Etta's Archive

Farewell to Etta – the seed dies to live.

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

December 8, 2007 – Cold, cloudy. Etta died at 3 a.m. and there is no doubt she is in a better place. She was the hospice patient Izzy and I visited the most frequently and perhaps got the most attached to. She was 86, and in a nearby nursing home, so it was easy to see her, and she was suffering greatly from colon cancer. Hospice care reduced her pain, gave her visitors and dignity, and greatly eased her discomfort. She had been in the home for 15 months, was tired,  and she greatly missed the farm she had lived on all of her life, and the quiz shows she used to watch obsessively. She was admirable, a character with integrity and no loss of personality. She had a twinkle, and a sharp tongue, nearly to the end.
Izzy loved her (he visited her empty bed below) and she claimed to be indifferent to him “Why, he’s just another dog, really,” she scoffed. But she talked about him constantly when he left and asked repeatedly when he was coming back. She missed wine, too, she said, and asked me to bring some. She did not lose her smile and sharp tongue until a couple of days ago, when she slipped into unconsciousness and did not really awaken. When she was able, she was eager for stories about my sheep and donkeys.
Etta was quite proud, and got her hair done earlier in the week. She was brave and sharp. She never complained, not once, and never lost her sense of self, even though her final weeks were long and difficult. She did turn and whisper to me at one point that she was no longer as busy as she was on the farm. I bet, I said. “There isn’t all that much to do her, just between us,” she confided.
I got to see firsthand how much easier and more graceful hospice made her passage, and it was a turning point for Izzy and I, a great gift to spend time with her.
Izzy did good work, and brightened her time. He also managed to make a lot of friends in the home, and we will return to see them.
Some friends from her farm days came to see her earlier in the week, but she didn’t know them. She did, I was told, inquire about that “black and white dog, and the man” before she lost consciousness. I will miss Etta and got home and rushed to C.S. Lewis, who does not disappoint me. Etta touched us, inspired us. She suffered pain, loneliness, with extraordinary grace. She was, she said, ready. “You don’t want to live forever,” she said. “Not healthy.”
Izzy and I went back to the nursing home and read this passage from “The Problem of Pain” over her bed.

“The thing you long for summons you away from the self. Even the desire for the thing lives only if you abandon it. This is the ultimate law – the seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters, he that loses his soul will save it. But the life of the seed, the finding of the bread, the recovery of the soul, are as real as the preliminary sacrifice. Hence it is truly said of heaven “in heaven there is no ownership. If any there took upon him to call anything his own, he would straightway be thrust out into hell and become an evil spirit.”

This work offers the great gift of perspective. Watching Etta accept death, prepare to die, and slip away was important for me. Odd to say, but her passing lifted me up, even though it was sad, if that makes sense. Gave me the gift of feeling good.
I don’t know if there is a heaven, but I love the notion that the seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters. Etta reminds me yet again that we all share one enormous thing in life – we will all fall, and how we do does matter.

Etta had nothing at the end of her life but that small room. But I hope that there is a heaven, and if there is, Etta is up in it clucking about all the fuss some silly writer and his dog are making of her passing. Good job, Izzy.

Grief observed

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

November 28, 2007 – I almost always am up before sunrise, but never caught the sun quite this way before, photographer’s luck. Had a satisfying day writing, and I feel good about what I am writing. Feel lots of change around, some painful, some good. I have this theory that almost all change is good, sometimes revealing itself slowly, sometimes over time. That can’t be right.
C.S. Lewis says in his book “Grief Observed” that grief feels a lot like fear, in the physical way it affects your stomach and heart. I can see that. It is sometimes softer, more piercing, I think. But yes, a quickening of the heart, a tightness in the chest. I see this in hospice work sometimes.
Izzy and I went to meet Etta, this afternoon, perhaps the hospice patient he and I have bonded with the most. She was a farmer’s wife, and has been in a nursing home for 15 months, now dying of colon cancer. She is confused much of the time, and on morphine and other medications, but she is alert sometimes, flirtatious and mischievous. She has a wicked sense of humor and when I ask her how she likes Izzy – everybody is crazy about Izzy, she waved her hand, and said, “oh, he’s just a dog, really.” But she beamed when I said we would be back. She insists I come back for tea, and sit down like a proper guest.
She sometimes tries to get me to bring her some wine. She sometimes talks about sheep and loves dogs, and she says she used to watch her game shows at night, but can’t. Izzy has managed to get her attention twice, but although she can’t focus on him, she talks about him when he is gone. Two cats and a bossy Jack Russell went after Izzy on the way in, but he kept his cool.
Etta, say the nurses, is calmer since Izzy has been visiting. Less dementia and restlessness. I thinks he really just likes being visited, dog or human. We brought her some Xmas greens from Gardenworks and left her looking quietly at them, then falling asleep. She asked me just before we left if I might drove her out for a ride, as there isn’t much to do, she said. I wish I could have. Apart from Etta, Izzy now has a half dozen girlfriends in the nursing home, and he visits them on his way out. I think we will be at this nursing home often during the holidays, as long as Etta wants us there, and as long as Izzy keeps making girlfriends. Somehow, he rarely ends up with men.