Archive for October, 2010

11
Oct
10

Peace

Dear Friends and Family,

It is with great sorrow but no surprise that I must inform you that Julie passed away on the evening of Sunday, October 10th, 2010, around 10:15 PM.  All indications are that she died without pain.

Julie and I were married for 14 years, and they were the finest years of my life.  Had I known before I married her what I know now, how short our time together would be, and how it would end, I wouldn’t have hesitated in the least.  The joy and laughter that we shared, and the love that started out strong and then deepened to a degree I didn’t know was possible  — these make even this loss and sorrow worthwhile.

And Julie would agree.  Even as late as September, when she had ceased treatment and knew that death was approaching, we would remark at how lucky we are.  We had a home to live in, food on the table, jobs we enjoyed, the love of friends and family, and a wonderful marriage — while so many people cannot claim even one of these.  Life is not fair.  I don’t know why Julie and I were so blessed, but we spoke of this often and we were grateful.

Julie would not have considered herself a social individual.  She taught herself to read well before school, and as a child often found books easier to deal with than many of the kids at school.  And yet, when we look at the people she’s touched in her life, the people who have agonized with us through the entire cancer process, we see an upwelling of care and support that is just amazing.  By way of example, this blog alone has been viewed over 13,000 times since she started it.  That’s 13,000 instances of people caring, of people wanting to know how Julie is doing.  She obviously meant a great deal to all of you, and your care and support has meant a great deal to us.

There will be two celebrations of her life, one here in town where we’ve lived and worked and have so many friends, and another in California where both her family and mine are centered and where we grew up and first met.  In the next day or two I will be e-mailing out specific details of these to all the friends and family for which I have contact information.  If you receive one, please feel free to share the invitation with anyone I may have missed.  If you don’t hear from me, please check with family members, coworkers, or myself for specifics.  While these gatherings aren’t open to the world at large, anyone who has known or been touched by Julie is more than welcome.

I’ve had inquiries about donations or a memorial fund.  I’m not prepared to manage a memorial fund per se.  Instead, if people want to make a contribution, my preference would be that they give to a good charity.  There are a great many people in need throughout the world, and I’d like to think that our love for Julie might lead to helping some of these people.  Below are some charities that Julie and I have had an interest in, but any legitimate charity would be wonderful.

For those of you who are just visiting this blog for the first time, the archives to the right hold all of Julie’s posts (and more recently mine) as she made this journey.  In them you’ll hear her up times and her down times, her laughter and her stress, but most of all her courage in dealing with this adversity.

More than anything else I can possibly say, I want to thank you all for caring so much.  It means and has meant more than you can ever know.

-B.

08
Oct
10

Holding pattern

So Julie fooled us, or maybe we fooled ourselves.  After about seven hours of “end-of-life” breathing, Julie hiccuped a couple of times last night and went back to a more normal breathing pattern.  Earlier in the day one of Julie’s medications was no longer working for her, so the doctors ordered a different one to help provide comfort.  It seems like the change in breathing pattern was as a result that change of medications.

Pretty much everyone who’s been involved thinks that the Julie we know and love is gone.  We haven’t seen any sign of conscious thought for two days.  If the eyes are open, they don’t track anything.  There’s no response to speech or touch.  There are no indications of pain or stress, even though we’ve stopped giving her medications to combat these.  The mind isn’t functional enough to recognize pain anymore.  It’s as if the body is only alive because Julie forgot to switch it off as she was leaving.

The animals know something is up now.  April is our 18 year old tabby cat.  April believes that any idea is a bad idea, unless it’s hers.  If I put her on our bed (which she loves), she’ll immediately jump off.  If I want her on the bed, I have to put her on the nightstand, which she’ll promptly reject by leaving it for the bed.  So I wasn’t expecting much when I put her on Julie’s hospital bed.  April was the only animal in the house that hadn’t had some contact with Julie recently.  To my surprise, rather than immediately jumping off, she wandered around a bit and then settled down on what would be Julie’s lap if Julie were sitting up.  She stayed there quite a while.

As most of you know, Robin is our 6 year old sheltie.  He has a strong “weird” detector.  If anything is weird, he’ll shy away from it.  Things that are familiar can become weird, just because they’re in a different place or turned a different way.  Being picked up is extremely weird.  Being on furniture is not allowed.  So when I picked him up and put him on the hospital bed next to Julie, I also didn’t expect much.  Instead, he walked up to her head and sniffed her.  Then he gave her a couple of small licks on the end of her nose, and paused.  He repeated this a couple of times around her nose and face.  I left him there, and he stayed another minute or two. Being picked up, being on the bed — all definitely weird.  But still, instead of jumping down he stayed to pay his respects.

