A friend has passed. In her last six months on this earth she and I formed a closer bond and here are my memories of some of the moments.

12/11

fof1Good evening Fran. When our phone call brofof2ke up yesterday I was hiking in the desert of southwest Texas near the Rio Grande. I snapped two pictures of the exact spot from which we spoke. One of where I had come from, the other where I was headed. Here they are. With love.
2/10

Emergency says the red sign over the automatic doors. The scene inside seems to belie the label. By the desk a family, maybe folks that have driven in from a nearby farm town huddles to compare notes they have compared once already. Women in various uniforms solicit answers from petitioners at the altar of high healthcare. Across the big room security staff manages traffic with a calm aplomb.

Fran passed under the sign and joins the cue of supplicants. Her pain is driven by late stage cancer but nausea prevents her pain relief from being effective. Questions are posed and answers are dutifully entered in THE SYSTEM.

With a long history of personal independence and an assertiveness unexpected from her now diminished stature Fran requests relief and makes clear she wants it now. In an almost cartoonish response we are directed to sit patiently in the far reaches of a room with fifty others. Fran soon is cat-napping. Meanwhile a thirtysomething guy parts the sliding doors. Resplendent in the yellow and black colors of the Steelers he paces dramatically, proclaims his suffering, is rebuffed by the cue-controllers and resorts to lying outstretched on his back. Ooooh he moans. I’m gonna be sick on everyone he threatens. I’m gonna leave if you don’t treat me he utters in some strange reverse logic bribe.

A nurse shouts Francis, Ms Francis from the door of a triage room. Over the course of the day we will see her first and last name used interchangeably by the caregivers as if it were an exotic moniker from Uzbekistan of one of China’s remote provinces. No matter.  The Irishwoman with the beautiful head of silver curls rises to the call and staggers into the cramped room for care. Pain on the ten point scale they ask? 9 she responds!

I don’t want to labor the point that the young man lacked an endearing bedside manner. It’s only that this shortcoming stood in dramatic contrast to his remarkable nursing efficiency. Almost a solo ballet, he tripped from medicine cabinet to THE SYSTEM to some IV supplies then back to the patient with curt questions and a minimum of explanations. Perhaps he represents the prototypical perfect person to serve the front lines of big hospital medicine. Here’s fluids and meds; now please return to the waiting room!

The next two hours involved more naps interrupted by a shout of Glover! F Glover! before she was wheeled off for X-Rays. It was during this period that the slowly shifting population of that waiting room began to resemble the cast of a tired but comfortable soap opera. The father in the wheelchair talking with loud good humor to a daughter in Spanish; the woman in the nearby wheelchair, solitary in her waiting and waiting. Was she 70? 80? More? Certainly a woman who had witnessed her share of troubles and bore these current ones with a quiet resolve. The Steelers man had indeed eventually walked out but not before parading his withdrawal symptoms to no great effect on the staff or the waiting mass.

Eventually – Glover! –  my friend was wheeled into the beehive of acute care ED. Off with the clothes thrown on when escaping the pain at home. On with the classic skimpy gown. Up on a bed with wheels but going nowhere. A bed with elaborate controls but feeling out of control. Now the napping was a serious possibility but the beeps, buzzers, vital sign checkers, docs-in-training tours and the nursing routines would keep real rest at bay for hours. How do your rate your pain Francis? Again 9.

If New York is the city that never sleeps the hospital ED is the windowless fluorescent filled place where there are no safe times to sleep. As I quietly rise to slip away Fran twitches once and I am unsure if it’s the returning pain or the alarm from the adjoining patient’s equipment. As I walk out into the frigid air I wonder how my friend will remember these moments.

2/11

Hey Dan,

Your mom had a rough night after yesterday’s procedures. Lots of pain and, due to vomiting, unable to keep down painkillers. We are at the ED where she is getting IV anti-nausea and pain med. They need to sort out what this stomach issue really is.

Tim Quill stopped by and is a great comfort to your mom. I’ll give you a follow-up later. Give me your mobile # and I’ll text. Later…

2/11

Fran will be moved to the cancer floor this afternoon. She will stay until they can control the pain (somewhat better) and the nausea and she can get around effectively. Her cell phone is with her now. Ciao

2/11

Hi all. Just to keep everyone on the same page here are a few items. Fran’s car is in her driveway, her car & house keys are on the kitchen table. There is also some cash she asked me to take away from the hospital, about $150, on the same table under the flower vase. The heat and lights were left as they were. The house key is on her porch. It’s for the upper lock.

