The news came mid-morning; my cousin Patti had died a half-hour ago. Even as I type those words a full day later, they still feel untrue. Having someone die from a distance is a confusing way to experience loss; it doesn't feel quite real and I'm not sure how it ever becomes real. Just the absence over time, I guess.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Instead of being there for Patti's illness, as I had been for my sister and my father, I was thousands of miles away, fielding daily e-mails and phone calls from her sister Kathi, who was also hundreds of miles away.
Patti lived in far south Texas, in a small town near the Mexican border, and getting there was no easy task. A year or two ago I looked into visiting, but it would have entailed flying from the Cities to Houston, and then to somewhere else--McAllen, maybe--and then renting a car. It would have taken a full day and as much money as a flight to Dublin. And so I never went.
Her siblings all made the trek in January (and are so glad they did) but after that they relied, as I did, on second- and third-hand information. And as the days wore on, the information got more confusing, more contradictory.
She's doing well! She's not eating! She's in a coma! She's shouting out all the answers to Jeopardy! She hasn't eaten in days! She drank a cup of coffee with her neighbor! She can't speak! She's having a great day and talked to Kathi on the phone!
All of these things were probably based in truth, but perhaps were not quite as black-and-white as reported, coming from Charlie (the husband) to Patia (a cousin) to Kathi to me. So for weeks I've been confused and worried and hopeful, emotions that overlaid a constant dread.
Yesterday's phone call was not unexpected, but it was still sad. In many ways, Patti had a difficult life, and while she loved Charlie and the dogs and the nature sanctuary that abutted her house, she never fully embraced south Texas. The heat and humidity got to her, and she was far away from family, and, as it turned out, good health care.
(She went to M.D. Anderson in Houston, that wonderful cancer center, when she was first diagnosed five years ago. But for her recurrence she was treated in McAllen, a town that the New York Times recently reported was the most expensive for health care in the country--and had the lowest quality care for the price.)
In October, Patti sent me an email. She was not complaining--she seldom complained--but there was a wistfulness to it. The south Texas heat was bothering her, and the chemo was making her tired, and she just wanted to get away.
"This time of year I always miss the desert," she wrote. "The Southwest in October is fabulous. There's a feel in the air that you can't imagine. I want to go to Sedona and play tourist."
Do you believe in heaven? Maybe it looks like Sedona in October...
The top picture is courtesy of Debbie, our dog-walker, who heard the news yesterday and decided that the boys needed to cheer me up. I think it's safe to say that Riley (who is looking particularly dour in that picture) does love me more than squirrels. He hates squirrels.