Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Week To Forget That I Will Always Remember!

It was difficult to write the post about Melinda stopping treatments for her cancer. It is even harder to have to tell you of her passing night before last. She died right at 11 pm on Thursday, 22 September after only 30 hours at the in-patient hospice... While it was tough to watch her decline so rapidly, she was surrounded by friends and family and all are relieved that her pain is over and the rest she craved is finally at hand.

Some might want to know some of the details of her last days. After deciding to stop treatments on 15 September, we got a referral to Casa de la Luz hospice and a nurse from the facility came by for evaluation the next morning. She talked to us about policy and services and about how it all works. We were a little concerned that they wouldn't permit her fluid infusions, that had always perked her up and made her feel better. Since they were considered "extending life" they wouldn't be permitted under hospice care. Because Melinda already had an appointment for fluid infusion on Saturday, 17 September, we held off signing up.

Our hours at the cancer center were very nice. After our 3 years of regular visits there, all the nurses are like family. Knowing that Melinda had stopped her cancer treatments, the weekend crew all came by and talked to her and made her as comfortable as they could. It will be hard to not see them in the future now that Melinda has passed.


We got thru thu the weekend just fine. After the fluid infusions, you would expect a lot of peeing going on, but evidently with her disease progression, it showed up as edema in her arms and legs - little to no use of the commode.  We signed up for hospice on Monday morning, they delivered a hospital-style bed, went thru her meds, discarded the ones she didn't need (all of them!), and were supplied morphine drops for her pain control. We started that Monday night (19 September), and man, they worked great - no pain, but zonked her out big time. The next morning, I panicked when I almost couldn't wake her up. I ended up calling her sister Maj and told her if "she wants to have a conversation with Melinda, she better get here soon"! She jumped on a plane and came that night! Luckily, I caught our nurse friend Erica at work that Tuesday - she would stop by after she got off work at the medical center and sit with her while I picked up Maj. Fortunately the initial exposure to liquid morphine does really knock you out, and she got a little more clear-headed thru the day. By the time Erica arrived at 8pm, she was still pretty chatty. Things were good enough that Erica even took a photo of the two of us before I left to the airport. At left, I licked her cheek to make her smile as the photo was taken. Maj arrived, and man, the party started - talking excitedly into the already-late evening hours. I finally turned into bed about 1:30 and warned the girls in the slumber party to get some sleep, and "no talking about boys"!

The next morning (Wednesday, 21 September) another surprise! Our "mother-in-law" Betty stopped in! Now Betty is the mom of my first wife Vicki. You would think family dynamics would have stopped that relationship cold, but Betty and Melinda hit it off like gangbusters and we're still one big happy family. Ninety One year old Betty left Columbia, SC at 7am to pick up her daughter Susan in Dallas and get to Tucson by 11:30. They walked into the house about 12:45, and man, did that bring a smile to Melinda's face! I had a meeting with a lawyer scheduled so had to leave for an hour or two, so that is how I left the house - full of happy women.

Upon my return at 3pm, an emergency had occurred. Melinda had been hungry (the first time she expressed hunger in weeks!). They were feeding her a pear snack pack when she vomited (not particularly unusual for her), but this time she aspirated some of the fluid/stomach contents. Turns out that is a bad thing - stomach acid in your lungs will get you with pneumonia pretty quickly if your immune system is weak. We called the hospice nurse (not allowed to dial 911). Melinda was making gurgling noises, and breathing with difficulty. It sounded like there was something in her throat, though in reality was much lower. We tried sitting her upright and lying on her side with no effect. The nurse finally arrived, and after evaluating called for oxygen delivery, and checked on an in-patient room, which was available. Oxygen and patient transport arrived the same time and before I knew it, I had an empty house that felt very hollow...

I fed the livestock (our 8 cats) before getting up to the hospice about 6pm that Wednesday. She was tucked into a comfortable bed and looked pretty peaceful. She still had the labored breathing that sounded gurgly, but was surrounded by Betty and Susan, friend Donna from Phoenix, Roger, Maj and myself. She was still speaking with difficulty, and always shook her head when queried about pain. Late into the night everyone eventually left, as did I for a while. After about 45 minutes of sleep, I got a call from the nurse at hospice. Maj had thought there was a change in her breathing. I showered to wake up and went back in. She seemed about the same to me, but getting a response from her required "getting in her face" and speaking loudly. The last words I under stood were about 3am on the 22nd... I somehow wanted to record the moment - her sister and I at her sides, holding her hands. Maj was sound asleep when I took the left image, and I one-handed a shot at right with my hand in hers. I didn't record her face, as her features had changed from the beautiful woman we all knew...

