To Laura

While You Were Busy Dying

I hate pink ribbons. We both hated them. I hate that permanent plastic port they inserted into your chest wall. You loved it, made friends with it. I hate the chemo infusion center with a beautiful view where all the dying people are lined up in recliners, their skin gray with a sick mixture of cancer and chemo. You just accepted it. Did you know I escaped out to the car to cry that first day you got chemo? Not because you were sick — no, because I didn’t want to DO this!

I was with you when you married Steve, divorced, and then hooked up with Malcolm. I was with you when Lily was born. You’ve always been the one who gives me clarity. You are my heart sister. You can’t die! You have to live! I can’t live without you!

But why do you have to live in Willits? Sometimes that’s just too far. And driving you home a hundred miles north, dropping you off after chemo, building up the fire in the wood stove, then just….leaving you there…feels like shit. Four fucking years of this shit.

So die already. This is too hard, it’s gone on too long. You’re going to die anyway — just go ahead and do it already.

Now your liver is gone. Trashed. Filled with cancer. This is it — you’re really going to leave. My heart breaks to see the look of surprise on your face, like you thought we’d have more time to play with that bucket list we made.

I’m glad your sister’s here…glad for Lily…and for Malcolm to hold you all night long. Did you know I went in your bathroom and cried when he told you you were beautiful? You looked like a dying skeleton and he said you were beautiful. I should be so lucky…

“Hello?”

“Hey Stacey.” (the oncologist called) “How you holding up there?”

“Um. OK I guess. She’s definitely dying but I just don’t know how long it’ll be….wish I knew.”

“Well. It’s like when a car is running out of gas. The engine dies when the fuel is used up. It happens. It’s inevitable.”

“Um. OK. Thank you.”

For ten days, I’d been commuting to Willits. Every day I’d wake up, make the coffee and drive. I’d steel myself the whole way north and I’d cry the whole way south. I’m the one they all count on to make the right decisions and to tell them what to do. I’m her best friend. I’m a doctor.

But I gotta tell you — there comes a time when I can’t do it anymore. I mean, how long does it take for someone to DIE? How long can I do this — this driving, this crying, this wise-woman-doctor-strong gig. I’m losing it.

One more morning, one more commute, one more cup of coffee for the road after a restless night’s sleep. I’m taking the curves on Hwy 101 up by Squaw Rock, and I suddenly realize that I might throw up if I have to keep driving to Willits even one more time. If I don’t throw up, I might just pass out. I want to scream but there is no one to scream to. I’ve reached my limit.

I can’t keep being nice. I can’t keep driving this road for three hours every single day without killing myself. If I can’t call her, I don’t know where the strength is going to come from. Because she was my source. I’m just not strong enough for this without her. I am desperate with no way out.

I put on my Bluetooth earbud but I don’t turn it on. I just hit the call button and I say, “Call. God. Mobile.”

“Did you say. Call. God. Mobile?”, The-Lady-in-the-Bluetooth repeats.

“Yes.”

“Calling. God. Mobile”

I hear it ring … and then I hear …….VoiceMail pick up. Damn!

“Um. God. I know you are really busy…and I know that it’s all going the way it’s supposed to… I know it’s going to be okay. But um…I gotta tell you that I think I’m in over my head. I mean, I’m not sure if I can keep it together and I could use a little … some help… I’m just flailing and not being as nice as I should and I think I need …. So…I don’t’ know…maybe if you get in and check your messages and if there’s any way you can ..…a sign, or something……I sure would appreciate it. I mean, I don’t want to bother you — just, if you get a chance…”

I don’t know what else to say.

“Well, thanks for listening anyway. Bye.”

Somehow I feel a little better. I’ve done all I can. There’s nothing else to do but go face another day the best I know how. So I turn my music to shuffle play and drive.

I guess it’s about 15 minutes later when God checks voicemail.

And I get my answer, as this song comes pouring out of the speakers, surrounding me with everything I need.

Sisters of Mercy

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