Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vignettes As I Am Sustained By Friendship, Love, Caffeine and Grace. Mostly Grace.

I write this post from Wilson UHS Hospital in Johnson City, NY. My sister-in-law, Olga Szpylczyn (Mark's sister) is asleep in the bed a few feet away from me. At her side I can see various containers that collect bodily fluids. At least one of them, connected to a tube that goes into her chest, is not pretty. The changing texture and color of that bag makes me want to scream. If I could scream, I would simply repeat the words, "Stupid effing cancer, I hate you and your ugly magic."

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One of my tasks is to find a home for Skittles, Olga's Jack Russell Terrier. Skittles is 8 and very cute, but she is also a Jack Russell Terrier. Read: She is highly energetic. In the good days, she had Olga out and walking, getting regular exercise. When Olga had her first bout with the stupid cancer in 2009, she wanted Skittles to go. I persuaded her otherwise and she was later grateful. That dog helped fuel a recovery.

Now I know that persuasion has no point. If you live within 3 hours of Albany or Binghamton and you even remotely think that you know someone who would consider this dog, it would be a mercy that is much required.

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Olga was very interested in being an organ donor. She has that kind of civic responsibility gene, the desire to do the right thing. The other day, when she was much more coherent, she suddenly looked at me and in her inimitable style she said, "The organ donor paperwork!" I was startled... She simply said, "Well, I don't think so!" And then laughed a wry laugh. I joined her, sometimes laughter is the only way.

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The other day Olga fell into a deep sleep at about 5:30pm and remained in that deep sleep. At the same time, she also began talking in her sleep. Talking in what turned out to be A REALLY LOUD VOICE. And her talking did not cease, and I mean, it did not cease for about 16 hours. It was crazy, seriously.

What did she say? She spoke in Ukrainian, her native tongue. (Or as Mark aptly puts it, the Ukrainian spoken by people who live in Ukraine and are aged 85 and older!) She said most things in English and a lot of it was gibberish.

At one point she said very clearly, "Wait til Christmas, they'll miss me alright, they'll miss me and my gifts!" I cried. And not because of the gifts.

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In another bout of sleeptalking, Olga began to speak in what I remain fairly sure was Latin. Now Olga does not speak Latin. I don't either, but I am pretty sure that this was Latin. She went on at length, then paused and began to pray the Our Father in English. It was very strange.

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On Monday night I had a call from Olga's friend Doris, this was about 8:30pm. I had spoken to her surgeon earlier in the day and he had confirmed the utter gravity of the situation to me. Doris called because Olga had called her at home, they both live in Binghamton, and wanted Doris there, stat.

Why? Because she was afraid.

You'd have to know Olga, but this was far from standard operating procedure for this strong and proud woman.

It scared me enough to call the hospital. The nurse put Olga on the phone and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was scared and wanted Doris to come. I asked her if I should come too and without any hesitation she said, "Yes, come right now!" Within 10 minutes, amidst me grabbing a toothbrush and some undies, with Mark, Erica and I all in tears, I was out the door and in the car. It is a journey that I will never regret.

This is all so hard on Mark by the way, truly hard on him in so many ways. Please, please pray for him most of all. Olga is ready to go to God whenever God is ready for her. Erica has more grit than anyone ever realizes and while she is in pain, she will be OK.

Olga and Mark's parents came here from Ukraine and there are no other living relatives, so this carries a heavy burden for him. Olga was at once older sister (by 10 years) and a bit of a maternal figure too. He is really hurting.

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It is an awesome and terrible thing to be asked to hold someone's hand, literally and figuratively. It is actually the greatest privilege in life if you ask me, albeit a painful, painful privilege.

Olga and I have had a challenging relationship. We are both very strong willed and opinionated. I'd like to think that over time we wore each other down in the best ways, with our sharp edges getting softer and rounder, like sea glass after a good pounding in the surf.

So to have her ask me to undertake this role is a true gift. I pray that I carry out her wishes accordingly and that I am here to hold her hand and either talk or remain silent, as needed.

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The whole "it takes a village" concept is not lost on me. I could not be doing this without the love and support of so many people. From people I know in real life to people that I know from blogging and Facebook, I am awash in tremendous kindness.

As I have said many times these days, I am sustained by friendship, love, caffeine and grace.

Mostly grace.

Thank you all for your friendship and support.

More to follow.

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PS - The staff of this hospital is great. I am particularly grateful for the nurses of Tower 4 South... they are amazing, shining stars in the dark, dark, night. 

26 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, Fran. Prayers will continue.

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  2. Fran,
    I will be going to 5 p.m. Mass soon and will be offering prayers and Communion for you, Olga, Mark and Erica. What you are doing is so important, something that will stay with you forever (in a good way). What a blessing you are to Olga!

    Try to take care of yourself in the midst of this. Call or email if you need to talk. Let me know if you think you could use my "Parenting a Grieving Child" book for Erica (even if she is strong) -- or for any of you. It may focus on grief in children, but it is really about losing people we love, no matter what our age. I'll put a copy in the mail to you if you think it might help in any way.