As night changed to morning our friends returned to keep us and Melinda company. The nurses rotated in and tended to Melinda's needs and patiently answered our questions. Betty and Susan left for the airport to return to Dallas at 11. When informed of their departure, Melinda opened her eyes and made eye contact for the last time...

After that it was just a matter of time. The breathing always seemed difficult, but the gurgling stopped. Around 10pm she started skipping breaths, and right at 11 she breathed her last and the nurse came in to confirm her passing. We didn't stay for transport to the funeral home, but the attendants who saw her off on her earthly plane (Maj, Donna, Roger and me) left for eventual sleep among lots of hugs...

We're making final arrangements - tentatively narrowing in onto Saturday afternoon, 1 October. Tough to make arrangements on weekends, so can't confirm exact times, but will likely be at Abbey Funeral Home's chapel, and are thinking of a reception afterwards at el Saguarito restaurant at Campbell and Prince afterwards. It was her favorite local place to eat when she had an appetite, and they've agreed to do it for us.

I put an announcement on Facebook and the emotion and testimonials have poured in from her hundreds of friends. If I can, I may read some out loud at the memorial service, though it seems I choke up pretty easily when trying to talk. But what I've taken away from those expressed thoughts is that Melinda brought out the best in everyone. Tuesday afternoon her primary doctor made a house call (!), unusual enough, and just sat and talked to her for 30 minutes. Even her home health care nurse that had stopped by once a week the last month stopped by the hospice for a visit. She didn't need to, but knowing Melinda made her WANT to. I know that over the years she has brought out the best in me too. I know I am a better person for knowing and loving her. But from the outpouring of emotion I see from across the country from people who know her, they are drawn to her and are made better...

So what did she get from me? She always told horror stories of her first husband, whose marriage lasted less than a year, and ended just as we started dating. I can hardly believe some of the stories, but evidently I'm better than Ralph... Perhaps it was the astronomy I exposed her to that provided a "big picture" of her place in the universe. I'm going to close with a video that just today appeared on Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog. It is an amazing video and the quotes from the interviewees while being filmed under dark skies is really why we continue to share the views and look skyward. So think about Melinda, what an incredible person she was, think about how she affected you. Feel free to comment if you would like. And keep looking skyward and be amazed...


Infinity ² from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

7 comments:

Seth lePod said...

Crying now...

Beautifully written. I hope setting it down helped you a bit.
I have no words, but you have my sorrow.


-- cary

Andrew Cooper said...

What can I say? She lived longer and better than I expected, fighting the cancer the whole way. Following your continuing blog posts has been a tough read over the last few years. What once would have been private anguish laid out for all of us to read. I look about me at my aging parents and friends and know I will face the same sort of journey one day. Thanks for the view into Melinda's and your life and for the example I can only hope to follow. Keep looking up my friend, however tough that may be.

Andrew

Thom Peck said...

Thanks for the blog details about Melinda and the last days. We've been sending hugs long distance (I hope you've been feeling them). Melinda was always "up" and made everyone else feel the same. Even if we can't make it to the service, we'll be thinking of her and you. I see she will be interred where some old family friends and schoolmates of our had a farm, not far from where I grew up. When we get back there, we'll be sure to visit.
Take care of yourself.

Thom and Twila

065e445c-838a-11e6-826f-23fd6fa97189 said...

Dean, what a touching, beautiful end to a beautiful life! Thank you for sharing all the grace and dignity and humanity of your family's experience with us, your readers. I never got to know Melinda, living now on the East coast. But I saw how your life, and you yourself, became happy and complete since meeting her. You clearly shared a powerful journey together in the short time you had. All my love goes out to you, Melinda, and your family. -Karel

065e445c-838a-11e6-826f-23fd6fa97189 said...

ps: that infinity2 video was incredible! (and so appropriate). thank you

Kathy Kreinbring said...

What a wonderful blog post! Rest in peace, dear Melinda! She truly did touch all of our lives. Thank you for bringing her into our family. She was SO much fun and brought joy to all who knew her. There was nothing she could not do if she put her mind to it! Thank you for the touching account of her passing. You two met by Divine Guidance and we praise God for her wonderful life.

Andrea Saugstad said...

Dean,
I'm deeply sorry to hear about Melinda's passing! I truly loved working with her in the NICU in Tucson. She was a wonderful nurse an a truly genuine wonderful person & blessed to call her my friend! She was so kindhearted. I loved talking to her and going out to dinner with her and some of our colleagues. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about you Dean...I admired the strong bond you shared, she truly met her match with you! She will be dearly missed! I'm sorry I won't be able to attend the services on Oct 1st. Blessed be her memory!
Miss her!
Andrea Saugstad
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