That’s all for now. Let me know if anything else needs attention. Hope your SF tasting went well Dan!

2/15

Good evening. Just returned from visiting Fran at the hospital. She hopes to be discharged tomorrow if all goes well. The big issue is if she can transition from iv pain meds to pill form. The diarrhea has abated and she has been walking in the halls. Otherwise she is reading her New Yorker and happy to be snug inside.

Be aware that Saturday we picked names from her address book and I will be calling them so they can be added to a distribution list.  Penny, Fran was thinking you will be getting her home, right? If you run into any complications call me in a heartbeat, my day is super flexible. Stay warm everyone.

2/18

Hi everyone, my name is Tom Burke and, like you, I am a friend of Fran’s. Because her friends are so dispersed we thought it would be easiest to keep everyone updated via an e-mail distribution once or twice a week. If you would prefer not to receive these missives just let me know by return e-mail. Similarly, if you know of others who should be included please forward to me their e-mail address.

OK, down to business. As many of you know Fran has been hospitalized for a week (Strong / Wilmot Cancer Center RM 721). She went in through the emergency department because it was difficult for her to manage her pain. We are hoping that is now under control. It appears she will be discharged today or maybe Tuesday.

Her spirits are generally good (given everything) and she will have friends (and next week her son Dan) staying with her on Harvard Street. I’m sure she would enjoy your calls or visits and she may have a need for some help with details like errands, meals, transport etc. We will ty to use this distribution list to keep everyone abreast and likewise recruit some specific support from time to time.

That’s it for now. If you have questions I am available. Penny Quill and Sue Barnes have been involved everyday so feel free to consult them and as well. As of Tuesday evening Ruth Cohen will be staying on Harvard Street through the weekend. Best Wishes to all.

2/18

Hi everybody, here’s a quick update on our friend.

Fran return to her Harvard street home Tuesday at 3 and a chorus of friends was there to give her support. She has lots of new medications to master, a two story home to navigate and an ongoing flood of encouraging phone calls.

Ruth Cohen arrived from Philadelphia for a visit which will last through the weekend. Danny is arriving next week. Sue and Bill Barnes have been a rock in matters large and small. Sue is Danny’s surrogate on the scene in his absence. Penny Quill and her hubby Dr Tim Quill, the renowned and remarkable Palliative Care guru has been superb as well.

Fran’s big challenges at the moment include pain management, nutrition in the face of nausea, fatigue (and probably all the hovering her friends, myself included, are guilty of). The fact remains that she remains the bright, curious, strong willed woman we all love. Best wishes to all,

2/19

Death encroaches on our secret selves maybe from the beginning. As children the concept was so abstract as to be meaningless for most. I do remember some innocent rumination about the possible thoughts of crash victims or kamikaze pilots. It was a puzzle I couldn’t grasp.

For me death first became palpable when, as a parent, I became emotionally tortured when the evil fantasy of the loss of my son crept into my head. To this day it remains the most haunting of fears in my life. Even later it was the possible death of others – parents, spouse, friends – not my own that triggered deep foreboding. Only in recent years has that eventually come to color my daily life. Strangely I am grateful for this new stage of awareness

Focus has often been a challenge for me. It often seemed too easy to slide away from any matter at hand and on to a topic more juicy, more sexy, more easy. Many considered me a master of procrastination. Then, back in the seventies, I learned of a book and a philosophy; Be Here Now. The author was Ram Dass. In classic Tom fashion I never even to this moment, read the thing. Instead I carried the phrase like a trinket, a worry bead, an unopened fortune cookie, in my pocket for years. I still have no clue what it all means but more and more frequently I find it percolating through my brain and out past my lips. I think it’s being chased about by death.

Fran, like many cancer fighters, wrestles with death. Frequently I visit her with the intent to help with the mundane; set up the Roku box; shop for a snow bush for the car; pack up the Christmas tree. Often these simplicities are merely prelude to sitting together on the sofa. Sometimes we explore our histories, sometimes gossip conspiratorially, sometimes we pause and consider and reflect inwardly. For me it’s those pauses that represent the essence of Be Here Now.