    I loved the image of you and Olga as sea glass, sharp edges slowly being worn away by each other. So beautiful. Thank you for letting us walk with you on this journey from afar.

    Love, prayers, hugs,
    Mary

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  3. There is WAY TOO MUCH stupid effing cancer going around! >:-0

    Prayers for Olga, and Olga's "pack" (inc. Skittles)

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  4. I'm praying for all of you. And this is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've ever seen from you.

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  5. There is a relic of St. Peregrine's one town over from me. I will see if I can get over there to say a special prayer.

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  6. Oh, dear Fran, I weep as I write, your words so poignant and real. I, too, love the image of you and Olga as sea glass, sharp edges slowly being worn away by each other - and may I add, polished in love.
    Hugs to each and all as you share in such an intimate, sacred watch. Just a year ago I spent five privileged/painful weeks in hospice walking a friend Home - I have been in churches all around the world, but never was God more present. May you be bathed in God's love as you pray her into Eternal Life.
    You are being held deep in my heart and lifted in prayer. Shelly

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  7. Fran, your words touch my heart. My prayers are with you and Olga and her family. Words aren't enough at times like this.
    Andie

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  8. Oh Fran! My prayers continue for all of you, for Olga, for Mark, for Erica, and for you, dear Fran. I send much love and many blessings your way.

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  9. Dear Fran,
    These moments you so movingly describe are a precious testament to the love you have for Olga. My prayers and love are with you all at this time.
    Godbless you.

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  10. Dear Fran,

    I will continue to pray for you and for Olga and Mark and Erica. May there be what you need to sustain you all.

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  11. Fran,

    There is a Jack Russell rescue group - I know some people here in Rochester that do it : http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/NY537.html
    I know one of the women and they do a great job. I am sure there is a group near Bingo or your home too.

    Continuing to send prayers your way with love.
    Tina

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  12. Same as Mimi.
    I love you, Fran.

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  13. Fran, My love is flowing via my tears to your family. It's a sacred act you are performing for the both of you, like a birth.

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  14. Such beautiful comments, such good friends. I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart.

    @Freida Bee - I had all good intentions of heading over to wish you a happy birthday recently and then... Well, you know. Happy belated to a truly spectacular human being.

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  15. Love love love... Skipped church this a.m. since I wasn't "on" and needed sleep, but headed for Mass shortly (the student liturgy :-)) and we will pray for Olga and Mark and Erica and the nurses and all of you. Thinking of you! Haven't phoned because I didn't want to call at an inopportune time, and I figured probably most times right now were inopportune. But call me any time, day or night, if you want. XOXO

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  16. Fran - Thank you for sharing your vignettes of life and love with Olga. I join with your other FB friends in offering prayers and support for you, Olga, Mark and Erica. Thank God for community on this side of the river and the cloud of witnesses on the other. Peace abide within you!

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  17. Fran, I could not figure out from your FB posts who Olga is or what is going on, so I am glad that you posted this. Prayers surround all of you at this most sacred of times.

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  18. I will try again. Fran, the dog can join my pack here in the Upper Peninsula if we can coordinate a rescue transfer. It would likely take about six to eight legs. I think I could coordinate from here to an hour or so east of Cleveland. Anyone between Cleveland and Fran that could help pass the dog along for maybe a 100-150 mile stretch?

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  19. Prayers and blessings for peace, comfort and strength for all of you.

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  20. I would like to start by asking you two questions. One: Can you can give an accurate definition of the phrase: "Lamb of God"? We all know that this is one of the names used for Jesus, like Messiah, Savior, Son of Man, or Christ. But exactly what is the importance of the name "Lamb of God"? And why is it important to me as a Catholic?

    The second question I would like to ask you is: Why the Catholic Church would offer The Holy Eucharist every day at every Mass throughout the world in over 3000 languages. What knowledge do they have that would make them feel compelled to do this for thousands of years? In answering this question, we'll see why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.'" (CC 1324)

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  21. Sorry have not been reading blogs as am showing my sister (also 10 years my senior) and her husband around my new beloved home, NZ. However be sure I will be praying for you all.

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  22. Fran: I'm sorry that you are all going through this. I hope Mark finds solace in knowing that his sister is loved and loved him. GMB

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  23. Fran, I hold all of you in my heart. I have been through this with both of my parents and it is heartbreaking, but you are right about it being a privilege as well. There is healing in the act of helping, and there is healing in the sharing of Olga's story as well. Love and prayers.

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  24. Fran, I'm praying for all of you. Sent you an email this morning, but didn't know about Olga at the time. Love you, jer...

    "Good God, the creator of light and darkness, You who move the sun and the stars, move us into the place of light, a light so large that it will absorb all the darkness." - Richard Rohr

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  25. So sorry about Olga...I knew you had been going to the hospital but didn't realize how ill she was. Sending lots of hugs to you and your family.

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