Wednesday, August 03, 2016

This time of year (I think of her)

It was six years ago I lost a dear friend on the island. I run into mutual acquaintances on the island and usually don't talk to them much about this loss, but I always suspect it's running through their minds as much as mine, especially in summer.

Sometimes you think you know someone really well and then you discover his or her demons (or a well-veiled illness) much later. I'd gone to this friend's for an overnight because she'd had a colonoscopy and needed some help with this and that. She had a pretty rough night of sleep, where in the wee hours I'd awakened to settle her down through what appeared to be a nightmare. What I didn't realize was that the next morning, after slipping out quietly to walk her dog, I'd come back to find her dead...where she'd apparently been dead since the early morning. And that nightmare, where she was thrashing and speaking in tongues (at moments crystal clear speech), was probably her last hurrah before passing.

Knowing what I was looking at, from CPR cert training, it was clear she was gone. But you still have to call 911, and they STILL put you through the motions of performing CPR until help arrives. To me that was a futile charade. Having to pull her to the floor and start compressions knowing damn well she wasn't coming back was probably more traumatic than finding her gone.

In this case I learned that my friend was a chronic doctor-shopper, and in her home she had bags and cabinets filled with empty pill bottles. Often the same types of pills--mainly for pain, but from different doctors over a relatively short period of time. I'd learn a couple months later that her official cause of death was an accidental overdose from a combination of medications she had no business being on - certainly nothing related to the pills her doctor had sent her home with that day, nothing she'd been instructed to take on my or another friend's watch prior to my arrival. I sat there with her body on the living room floor - holding her hand, after the paramedics had come and gone, Father Tryphon had said a prayer, David at my side...and we waited quietly for the coroner to come. What would I say to her family? I made calls. It sucked.

What followed was a quiet grace. It was impressive to see this network of friends (and a young brother) that came to sort out her posthumous affairs, everything from dismantling and cleaning the household, parceling her things, to obit-writing and call-downs, to the memorial, to the monumental task of care and adoption of her kids (which she'd provisioned for a few years back if the worst happened). I think of how she would feel to see her kids today, how things turned out. I always think of her when I see them around, hoping for the best.

Her illness doesn't diminish the wonderful person she was; I'm just sorry I didn't know better, so that I could have intervened.

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