How to die

She’s 80 years old, and weighs less than her age.  Pound for pound?  The toughest woman on the face of the planet.

Edna was my admin assistant when i did my reluctant tour as branch manager a few years back.  We joked at the time about her diminutive size, but no one was ever going to deny her a request for documentation, signature or assistance.  Bottom line:  Shit got done.  We were at the top of the admin heap in a large research organization simply because of her knowledge and tenacity.

Her trials and tribulations would have destroyed most mortals.  Pregnant with her second child, her husband was struck by lightning and killed on a golf course during a Father’s Day outing, throwing her into the ranks of “single mother” before the days of affordable child care.  She continued to work, and her children never went without necessities, discipline or love.

Tough as nails, she also demonstrated solid home defense skills. A dumb bastard attempted to take advantage of her situation for his own benefit.  He entered her garage late one night, and attempted to break into the house.  She heard him.  “If you open that door, you’ll regret it”.  He did.  She shot him in the thigh, and watched him bleed while she called the police.

While handling the necessary and potentially crippling administrivia that daunted my organization, she also battled a chronic form of leukemia.  But Edna was no stranger to cancer, having survived breast cancer (double mastectomy) in her 50’s, and colon cancer in her 60’s.  For her?  Another annoyance.

She kept working part time for a few years after i’d moved on to the new job, but finally retired for good two years ago.  At 78 years old.

Last summer, i got word that she’d been hospitalized with pneumonia.  They found metastatic cancer in her lungs.  She decided to try some “gentle” chemo for a bit, but it made her weaker, so she told them to shove it.  Her son and daughter-in-law lived near by, and were providing daily care to help her maintain independence.  It was the hip-breaking fall in the bathtub in October that set the final showdown in motion.

Her daughter-in-law and son moved in to provide round-the-clock care.  Hospice was notified, and home medical care was kicked into play. 

Today?  A pizza party at her house, with a few of us from work.  The people she liked.  Edna never suffered the office fools with much humor, and was quite specific on who she didn’t want to darken her doorstep. 

Worried about the needs of her son and his wife, she insisted that they take next weekend off… and invited a neighbor to come and stay with her so they can return home for a little respite care themselves.  Her neighbor, a gentleman in his early 70’s, was glad to assist.  Edna informed him in no uncertain terms that sex was out of the question… mainly due to the fire hazard from the oxygen!  Sparks would be bad…

Speaking of fire, she’s still smoking.  With an oxygen hook up, i did a quick safety check.  Separate room for the oxygen and the smokes.  As she said “What’s the point of quitting now?”

Weighing in at 61 pounds, the cancer gets more nutrition than she does when she eats… and she’s too stubborn to feed the cancer.  Perhaps a month or two before she’s gone.  The toughest broad i’ve ever met tackled life Edna-style.  And is taking on death the same way…

28 thoughts on “How to die

  1. Wow, now that’s a woman we could all stand to emulate. I admire her tenacity at just getting through life with all she’s had to. What a privilege it must be for you to call her your friend.

  2. It’s a shame that we seem to spend an increasing percentage of our attention on this topic once we reach a certain age, but that’s the reality. And it’s nice to be reminded that we can play the final scene with dignity.

  3. ginny – me too. she’s cranky, prone to turn off her hearing aid when she doesn’t care what you have to say and is more than a little bit ‘whack’. but i adore her…

    TAG – you’re welcome… had a good little cry when i wrote it… sometimes that feels right.

    hisqueen – there’s more, but i try to keep my posts to about 500 words. she was in a funk when the leukemia hit, so i let her sneak her puppy to work. Bandit camped under her desk during the day, and really brightened things up… until we got busted, and the mean, evil safety people made us stop…

    fragrant liar – i went to hong kong in 2001. when i left? the office was a disaster, things were in complete chaos, and nothing was getting done… i had made an offering to Buddah. and was delighted to find this elvish wisp of a woman tearing through piles of paper when i returned. i always told her “You came to me from Buddah”…

    nursemyra – she is… we’re going to make sure she has company for lunch a couple days a week…

    tNb – i try not to whine. but then i get all gassy when it builds up and i have to let it go… but yeah, she’s an inspiration!

    upset waitress – i tried really hard to get her liquored up once. one margarita and she stopped. with her body weight, a second one probably would have launched her into the stratosphere…

    michele – welcome to the trailer park, and thank you for your kind words. edna is a goddess. should have her own religion!

    chris – we’re at ‘that age’. we stop burying grandparents, and parents, and start burying friends. it’s on my mind. but also, i am frequently frustrated by the lack of western culture to deal openly, directly and rationally about the subject of death… denial doesn’t work particularly well.

    savannah – you’re welcome… will probably tell a few more ‘edna’ stories one of these days…

  4. That’s a fine woman, nothing like going out on your own terms, cigarette in one hand and giving the Reaper the finger with the other, a life well lived.

  5. it takes a tough person to live life on their own terms like that. thank you for the inspirational story.
    but the title of your post shouldn’t be how to die, but how to live.

  6. You’ve got to admire and respect anyone who lives and dies on THEIR terms.
    My own Mother was the same way.
    She fought her leukemia even though she knew it was futile. She never whined or complained, she just went about LIVING. Enjoying every second she had had left.
    Which by the way, included smoking and drinking her beloved beer.

    Thank you for sharing, I feel lucky to have “met” such a lovely lady … especially through the eyes of another tough broad. ;D

  7. kono – she’s got one lung full of tumors, and the other partially functioning. and she still got up to answer the door and let us in…

    syncopated eyeball – me too. got to get lunch scheduled for this week…

    unbearable banishment – we all have plenty of good reasons to whine… we just can’t let the whining get in the way of doing what needs to be done.

    gnukid – i STILL wonder if there are things i need to sign for her. hated it when she’d pop into my office and say “what did you do with that letter i brought you last week, lady?” she scared me!

    seraphine – yes, i thought about calling it “how to live”, but i’m fascinated with people who are facing certain death – in a near-term timeframe – with strength and dignity.

    ellie – you caught the UB oversight! Edna never bothered with reconstruction… happy to share the story of Ms. Edna… she’s a gem.

    blazngscarlet – i suspect if i were facing such circumstances, i’d be a big whiney baby. perhaps that’s why i’m so enamoured with my strong, resilient friends who meet death head on… your mother sounds like she was a great woman!

    Bb – i think i just attach to these folks. we all know them. the quiet heroes. strong. not flashy. they just go about living, and dying, as a matter of course… i have great admiration for them.

    littlefish – i’m lucky to find these folks. watching others often helps me put my stressors in context…

    sally – “spitfire” is the right word. especially if she gets careless with the smokes and the oxygen tank…

  8. At least she has the smarts to put the oxygen in the other room. I’ve known people who smoked with the oxygen going. Haven’t figured out why they weren’t incinerated instantly.

    She sounds like a great old gal. I hope to emulate her, sans the smokes and oxygen.

  9. Pingback: Nicely done « Trailer Park Refugee

  10. I skimmed this one when you first posted it, just now reading in detail.

    Of course, I’m intimately familiar with what those last couple of months look like and you’ve captured it well.

    On the other hand, Edna is the type of American that is slowly vanishing, to be replaced by fearful, sloth type, dependent blobs. You will all miss her, your country most of all.

  11. rob – i think that is exactly why i admire her so much. the whiney, dependent blobs are coming… and i doubt i’ll be finding much time to bring them lunch in their final days…

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