People are asking about me.  Yes, I’m getting enough sleep.  And I’m eating.  Emotionally, I’m probably in the same holding pattern that Julie is in physically.  I’m not sure what to expect of myself once the body dies.  It might be a crisis where I’ll be useless for days, but probably not.  I’ve been considering the possibilities since Julie first found the lump.  I’ve been mourning since we first got the terminal diagnosis.  Recently I’ve been trying to reduce the things I have to do right after Julie passes, so I could have the room to feel whatever I need to feel.  However it goes for me emotionally, I know I’ll get through it.  I have lots of friends and loved ones watching out for me, and I think I’m pretty well prepared.  You don’t need to worry.  Many of you are quite close to Julie.  Take care of yourselves, too.

-B.

07
Oct
10

When 20 = 5.5

Right at noon the hospice nurse alerted me to the fact that Julie’s breathing had changed.  She’d started a short, shallow breathing that the nurse referred to as “end-of-life” breathing.  The nurse has been a hospice nurse for five years, and the longest she’s ever seen anyone in end-of-life breathing before they die is 20 minutes.

Until now.  Julie has been in end-of-life breathing for five and a half hours.  There’s no indication that she’s suffering, or even uncomfortable.  The nurse says Julie is the strongest person she’s ever met.

I assume Julie will pass sometime tonight, but I thought that last night too.  Julie will go when it’s right for her to go.  I’ll keep you posted

-B.

07
Oct
10

Waiting

On early Wednesday morning Julie took a turn for the worse.  The hospice nurse came in and tended to her.  Based on what the nurse was seeing, she revised her lifespan guess down to 3-4 days.

Later in the morning Julie’s heartbeat changed, which told the nurse we were probably looking at more like 4-5 hours.  Julie’s heart recovered, but I don’t think anyone thought she’d make it through the night.

Yet it’s morning, and Julie is still with us.  I’ve been keeping her in medications through the night.  I think she’s comfortable.  She’s mostly unresponsive and apparently unaware of what’s going on around her, as she has been since sometime yesterday morning.

The hospice nurse spent pretty much the entire day with us yesterday, until I told her I felt I could handle it through the night.  At one point yesterday the nurse felt Julie needed a different oxygen machine.  She had to raise a ruckus, but got one delivered in under an hour!  She called me at 7AM this morning, and will be back here shortly.  The support they provide is just great.

I’m not sure how long Julie has with us.  I don’t think it’s long, but no one really knows.  I’ll put up a post when I have more news.

Take care, everyone.

-B.

03
Oct
10

Dying by degrees

Sometimes people die in an instant.  Other times, they die slowly.  I’ve been watching Julie die for weeks now.  Slowly, her world becomes smaller and more difficult for her.  A few weeks ago she could visit for an hour or more.  Two weeks ago it was 30 minutes.  A week ago it was 15 minutes.  Now it might be 5.  Or zero.

A few weeks ago I started having to walk with her anytime she was moving, because she seemed a little unsteady.  Then she needed a hand getting out of a chair.  Now walking even a few steps alone is out of the question and she can’t stand up at all without a lot of help.  Soon the two of us might not be able to get her standing at all.

At some point for most terminally ill people, the mental functions begin to deteriorate.  Julie started searching for words a while back.  Then she started using the wrong words for things.  Decisions became more difficult to make, and I stopped giving her as many choices.  In the last few days on occasion I’ve had to give her directions around the house — which way to the table, or the chair for example.  Today she asked if this was our home, and then asked me to tell her about “home”, making quote marks in the air with her fingers.

Our dog was one of the great pleasures in her life.  Yesterday I realized that he no longer brought her joy.  If she notices him at all, she seems to find him more of a pest than anything else.

And today we passed something of a sad but expected milestone.  For the first time, she didn’t know who I was.

As I say, I was expecting it, and it doesn’t change my job.  She still trusts me to take care of her and watch out for her.  When I tell her who I am, she believes me.  It’s more like she doesn’t recognize my face than that she doesn’t know who “Brian” is.  At one point she told me that “Brian will know where [something] is.”  This could be a result of the disease, or of the meds.  It doesn’t matter, since we’re not going to take her off of her pain meds in order to clear her mind.  Comfort is the rule of the day — all else is optional.

And the meds do seem to be keeping her comfortable.  That’s a blessing, and all I’m really hoping for.  If the 9/22 guess is accurate, I’ve got something less than 10 days with her.  If we can keep her comfortable through the final stretch, that will be a victory in my book.  I’ll take my victories where I can find them.

I think that’s it for now.  Take care, everyone.  Thank you for all your warm thoughts, your prayers, and your good wishes.

-B.




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