I’m easing in this rainy Saturday morning. Sifting through bills, sipping on an underwhelming cup of coffee and adding tasks to my online to-do list. (Latest entry: ”Buy quality coffee beans at Cafe Lladro in Bothell.”)
My phone buzzes with a new post alert. I glance down and read it. It’s one of the those Facebook messages, alerting me of a friend’s birthday.
“Today is Ellen O’Hara’s birthday. Reply to post a wish on her Timeline of reply with 1 to post “Happy Birthday!”.
I sit, motionless, listening to the pouring rain. Memories of that last horrific day in March of 2014 return.
It was late afternoon on the 10th floor of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital–the cancer floor. A harpist from the hospice had just finished up playing at the foot of my older sister’s bed. Two former colleagues of hers were knocking on the door, having ignored the “no visitors” directive.
I let them in. Ellen awoke. They had no idea how bad off she was, and spent a few minutes trying to banter. “Ellen, are you gonna come to St. Patrick’s Parade this weekend?” She shook her head slowly, back and forth. It was a “no.”
They continued on with their attempted chit-chat, about what I can’t really recall. After a several more awkward minutes, I told them that she was exhausted and they should probably go.
The second guy had one more question: “Ellen, any words for everyone at the office?”
Ellen stared intently at them both for several beats. She was heavily medicated; pain meds administered every 20 minutes, with one simple click. On this, what would be her last day of life, even when she was asleep, my younger sister and I made sure of it (especially after the night prior, when Ellen’s pain meds ran out for an unthinkable 20 minutes).
Yet now, she was all all there. She slowly, weakly lifted up her arm and waved her hand back and forth, once. Just once. I could hear what she was saying: “Buh bye!”
The two former colleagues departed. Ellen died hours later.
I return to my tasks at hand. Two years ago, I would have added “Call Ellen and wish her a happy birthday.” Today, I have only old photographs to study, vinyl records to play, candles to light, beer to drink, and memories to mine. (Such is life…and death.)