On day 2 of the Emergency Room visit my friend is packed up along with a plastic bag of belongings and wheeled – it seemed forever – to the cancer floor. It became a surreal journey with the bed, loaded with out-of-control beeping equipment turning and twisting down the back halls of this medical rabbit’s warren. Me walking at the rear of the short procession providing the occasional loopy commentary to my bed riding pal. Alternatively my mind(?) shifting to consideration of the stretch scrubs of the young and shapely aide muscling the rig. Is this also Be Here Now or merely Be Leacherous Now?

The new room is really, really new. Like just built and, compared to the hospital wards of the last century, more akin to a luxury hotel room… if the hotel had side rails on the beds. Best of all the room has a sofa next to a panoramic window looking out on the winter cityscape with the low hills far beyond. It’s the perfect spot to pick up our extended thread of topics big and small. Perhaps in a fit of morose speculation I am pondering what secrets she and I will never share.

3/3

Hello all. I will begin by apologizing for my e-mail negligence but here is another update from Harvard St. Fran’s stay in the hospital was a little longer than planned but she eventually arrived on Harvard Street with the assistance of Bill and Sue Barnes. The next day dear friend Ruth arrived from Philly to stay with Fran for most of a week. In that time many friends and neighbors called, stopped by and many acts of kindness were apparent. She has only been out of doors once; that for a visit to the oncologist. At this point Dr. Tim Quill is directing her Palliative care plan. On Friday a representative of the local hospice visited to consult with Fran and Danny. Danny arrived about a week ago and has been busy arranging visits from doctors, lawyers, nurses and more while managing the kitchen (always delicious) and the bedside. Dan will be heading back west on Sunday of this week.

Fran’s greatest pleasure at the moment seems to be to sit on her fancy new sofa while basking in the warmth of a constant fire in the hearth and the smiling face of her son and friends. Up until recently she has been diligent about talking to well-wishers on the phone but in the past few days fatigue has forced her to retreat to quiet bed rest frequently.

Here is a special shout out to Ruth, Penny and all the Barnes family (Billy, Grace, Mandy, Sue and Bill) who all have been super supportive for our friend. Stay tuned since I will try to  be more diligent with my missives going forward.

3/14

Good morning. Yes spring is creeping up on Rochester. Yahoo!

Fran has had a string of visitors who have been able to help her keep house and manage her daily routines. Danny was here and was immediately followed by her nephew Chris who was great company and got some household stuff done. On her first night solo in quite a while she called Barbara to report she was in significant pain so Barbara spent the night on Harvard Street

If anyone on this list is considering spending some time with Fran now would be a great opportunity while her nursing care needs are low. Otherwise please keep your good wishes and friendship flowing to our friend. Ciao!

3/19

Good evening. It’s been a couple of harder days for Fran. She is experiencing lots of fatigue which is leaving her curled on her sofa or bed. She is also showing very low interest in eating and this is probably magnifying the tiredness. She still sees an occasional client or visitor and of course she is often ready to talk briefly on the phone. Next week Freeman and Steve will arrive midweek and Danny returns on the 29th while Diane is planning to travel here in late April.

She seems to respond well to a friendly face with some encouragement to eat so If anyone is available to stop by Harvard Street for a short visit with good wishes and a (very simple) dish – an egg, a rice dish, bland soup,  etc – that would be great. More soon…

3/29

Good afternoon. It’s been a busy time for Fran recently. Judy Kerr was in from Buffalofof3   for several days then mid-week Freeman and Steve came to town. Friday we had a dinner party at her house and as the picture attests she was happy to participate. Saturday she spent the morning with her Shaman friends.  It was clear she really enjoyed the stimulation. The downside was the fatigue she is currently feeling. Today she said she felt pretty lousy and her spirits were low. Danny arrives with his mate Kristine and Fran is looking forward to that.

She gets quite a few phone calls but clearly tries to manage her energy in accepting them. On the bright side she seems to take heart from today’s bright sunshine and as I left she was looking forward to a visit from the Barnes family. Stay tuned for more.

4/7

Good evening. I just returned from a short but sweet visit with Fran. She is so tired she can only keep fof4up a conversation for 6-8 minutes than slips into sleep for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes she apologizes in advance but I remind her that just being together is plenty.

Fredda was here last week for a couple of days and Fran smiled tonight when I asked her about her visit. Danny is in residence and he is a joy to her. Christina arrives tomorrow. Saturday, the 11th is Fran’s birthday (75 we think) and her nephew and Gretchen are arriving on the weekend.

I hope all is well with everyone.

4/14

fof5Good evening to all. Also I welcome the addition to the distribution list of several friends who know Fran from her Shamanic practice. These folks have visited her repeatedly in recent months and I could always notice after the sessions that the company provided her with a spiritual uplift.

