I've been thinking about this a lot. This diary's not going to be short. And it's probably going to be a muddled mess. But here goes...
We'll call her Beth. That wasn't her name, but I've been writing one of my little stories, and it's partially autobiographical, and that's what I called her in it--Beth. So, we'll stick with that.
I'd known Beth since birth. She was 9 months older than I was. My family lived next door to hers when we were both born. Though we moved when I was 1 1/2, the families stayed friends--in fact, her parents were later asked to be my sister's godparents. So, I grew up with Beth. We were in the same grade despite the age difference--I started school a year early--and though we went to different elementary schools, in 7th grade we went to the same junior high school. She was in my English class that year, and I often ate lunch with Beth and her friends. Seventh grade was extremely
tough for me--I was bullied, and I mean severely--and Beth was an oasis. That's the year I really realized what an extraordinary person she was. Before then, she was just Beth, someone I grew up with. I suppose you could say I took her for granted. That year, seventh grade, I really understood how damn awesome she was.
It was the summer after seventh grade that she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was 13.
Beth was bright, and very VERY mature. She was 'in the loop' the entire time--she didn't want to be treated with kid gloves. She wanted the doctors and her parents to be straight with her. So they were. The facts of life about the strain of leukemia she got, back in 1977, were this: 75% fatal within 2 years; 99% within five. In other words, this particular strain of leukemia was a flat-out death sentence. She knew this, right from the start.
The course of treatment was chemotherapy. That was the only thing they had back then. And it worked, at first--it threw her into remission. She came back to school a month into eighth grade. She'd lost weight--which she didn't have to lose--and her hair. The first time I saw her I couldn't beleive how bad she looked. But she was in remission.
Given the stats I just gave you, she was lucky. She stayed in remission for over two years. She got to do some things. Went on some trips, did some traveling. She got to go out and buy a new dress and get all gussied up for her first formal dance--not a prom, but close--and even got her first kiss goodnight aftewards. (Yes, I was the other participant in that event <G>. The one picture I still have of her was from that night.) She got a little over two years of being as normal a teenaged girls as someone with a death sentence hanging over their head can be.
After about two years of remission, she slipped out of remission and went back to the hospital. Everyone concerned pretty much knew that this was it. They offered her chemo, knowing that it was probably futile. She accepted it.
However, now we get to the important point. She accepted the chemo, but nothing else. She told her doctors, and her parents, that if she started to go--to let her go. She'd take the chemo, and if it kicked her back into remission again, great. But if she started to go, she didn't want any heroic measures.
Beth was a devout Catholic, as were her parents. It was probably difficult for her parents to accept her wishes. But they did. After a month or so in the hospital, she slipped into a coma one morning. She died a few hours later.
She didn't linger. That's how she would've wanted it.
She was FIFTEEN, folks. And she knew. Even at fifteen, she knew. Even after being sick for two years, she knew the difference between life and death. Don't misunderstand this--she had no death wish. On the contrary. She fought for life as hard as she could. That post-remission chemo was a one in an million chance and she knew it--but she still accepted it, because it was a chance. But she also knew when it was time to let go. And her parents, bless 'em, knew it too.
Yes, there's a difference--preparation. Everyone, from her on down, knew this was coming. Terri Schiavo's parents didn't have two years warning. I understand that. But....
It's a strange experience watching someone you love die. I wasn't mature at all at that point and I'd tell you that I was in denial. But my Dad, after she had died and it all hit me, pointed something out to me--that dance. The minute I found out about it, she was the only person I thought of asking. Dad said, "You weren't in as much denial as you think. Beth wasn't a girlfriend, she was a pal. Why would you only think of asking her? Because you knew she needed a night like that." He's probably right. I wasn't that self-aware at that age <G> but he's probably right.
But I know this--her parents, especially her Dad, were never in denial. And that must've been tough. She was dying for over two years and she spent all but the final month of that healthy, and all but the final two hours as a walking, talking, thinking, functional human being. And they still knew. Hey, hope is one thing--denial is another. Hope is healthy. Denial isn't.
As I said, I'd call myself in denial for most of it. But, even then, if I had been in the hospital after she passed into a coma, I would've known the difference. Beth wasn't a body. She was...she was a hand holding mine after I'd been beaten up again. She was this particular crease in her forehead when she was pissed at me. She was this desperately-trying-to-be-ladylike-and-failing hiccuping laugh when I was being silly. She was calm advice when it was most needed. She was bemusement when we went to that dance and she realized she was a far better dancer than I was. She was giggling over the Bay City Rollers with her best friend in the back of seventh grade English class. When all that was gone, so was she. She knew it. Her parents knew it. Deep down, even I knew it.
This is probably the most disjointed diary in the history of Kos <G>, but the whole Terri Schiavo thing has made me think a lot about Beth. She's been gone 25 years--but I still remember all that stuff in the previous paragraph, and lots more. The last time I saw her was before she went in the hospital for the last time, so I remember the whole, healthy, Beth. Her parents had a month of enduring the hospital--and the toll chemo can take--but, still, they remember her talking and thinking and being Beth right up until the end.
When Terri Schiavo is finally gone, what will her parents remember? What are they trying to preserve? It bothers me. I try not to be judgemental, but it bothers me. Because if you want to hold on, you need to let go. I let go of the physical Beth a long long time ago--but I've never let go of the real Beth. I never will. In clinging to the physical 'Terri', have they lost the real Terri? I hope they don't, for their sake. But I think they're being used. What bothers me is that it almost seems like they're letting themselves be used.
I have no doubt that the Schindlers love Terri. I loved Beth. But the reason I loved Beth is because of the person she was and the profound influence she had on me. It was what she was that I loved. And if she'd been thrown into a permanent vegitative state on the day she died, instead of dying, the Beth that I loved would still be gone. I know it's harder if it's your child we're talking about--I know that. But it still bothers me--the whole thing. We can get so screwed up in our definition of life and death. I really don't think Terri Schiavo is any more 'alive' than Beth is. It's not breathing, it's not heart beating, it's not the ability to metabolize food. It's, like I said, all those other things.
I apologize again for the complete stream-of-conciousness of this diary, but I'm feeling very melancholy about the whole situation and had to get it out someplace.