January was a rough month for me. I lost my job and two dear friends.
While I feel certain I’ll find another job, I know that Kristel and Regina can never be replaced. As my dear veterinarian said to me years ago when I was agonizing over the decision to put down my 19 year old cat, “Death is so final.”
I’ve never forgotten her stark wisdom.
I’ve been writing about my friends for several weeks – in my head – and now it’s time to put the pen to it. I suppose I’ve resisted doing so because it would make their absence on earth truly final for me – permanent ink if you will.
Regina died on New Year’s Day. She had a great sense of humor so I’m sure she would have appreciated that irony.
She was 66 years old.
My wife and I attended a New Year’s Eve dinner the night before her death – a treasured tradition shared with several wonderful women who have known Regina and her wife, Miki, for years. Before we sat down to eat, one of our hosts offered a beautiful prayer for our missing friends. It was a muted evening as celebrations go but very comforting in its intimacy.
We all laughed a lot – that knowing laughter steeped in the history of shared experiences. We wiped away tears, too, softly. I think we all knew that were already sitting Shiva for our friend.
Regina was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer about a year and a half ago. It is a rare form of cancer that started benignly – she couldn’t get comfortable at night in “her” chair when she and Miki were watching television draped in their dogs. She had some nagging discomfort that eventually worsened and led to her diagnosis.
And then began the barrage of several rounds of chemotherapy. Miki started posting on the website CaringBridge, a personal health journal, soon after Regina’s diagnosis and she was remarkably disciplined about it – writing often and sharing not only clinical updates on Regina’s condition but also her personal reflections along the way.
Regina was a private person and even though she would have never personally posted, she apparently really enjoyed hearing Miki share all of the encouraging comments from friends at the end of those interminable treatment days.
And Miki’s posts were staggeringly beautiful. She is a former journalist and law professor, so I was not at all surprised by the quality of her writing but I was deeply moved by its intimacy, particularly as Regina was dying.
Regina responded well to the brutal regimen and was declared in remission by early last summer. She was always a great athlete and was elated to return to the other two great loves of her life – softball and golf. The girl of summer was in her element.
But winter came with no mercy and in early December, an MRI revealed widespread cancer throughout all portions of her brain. She declined rapidly and was transferred from the hospital to hospice.
No one knows for sure, but it seems there is little time left. The most important thing now is her comfort. I’m sorry to bear this news. It has been a very hard day. The worst day, really, ever. 12/20/16 ~ Miki’s journal entry
Miki and Regina were together for over two decades and married in New York a couple of years ago. In an almost lyrical post, Miki revealed that they weren’t really that engaged in the same-sex marriage movement – they had been together for so long that they didn’t think they needed that legal validation. But Regina’s impending death made her realize that it did matter.
It gives me comfort that we are married. It means something. It is big. 12/26/15
My wife and I went to visit Regina a few days after Christmas. I’m always astonished by the quiet – the deafeningly reverent silence in the halls of a hospice. We slipped gently into her room and found Miki on her iPad beside Regina’s bed. Regina looked remarkably vibrant and very tan for December. That made me smile.
She did not speak but she raised her slender, weak arm in recognition and smiled. I talked to her a lot – mostly about sports and she would nod her head slightly. I’m not at all a medical person but I am comfortable with the dying. This was a gift to me when my parents both died in 2002. I wasn’t afraid and I wanted to be very present to their final journey.
If you have not sat with death you may not understand this, but I have found that leaning into it can be powerfully life affirming. And I think we owe this to the dying.
We knew that this would be the last time that we saw Regina and we both kissed her on the cheek and told her that we loved her. There was nothing left to say.
There is one final story about Regina I need to convey. During our happy life together, Regina considered it her sacred duty to take care of me. I have had my share (okay more than my share) of serious health problems in my life. Regina always took the most wonderful care of me and, I think really loved doing so. As I sat with her, it was obvious that the end was near. I asked the nurse whether she could tell us anything about the time frames, and she, of course, said she could not but that she believed through her experience and knowledge that people at the very end of their lives seemed to choose their moment to die. I immediately knew what I had to do. I whispered to her, and I held my face against hers for moments and told her everything was okay and that I was going to go home. Ten minutes after I got home, Beverly (a dear friend) called to say she had died. Though it could be wildly coincidental, I believe that, even in dying, Regina took care of me — she did not want me to see her go. 1/3/16
I thought that I would also write about my friend, Kristel, but it is just too much for one post and I think that spring will be the perfect season to share about her bright and hopeful spirit.
Regina thrived in the long, hot days of summer and as winter wanes, I picture her in her golf visor, tan and happy, and I recall the words of Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
Game on, sweet friend.