I met Laurel in 1975. I was 23 and she was 20. We both worked at a little Mexican restaurant in Ashland, Oregon where I cooked and she waited tables. We wore skirts made of Indian bedspreads and tiny halter tops as we glided across the floor in our Birkenstocks. Two hippy chicks! I moved away but we visited every summer until I was finally able to move back for good. In the intervening years, we had both married, had kids, gotten divorced and remarried. We had also both become Buddhists. We had become very different women but seemed to have grown in the very same direction.
She died on Saturday, just one month after her 59th birthday.
Welcome, fellow travelers on the grief journeyLaurel and I began cooking together for Buddhist retreats. Generally we would be cooking for over 100 people for 10 days, lunch and dinner. We had to accommodate every dietary possibility and the challenge was fun, hard work. Our favorite Buddhist Lama asked us to travel to Brazil where she had moved and cook her Mexican food, which she loved and could not find down there. We spent a month following her all over Brazil, sight-seeing and cooking. It was high adventure and a total blast. Laurel was one of the most steadfast and reliable people I ever knew, never too busy to say "No" and always helping people in her community. In our small town, she was one of the people that EVERYBODY knew.
and a special welcome to anyone new to The Grieving Room.
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Whether your loss is recent, or many years ago;
whether you've lost a person, or a pet;
or even if the person you're "mourning" is still alive,
("pre-grief" can be a very lonely and confusing time),
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There's no need to pretty it up or tone it down..
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She had been feeling "off" since the end of the summer, bad digestion, back aches, nothing very specific but nobody she consulted seemed to be able to figure out what was wrong. She began to suffer serious pain in October but still baffled her doctor.
Finally in mid-December she was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had already spread to her liver.
Pancreatic cancer doesn't respond to chemotherapy and there was no surgical or radiation option. Her children and grandchildren came for a surreal Christmas as she tried to make everything as sweet and normal as possible but that very effort exhausted her and she really began to weaken after they left.
She wasn't the type to just surrender and she tried to keep herself as strong as possible but she suffered more and more from nausea and increasing pain. Over her final two months everything seemed to happen so fast that her family and friends couldn't keep up. She got a blood clot and then just when that and her pain seemed to be under control she suffered a stroke. Her favorite teacher had flown from Brazil to spend two days with her and Laurel was unable to speak. She communicated volumes with her eyes, however, but it seemed particularly cruel to have that essential quality taken from her.
A week ago she entered hospice at home. She seemed to sleep more and more and it became clear that she was sinking. I had one last visit where I told her how much I adored her and what a wonderful friend she had always been and got a last big smile. After that she stopped holding our hands and meeting our eyes. No more smiles with those great big dimples.
Saturday her breathing was labored and she never opened her eyes. That afternoon, her husband, children and grandchildren nearby, a group of four of her closest Buddhist girlfriends began singing prayers and special Buddhist mantra. We sang into the evening as her breathing eased and became shallower with longer pauses in between. We finished singing and just sat as she breathed a few more times and then simply ceased.
It was gentle and felt profoundly spiritual. I felt fortunate to be part of something so amazing. Years before, Laurel and I attended a home birth for one of our dear girlfriends. That resonated as watching someone die is remarkably like watching someone be born. Both are all about breathing but one is very happy and one very sad.
Her exit was so graceful that I felt lifted and at peace on Saturday night. Sunday, however I woke up to a world without my dear friend. I woke up to a world where we will never cook together, drink wine and talk about our kids, sit together in a beautiful Buddhist temple listening to our teachers, laugh about how many trips and adventures we had shared.
I feel devastated.
When we are young we think life is all about having fun. As we grow older we learn that life becomes more and more about loss. The longer we live the more dear ones we lose. I don't think it ever gets easier, we just learn more about grieving.
Thank you, my dear Daily Kos community for providing The Grieving Room, a place we can gather and share our pain.