An Open Letter:
When we are in danger of losing a love one from serious illness we do everything within our power to search for a solution by means of medical help from every source we can find, to save them, and in so doing keep them with us. We lean on friends and family, delving deeply into their views and experiences of life’s most difficult moments. Sometimes it is easy to chat with someone you hardly know but who has been through the same thing that is approaching you now. Susan had been reading my ‘Poems of Love’ for a year before Hamada died, over at www.susiehemingway.blogspot.com Her comment written just after Hamada died and shown below tells of her own situation and how our lives during the past years were running the same course. The follow extracts are from our correspondence, truthful exchanges between two women bearing the same pain and the same experiences. And now as dear Dan has the news that time is short we have been corresponding again. Thank you Susan for the permission to post here a couple of the comments and emails that have passed across miles that separate, with the hope that our words might help others:
Comment – November 2010 .
Susie, I have been the keeper of the flame for my darling Daniel as he battled multiple myeloma for almost 6 years. We have had three transplants and have never had remission. I happened on your blog a year ago while sitting in Dan’s hospital room and have been a reader ever since. Tonight when I learned of Hamada’s passing I could barely contain my grief, for you, your beautiful family, your friends and I suppose for myself as well. I often wonder if today will be the day and the reality of your news made me wish I could embrace you and tell you that someone in Denver knows what a courageous battle was waged. Please know that you are a sister in spirit. Yours in great sympathy, Susan.
Email 13 August 2012.
Susie, the doctor gave us the news today, perhaps 2 months. Dan is sad because he always could wring more time out of this deadly cancer. To be told it is over is shocking. The girls, 29 and 25 are bereft as am I. I have told none of my friends or family yet but I am asking you if you have any thoughts to share about this leave taking. I think it odd but comforting that I am reaching out across the miles to you. Somehow you are a sister in spirit. Yours, Susan
In Reply. 14 August 2012.
Where to start? I am full of grief for you Susan. I am so very sad for your dear family and my heart goes out to you all. Firstly, many times the Doctors are wrong, as they were with Hamada and I pray that Dan will continue well for the longest time.
I suppose my last days with Hamada are all I have to go on, although I have faced death before it was never on my own. Somehow, somewhere the strength comes. I do believe there is a God so I prayed that he would guide me during this time. I prayed that he would help me ‘let go’ and he did. I prayed that he would ease the way for my beloved and from somewhere support came. No one will be able to understand this time and this loss for you. It is a unique experience for all those who lose a much loved partner. Hamada helped me too – he knew he had come to the end of his fighting. He told me he was so tired and this I knew was the start of his journey home. (I am full of tears as I write this but I must try to help you) I am sure that when the time comes, that Dan and you will know and accept too. In the meantime you must live these days quietly and with ease, for all will be well. Use your great strength for it will come, wait with patience; serenely in the joyous confidence of your love for each other. For this time is yours and yours alone.
Family are grieving too, but no one can see your heart or feel your pain. It is for you to find your own solace and strength and you will, for I am sure of this. Looking back I know I shut down my pain during the last few days. I continued to write my updates but devoted all my time to Hamada. The family had visited at the weekend and so for the next two days I chose to be completely alone except for a short time when my dear sister and her husband helped me to bathe Hamada and although he was deeply sleeping I believed he could still hear me. I never stopped telling him, of my love for him. I knew the time was coming because of a change in his breathing. I still wanted to be alone with him. He was my best love as Dan is yours and you will know what is right for you. I held him in my arms even after he had died. I did not wish to disturb his passing in any way. And then when I was really sure – I called for my family to come. This was our choice; it may not be for you. I knew from what Hamada had told me on the Sunday night that he was asking for my permission to rest now. I would have given my all -as you would for Dan- for him to stay with us longer, but it was my duty of care to accept and to allow no further intervention which would have been futile. You will know dear-one when the time is here. Please accept these last precious days of love together -for love is the greatest of all gifts and we have been lucky to have known such joy. My thoughts and prayers will remain with you throughout this time.
“Father, hear the prayer we offer. For strength that we may ever live
our lives courageously. Be our strength in hours of weakness
in our wanderings be our guide .Lord I implore you, to always be at Susan’s side”.
I am your sister in spirit, all blessings dear lady.
16th August 2012
Dear Susie, If this disease has taught me anything, it is to approach life with an open heart and utter honesty in the face unbearable moments. I know that may not work for everyone but it has kept me on the high road these many years. Yesterday we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. The girls arranged a beautiful dinner in Boulder, Colorado at perhaps the best restaurant in the state. Julia and her boyfriend drove us the 45 minutes from Denver. It was perfect from start to finish. I don’t know what the girls told the restaurant but we were greeted so warmly and handed a glass of champagne the moment we walked in. Everyone came by to wish us well and our waitress said she could only hope to treasure someone for as many years as we have. At one point we were laughing so hard that I had a flash that I would probably describe my life with Dan, even the cancer years, as two people always making each other laugh.I flashed on the thought that one could capture moments over these many years and most would find us roaring with delight. I might add he has one arm that is broken and useless. He thinks he broke the other arm this week and can barely lift it. That did not stop him from taking his best girl out for a night we will not forget. These are moments of such grace and valor that they take my breath away. I cannot tell you how much your correspondence means to me. I do have a sister of the heart. Yours, Susan
18th August 2012.
