My wife and I have the pleasure of sharing the same date for our anniversary as Margaret’s birthday. She celebrated her 89th and last birthday still smiling, her family around her.
She’d just entered in-home hospice care having made the decision months before to use a less invasive but less risky course of medicine to address her bladder cancer– radiation therapy.
Ultimately, the cancer not only returned but spread to her other organs. Even someone as lively and adventurous as Margaret could only last so long.
Her decision and its result left her with a chance to see those she loved again and to spend some time with them. A lot more people showed up from far away in her last weeks to visit than are likely to attend the funeral, although there will still be a lot of them there. That is only right. We spent as much time with her as we could.
A Missouri girl, Margaret moved to Denver when she was 18. 1943 with World War 2 in full swing, far from certain. She’d moved far from her brothers and sisters, with whom she’d been closer than most siblings with their mother dying when Margaret was 8, with the depression in full swing.
She had 3 children by her first husband: Donna, whom I’ve never met; John, a welcome addition to any of our family dinners when he could make it; and David, my boys’ natural father. David quit seeing Margaret and the boys about the same time; leaving scars that had one of her final wishes being that he not be told of her illness or death.
I knew her second husband, Orville Miller, he was a great guy and was a freaked out by my old Geo Metro having 3 cylinders as I was. (“Should you buy a 4 spark plug pack and leave one just lying around? Or maybe a six pack and use half of them? I’m always losing that shit…”).
Maryse told me a story of when, early in her marriage to David, she had once prepared a special dinner of chicken pot pie for Margaret and Orville. When they arrived, Margaret stepped into the kitchen and asked Maryse what was for dinner. When Maryse told her, Margaret turned white as a sheet and said that they’d have to come up with something else. Margaret then told Maryse (as she dialed to order pizza) why chicken pot pie just would not do. It seems Orville’s first wife had died of encephalitis, but her final attack had left her face down in a–you guessed it, chicken pot pie.
Margaret has chosen to be cremated, but Orville had purchased a plot for her on the side opposite his first wife, beside whom he is interred, so she could have been buried. She said she just could not go through eternity laughing about the “chicken pot pie woman”, who would spend it wondering why her successor was cackling all the time.
Margaret was from the very beginning kind to me. Once she figured out that I was not some weirdo marrying her former daughter in law (whom she always insisted on calling just plain ‘daughter in law’) to get at her grandsons or some guy who was going to abuse them (although I was hard pressed not to sometimes) she got to like me. We became friends over the years, I liked telling her tall tales and pulling her leg at our bi-weekly family dinners. Maryse and I have always felt that divorce did not mean a family had to divide, we kept the boys and their father’s family close.
I saw Margaret for the last time yesterday in the afternoon. I said to her that her departure would leave a hole in our lives; but her memory would warm the hearths of our hearts while we lived. I said I loved her. I think she was aware, her breathing was labored. She was a shell of even that poor shadow she had been the few days before when I last joked with her.
Yesterday, I was once again driving down I-270 to the approaching death of a loved-one.
In April 1984, I raced to the airport (old Stapleton) from the basement rental I shared with my first wife down 270 to catch a plane to Des Moines. She was not there, having already started putting down stakes in Dallas where she’d landed a job with a Swedish telecom company and where I was to join her after the first semester of my master’s program came to an end in May.
Grandpa Osborn (we never referred to grandparents by first name in Iowa) had gone into a coma after battling lung cancer. He was 81. My family was returning to Iowa in hopes of seeing him one last time. Indeed it was the last. He was merely kept alive by machines until those of us far fled of his children and grandchildren could return. Of his 12 children, all made it home.
I was there when they agreed to turn off the respirator, all the kids and grandma, so disconsolate that she hardly spoke. She had given 14 children to this man, almost 60 years of good and bad. Things weren’t always easy with William Fredrick Osborn and his children, like a lord over an uneasy kingdom he sometimes played them off one another or disagreed with them, his disapproval a mighty deterrent, his approval sought after often to the point of violence. They were in agreement now, it would take a few weeks and the will to change that.
He breathed on for some time, allowing some to be hopeful; but the doctor’s eyes and demeanor told the tale. I was there as he died some hours after being disconnected. His breathing shallowed, stuttered, faltered and failed. He died in the same hospital which I was born, 23 years earlier. I was the same age my father was when I was born– 23. I wanted to go up to the ward I where I was born with my mother, but she refused (no surprise there).
We returned to Colorado after the funeral. I returned home on 270.
2 years ago, as my (second and current) wife’s mother Nancy Jones lay dying at the Denver Hospice in Lowry, I drove once again up and down that same highway, 270. I was working contract for a company out of Chicago, and so could not spend full time with my wife and son as they shared the hopeless bittersweet vigil that is hospice care. Nancy’s organs had begun shutting down, my wife’s father’s years-long effort at keeping her healthy finally reaching its limits.
When I met Nancy, shortly before my wife and I married in 1990, I would have given her six months– seriously. She had suffered from a series of strokes in the 1970’s, to be honest her smoking, drinking and the hyper-overdose that was the first incarnation of ‘the pill’ got to her. She had a decent recovery and led a good life until a nasal infection inflamed a portion of her brain causing her to have severe tremors and seizures. Sam Jones took exceptional care of his wife,; but his age and hers both eventually caught up with his efforts.
While in hospice, Nancy had her good, lucid days and days that where she was not really aware of her surroundings but made for lively conversation. She thought our son Chris was one of her students, and that Maryse was still living at home. She had no clue who I was; but we did talk a lot when I visited.
My wife’s mother died on what would have been the 46th birthday (January 22nd) of her son Rodney, who had died in a rather pointless accident in 2008, and was the 10th birthday of our first grandchild Aubrey.
Once again I was driving down this highway, to see Margaret before her passing. It is my roadway of grief, a funerary parkway (but only when headed eastward).
And I had a revelation about my own life that I hope to use this space to make clear to people who might give a shit. I need to make some changes, some clean breaks that I’ll try to explain. No, I’m not going to go psycho, I’m too neurotic for that: remember, everything is my fault.
Hey– it’s therapy.
A note about Denver Hospice (in home, as Margaret chose, and on site with Nancy) are phenomenal. They are terrific caregivers and are wonderful to the passing and the family in every way. Give to them, they need it.