Lack of food and water had taken a swift toll. She lay naked on the hospital bed, soft fleece blankets draped over her private bits and the white wisps of her hair surrounding her face like a halo. A fan gently blew cool air on her feverish body and damp cloths draped her forehead and neck. Her limbs were mere sticks and she had to be turned every few hours to prevent bed sores. The vibrant, quirky woman of only 63 was now reduced to barely more than a skeleton, eyes sunken in her face and breathing so shallow that one had to watch closely to see that she was actually still alive.
“Hey, Kitty Kat, it’s Heidi,” I whispered softly. I didn’t want to wake her but I also didn’t want to startle her if she awoke and found me at her side.
Kat opened her eyes. The ability to show any facial expression had disappeared but her gaze shifted to meet mine directly. I kissed her cheek, took her frail hand and stroked her arm.
“Meow, meow,” I said to her and smiled. This was her usual answer to someone greeting her.
She continued to look at me as I told her about my grandson learning to swim, the last outing on our sailboat and other random thoughts to fill the heavy silence hanging over the bedroom. After a few minutes she closed her eyes. Her sister, sitting in the corner chair, stood up, squeezed my shoulder and walked out of the room, leaving us alone.
Kat was in the final stages of a form of Parkinson’s disease that attacks the frontal lobe, eroding the filters of reason and social politeness over time. She had unknowingly pushed away the majority of her friends and all but the most loving of family members with an awkward, and at times ugly, bluntness. Undiagnosed for years because of her distrust of doctors, she still had the ability to understand that her body was shutting down and was purposely choosing not to prolong her decline. She had consciously refused food and medication, and then water. Her husband, brother and sisters, and devoted neighbors took turns at her bedside, making her as comfortable as possible and telling her that they loved her. And waited for her to die.
I had not been this close to death in my life and the first time I saw her in this weakened state, it shocked me. This wasn’t the woman who painted whimsical hummingbirds, danced with wild abandon to the beat of her own drummer, hosted the most fabulous gourmet cocktail parties and loved a good debate on the merits of organic food. She looked like the witch that fed Snow White the deadly apple. It took everything in me not to shudder and turn away.
But when her eyes locked onto mine, something magical happened. I didn’t see death. I saw a soul that was preparing to leave the ragged flesh and bones shell of her body to dance in another realm. She was at peace, waiting for the door to open into the next cycle of being.
I visited Kat everyday her last week on this earth, sitting for hours at her side and giving her family a break to eat or take a walk or meet with the hospice nurse. They all thanked me and told me what a good friend I was and how much they appreciated my kindness.
But only Kat knew the truth. This was as much about me as it was about her. I knew where she was going and she would be my messenger.
My father was lost at sea in a sailboat race when I was 17 and despite the best efforts by the Coast Guard, his boat and his body were never recovered. He was healthy and full of life one day … and then gone the next. There was no opportunity to say goodbye or tell him how much he meant to me. Until now.
When we were alone, I spoke to Kat about my father. I told her stories that I hadn’t told anyone else, shared my favorite memories and described the layer of grief that always floated just under the surface of my soul. I asked her to find him when she crossed over and to tell him how much I loved him and missed him. Sometimes I spoke in words and sometimes silently in prayer. Sometimes I spoke to her and sometimes directly to my father. Tears streamed down my face as I poured out decades of loss and love.
During my last afternoon with Kat she slept most of the time. I knew that this would be the final hours we would be together in the flesh. I sat quietly, praying that her passing would be gentle and swift. I told her how much I appreciated her friendship and that it wasn’t ending just because she would no longer exist in physical form. She would be with me in my heart until I joined her in our next life, and we would dance and laugh with my father, healthy and whole and filled with joy and love.
I closed my eyes and whispered a plea, “Please, Daddy, keep an eye out for Kat. She’s coming soon and will need someone to take care of her. She’s a bit of a firecracker but has a heart of gold. She’s not much for sailing but is one heckuva hostess for dock parties. Oh, and she loves champagne. Just make sure it’s organic.”
I smiled and opened my eyes to see Kat’s gray-blue eyes looking right at me. She heard every word, spoken and silent. A single tear slid down her right cheek. My heart squeezed in my chest and I kissed her face then rested my check against hers and stroked her head. She slept again. I whispered “I love you,” and took my leave.
I was sipping my morning cup of tea and considering my weekly Shabbat menu, thinking about Kat and the amazing dinners she created. My phone signaled a text and I knew. She had passed with her family at her side during the night. I took my cuppa to our patio and watched the day come to life. The sun would still rise, I’d light my candles that evening and the cycle of life for those left behind would continue as usual. My friend had given me such joy during her time on this earth, but had given me an even greater gift in her path to death.
Rest in peace my dear Kat, and give Daddy a hug for me.
In loving memory of Kathleen Ott-Davis, May 21, 1954 – July 20, 2017.
If you have a writer’s soul and live in Alameda, please join our group! No experience necessary … members range from those who dream of writing the Great American Novel to published authors. No dues … unless you choose to be a Cohort as I am … many free daily/weekly meet-ups, reasonably priced workshops and focus groups and retreats, and tons of encouragement and support.
Here’s the link: To Live and Write in Alameda.