loved. I told her my dad was waiting. All the while, the attending cried quietly with me, occasionally putting her hand on my shoulder.

I sat next to my mother and kissed her face and her hand and said I do not want this, even a bit, but it’s ok. Then, one tear rolled from her eye, and she left this world.
After she died, I was going through her things, a tortuous and beautiful event. I came across a note she had hand written, I don’t know when, that said ‘be my voice when I cannot speak’.

I swear she knew.

happy. new year

The days when she would dream of her parents were the best, even though in those dreams, she couldn’t fully keep them. They were always without their cell phone or she couldn’t find their number. They were out too long, at a restaurant or in their apartment and she would realize they hadn’t spoken in too long and wonder why she didn’t just go with them, go to them, sooner. There would be that sudden urge, need really, to call them and then she would be left fumbling for their number or the keys on the phone while that urgency grew and her heart hurt more and more with the need to hear them or see them.

Sometimes in the dream she would know they were gone, but sometimes there was a delay and there was only the purest of joy. In the real waking hours, in the true morning, not the dream morning, she would be happy in her bones. A true joy that she didn’t even know had disappeared. An inexplicable happiness and light equal and opposite to the extraordinary weight of some days, not all, but some. Where she awoke with a heaviness, seemingly unjustified and unprovoked, and unprecedented. Those days felt like she had received devastating news in her sleep and she had awoken with the latent hints of sadness, but not the morose feeling when you wake after someone has died and know it wasn’t a dream. This is the scar of that. The long closed over tattoo of a reminder of that morning when you woke up and death was still real and raw and crippling. This is the faint white line in your skin or the one that still has a little purple in it, because it’s not quite done becoming the finished product. This is that scar when she wakes many days. Not sure why she is so crumpled. Why the weight on her heart has chosen this particular morning to reinvest itself in the goal of stealing her happiness and her light.

But not today. Today there is no weight, even though they are lost again. Today is a lesson in perspective as they were here, right here, and she feels only that. She can hear herself saying mom and dad to them, not about them and wonders why they won’t come every night, if only for that.

On this day, she goes downstairs with a secret in her. A happiness like a new love, but better, because she knows she will have this again, one day. She lays down on the floor and lets the dogs accost her, rather than holding their love and ridiculous affection at bay, and lets them smother her face with kisses and whiskers. They are joyous in this victory and follow her out the door for their walk, bouncing and telling her over and again, we told you we could make it better. The happiness in their gait and the attention in their eyes make her wonder how she could ever have doubted them. She keeps treats in her giant, almost comical, Carhartt overalls so they can be off leash today, as she cannot hold them back- nor does she want to. They can’t take their silly eyes off her when they hear the bag crinkle, and it makes her laugh. Like clowns, they feed off of it and zoom around, and she knows, again, they are far smarter than she. It’s so easy, they say, will you please just let go. Like this. Every day. And she thinks, God, I wish I could.