Dan and Kristina have been here for more than a week and they have decided to extend their stay to be with Fran in her last days. Gretchen and Chris have been here for a few day and Judy Kerr will be by Wednesday. Diane arrives from the west coast on Saturday too. The Barnes family – Bill, Sue, Mandy, Gracie and Billy – have been over frequently and that bond has been so important to Fran and by reflection on all of us. Barbara has made a simple ritual of rubbing Fran’s hands and arms with lotion while talking quietly. So many friends here in the Rochester area have also stopped by and been generous in spirit and more.

In fact Fran’s health is decidedly deteriorating day by day. The pain medication is keeping discomfort at bay but, as she knew it would, it comes at the price of awareness. Sleep is how her time is now playing out so that even a kiss on the brow and some gentle words are met with simply a brief fluttering of her eyelids. My best to everyone.

4/20

Good afternoon and greetings from Rochester where spring is doing its classic two steps forward, one step back routine. Meantime, as Fran’s days on this earth grow shorter the list of FOF grows longer. Welcome all.

Our friend is managing to maintain an occasional moment of alertness but almost immediately slips back into rest. She is being cared for wonderfully by her son Danny, the occasional health professional and a litany of friends. She is tucked lovingly in her own bed and it’s clear she is respected by those who do the work of a hospice setting. This week Diane arrived from Portland and that has been great for both her and Fran.

Late Wednesday evening we retrieved Diane from the airport so I snuck upstairs for a quick hello. In the shadows she rested in a peaceful but haunting pose. She is clearly teaching us all the meaning of “Be Here Now”. Bye for now.

4/24

Good morning and greetings from a town suffering from buyer’s remorse for ever falling for the lie that spring is upon us. Oyi!

I stopped over to Harvard Street last night. Danny was cooking up a tasty bolognaise sauce to accompany some good red wine. He and Diane were calming down from a challenging afternoon as caregivers. We joked and laughed because the bond of friendship develops quickly in times like this. Really, the scotch has nothing to do with the bonding. Really.

I snuck upstairs briefly to see Fran who was unaware of my presence although she is more response to the ministrations of Danny and Diane. Fran’s signature bounty of hair has taken on a new appearance, gray flourishes leaping to frame her face on the pillow almost like an Irish goddess riding into the gale from the prow of her ship. Everyone is hoping for a calmer day today. Ciao!

4/27

At 9 this morning it is cool and grey in Rochester. Too bad because on warmer, sunny days the bedside window in Fran’s room is cracked open a bit to welcome some fresh air and bird songs. Our friend is on her final leg of life’s journey. The pauses in her breathing are now ever longer as she gently releases her spirit.

Downstairs it’s often a tough hike through the long hours of caring and grieving. This is frequently interrupted with visitors who sit in the parlor or around the dining table trading everyday tales, memories, moments of hilarity and a dose of gallows humor. On Sunday morning the Barnes family arrived bearing doughnuts, coffee and various electronic devices. The house was humming with youthful energy and Diane and Danny were smiling broadly.

As the old slogan went: Don’t touch that dial…

4/27

Our friend has passed.

4/30

Good morning once again. With the passing of Fran the weather here has decidedly turned from mournfully gray to lovely yellow sunshine. Here is a little update for each of you.

Monday was both tough and yet uplifting. Fran died in her bed with family and friends close by to wish her safe passage and to provide mutual comfort for those whose lives were touched by hers. As the day progressed we talked, ate, drank and even laughed between phone calls and other responsibilities of the moment. Tuesday evening Danny and Diane came to our house for a little bubbly to salute our friend, some good wine and a light dinner to ease us back toward our everyday lives.

D & D are busy organizing the household now. Dan is considering how to proceed with 799 Harvard and Diane is sifting through a plethora of scarves, piles of books, drawers of jewelry and more. On Saturday she heads back to Portland and Dan will soon be back in Healdsburg. His tentative plan is to spend some time attending to his wine business and draw comfort from his mate Kristina before drawing up plans for a party of remembrance for friends. He’s thinking of something at the house on Harvard as soon as 3-5 weeks from now. I’ll be sure to update you as plans become firm.

Personally I am still trying to piece together the complexity of my feelings, especially after the rush of experiences with Fran in the past six months, but it’s clear that my life is richer for having been by her side these days.

Peace to each of you.