Dear Susie, Your email to me was balm to a very weary and troubled soul. I know it could not have been easy to relive and write those words. I also know that you have reached out to many these past years (most probably your entire life) and your goodness and wisdom has calmed and soothed many a heavy heart. Your description of the last days mirror what I have had in mind. Dan does not want to go to hospice and tells me he will die in his own bed. He is at the hospital, as I write, getting blood and platelets. He still refuses to stop all treatment since he has a 60th birthday in a few weeks and wants a party. God love such courageous people. His other arm broke yesterday so now he has two arms that are almost useless. He doesn’t complain and seems to grow more beautiful in his suffering. I remember thinking that of your dear husband. I was fascinated by his face and the story it told of love and strength. I will keep you posted but I do not want to add any burdens on you. I think you are marvellous! I am grateful that you reached out across the miles and I humbly thank you for your honesty and compassion. Yours, Susan.
18 August 2012.
Dear Susan, You would never be a burden dear lady. I just wish with all my heart that you did not have to go through this dreadful time but such is life for all of us at sometime. My positive thoughts and all prayers will continue for you and for Dan, throughout the coming days for all strength and courage. As my last poem says ” Give me your hand that I may walk with you” Many hugs across the miles Susie x
29 August 2012
Just to let you know I am thinking of you every day and that you and Dan are in my daily prayers. I am hoping beyond sense to believe that Dan has rallied and I shall continue to wish with all my heart this is so and that Dan has a wonderful 60th Birthday. How are you? I know you will have not a minute to yourself but I am sure your daughters and family will be close-by to support you.
Keep strong Susan – this is yours and Dan’s time now. Sending lots of hugs and my very best wishes. xxxx
Dear Friend Susie,
My daughter Catherine has called this a beautiful disaster. I find it an apt description for a situation that seems to bring with it a multitude of sacred and profane moments. Dan’s left arm is useless. Now the right arm is broken and there are a number of ribs that are cracked and causing great pain. When I tiptoed out of the bathroom, to quietly leave without waking him, he started singing “My Girl” in a voice ravaged by steroids but beautiful to me. How can one move from such highs and lows and keep oneself from spinning into a million broken pieces?
The house is full of flowers, cakes, food, and wondrous cards and messages that all pay tribute to a life well lived. When Daniel went to the Cancer Centre on Thurs, all the nurses and his oncologist threw him a surprise birthday party. Imagine an exam room filled with balloons, streamers, a gorgeous homemade cake and all his caretakers. The” beauty of this disaster” keeps reminding me that we only have this moment.
The girls and I spend endless hours on the bed talking to him about what he considers his life’s principles. Why have you always found it so easy to take the high road we ask? How do you manage to keep your equilibrium in situations fraught with pot holes? What principles do you think have been your guiding truths in your professional and personal life? And on and on and on. For I fear not asking the question that will become so important to me later in not having his answer. It is totally irrational, I know, but I have no excuse for the musings of an unsettled mind. My brother flies in today to spend time with all of us. And Dan’s siblings will be here in a few weeks. They will no doubt live their North Dakota childhood once more with endless stories and great hilarity. The goodness of people is humbling. This morning Dan told me he now has set his sights on being here for Christmas. From his lips to God’s ears I silently say as I kiss his cheek. And I face this day knowing that people do care so much. Someday Susie I will personally embrace you and tell you what a difference you have made. Yours in light and love, Susan.
5th September 2012
Friday, September 07, 2012
Dan is finally free from mind numbing pain, years of treatment, hospitals, cancer centers, transplants, specialists, death sentences, hopes raised and dashed, worries about health insurance and sadness about leaving a family he adored. I have you to thank for helping me be my best self at his leaving. I had your words to ground me on the last day of his life. I was not afraid, as I feared I would be, and Julia and I were able to be with him as he labored to be released from the bonds of an earthly body. I prayed the Rosary at his bedside for I have always found comfort in Mother Mary. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. As Dan is a practitioner of an Eastern Religion and a meditation teacher, I whispered his favorite Sanskrit chant is his ear. Julia and I kept our hands on his heart center. He looked to me to be concentrating. When he breathed his last breath, we bid him farewell and thanked him for being such a wise and wonderful husband and father. It has been ten days since his death and I just sent my beautiful Catherine on a plane back to NYC. Now the real work begins. We have had a houseful of people for these many days, many tears, great gulps of laughter, tall tales told, family, friends, and wonderful memories. I so want to tell you about the funeral ceremony but I have decided that is for a time in the future when we can share a cup of tea and stories of the best men we knew. The house is deafening in its silence. But I have a picture in my minds eye of a lovely woman in the English countryside mowing the back lawn on a summers day and realizing that all is well. Thank you for your compassion and constancy. Yours, Susan