Hello all you decent people, the blogger'd (blog herd?). This is Pete, Peter, the husband, the "primary bereaved" as I am officially referred to on the Kaiser form - I've never come first in anything, why this? So you guessed it, that marvelous woman is gone, but oh is she not forgotten. She touched the head, heart, and guts of so many people, with her beautiful writing, her warmth and generosity, and her irreverent, bawdy sense of humor.
She took the Martin Buber quote "All real living is meeting" (see the "Calling All Elephants: ..." post on the Animal Exuberance side of the blog) to heart, and in these past weeks and months she relished in reaching out to and being touched by so many people, whether old friends, her various health care givers, someone she met on the street or on the virtual sidewalks of the inter webs, or of course us four creatures at home. She had the pleasure of connecting with so many beasts, human and otherwise, and that meant everything to her. So thank you, all, for sharing and engaging. She has taught this here recluse a little of that power and I am trying a bit more each day to follow her example. Forza! baby.
I regret that it is this post that follows the last, with nothing in between from Gretchen as promised. She was just too damn busy. She was certainly burning the candle at both ends, and she was the light of my life and a pain in my ass, but she knew it and knew that I loved her all the more for it. For those who want a little sense of her over these past weeks I offer a letter I sent out just last week to her people, those few anyway whose email addresses I could gather in haste. Gretchen died at home, I believe peacefully, a few days later in the wee hours of April 11. She had her family here and the week before we broke bread, dyed Easter eggs, and toasted a good life with good wine, though she wisely declined to stack wine on top of the morphine. So that candle has burned down, but its light carries on in all of us.
Share with us if you wish here on the blog your thoughts and memories of Gretchen.
April 8, 2015
I am writing to break a long silence, to pry open the mouth of that wolf just a crack and try to speak on Gretchen's behalf, but I am no ventriloquist and you will not be fooled. Hers is a unique and beautiful voice.
I am more blunt than she and tend to chafe at a long preamble, so here it is. Gretchen's health has taken a rather rapid turn for the worse in the last two weeks. She has lost a lot of strength in her legs and can now only stand with a walker. She seems for the most part to be able to manage the headaches and back pain with the various drugs at her disposal, but there are spells, and of course she is now sleeping often and a bit dopey when not. (I am sleeping less often and also dopey when not). But she is still so very much Gretchen, and when the fog clears she's got ideas and stuff to do.
The rapidity of her decline was a shock. The MRI of a month ago, though in no way showing signs of remission, did show that the cancer in her brain was not looking "aggressive", to quote the radiation oncologist. She held out hope that the copper chelation therapy she was undertaking may be working to stave off the development of the small micro-metastases into full-fledged tumors. And that may be the case, but cancer cells loose and free-floating in the cerebral spinal fluid seemed to be thriving and they do not register well on MRI. They have traveled to the base of her spine and are coating the nerves there. They are likely doing the same elsewhere in the spine and in the brain as well as generally fouling up the CSF flow. She finished a week of radiation to her lower spine last Friday. We started hospice the same day as, for Gretchen, there really is no further treatment. She does not want to see a hospital again, continues to decline the offers of further radiation to the head, and intrathecal chemotherapy injected into her spinal fluid is definitely off the table. These are the therapies available and how effective they would be to relieve her symptoms or to forestall the advancement of the disease is questionable and not a risk Gretchen feels worth taking.
But the past month has been a crazy, joy-filled roller coaster ride. At the end of February we closed the deal on a piece of property in the forested hills west of McMinnville. A very small cabin in need of much repair on about eight acres at the end of a dirt road seven miles out of town was to be our new home. As we drove up the last bit of road in our U-Haul, our immediate neighbors greeted us while out walking their three dogs and two goats - warm, friendly, and welcoming people. (The other thankfully more distant neighbors with the semi-automatic firearms we have not yet been formally introduced to however). This is country livin'. We spent the next week enjoying cool morning walks with the dogs with views of the fog-filled valleys below us and afternoons exploring McMinnville's eateries, the plumbing department at Lowes, and the Wilco Farm store (every town should have one!). Gretchen had begun outfitting the place before we even moved in so right away she had transformed this fairly rough space into a warm and cozy place to camp and we could see how this could become a wonderful little home once I got the water flowing and a stove wired up. Buckets of fresh, sweet water from the spigot in the yard and a propane burner sized for a National Guard weekend drill kept us in cold and hot water, and bacon. Greg visited for a week and they traveled up and down the Yamhill valley visiting her favorite ceramics studio, wineries, and bakeries and taquerias in McMinnville and Portland alike. She was living life balls out (hey it's a steam engine metaphor not an inaccurate anatomical one). I kept up when I could, but I was deflated by a nasty bug and saved (or misspent) my energies attempting to clean out the cistern and make headway on the long chore list. (Grandma Di exclaimed how much her mother would have loved that we bought this property as she just loved "woodsy lore". At times for me it seemed more like woodsy chore. But what a place to have chores to do.) Well the same week Greg returned to Budapest Gretchen's "neuropathy of the butt" developed into a more serious weakness in the legs. One night she is dancing on the deck, a few days later she is having an urgently scheduled MRI and radiation to her spine.
That woman is a trooper. Always positive throughout this ordeal and keen to make it count for something. Last week after persevering through the bureaucratic balking of her health care provider she sat for a long interview by a reporter with the Japanese Nippon Television Network who is doing a story on the Death with Dignity law in Oregon. I urged her to let it go and rest - talking and bright lights were the two most potent causes of the insane headaches she was having. But no, she had worked too hard getting this into place, and wanted very much to be an advocate for a right she felt was much maligned and misunderstood. I needed to stay home to await delivery of a hospital bed, but Megan accompanied her to our friend Tracy's art glass studio where the shoot would take place. The eight block drive exhausted her and she quickly fell asleep. The TV crew waited and interviewed Megan and Loren, who just thought she came for lunch! Gretchen awoke an hour later, commenced to speak carefully and eloquently, as is her wont, for two and a half hours, and then passed out again until we had to fetch her home at 9:30 that evening. She is a force, and it is very dispiriting to see that force sapped by her disease. But even still she is positive and generous, more concerned for what an inconvenience she is to us all! I mean really Gretch, give us a f'ing break.
Well if I don't stop editing this email you will never get it. Just send your good thoughts and prayers for her peace and comfort. We are all doing our best to keep her comfortable and surrounded by dogs and love, both things never in short supply around Gretchen.