Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Last night I had the privilage of attending the wake of a woman named Karen, who lost her battle with breast cancer last weekend. She leaves behind her husband, family, and two boys, an 8th grader and a 9th grader, both whom the Better Half has taught. That's how I ended up there.

Karen lay in state last night, and you could see she had fought hard. You know how funeral homes try to make the corpses look somewhat alive? It couldn't be done in this case. Glancing at her wedding photo, on display as a memorial, I could tell she was a petite woman to begin with. The casket, which could not have measured 5 1/2 feet, dwarfed her. She had the telltale signs of terminal cancer- a scarf covered her hairless scalp, her skin jaundiced and loose around her cheeks. She was the picture of suffering, and my heart simultaneously ached for her and was relieved she was out of her agony. I think that sentiment was shared by her husband and boys. The Better Half and I offered our condolences her husband, Tony, and her boys, Michael and Nathan. They seemed to be holding up okay...maybe because their hearts were like mine- happy she was no longer suffering and in a much better place.

She was a quilter, and some of her quilts were on display. She had entered a quilt in the McCall Magazine Quilt for the Cure contest, and had won an award. The quilt travels around the world now, but the family had one panel on display- the panel that symbolized Karen's life before the cancer. There was a picture of the center of the quilt, in which she is finally free of the cancer- for her, it meant either the cure or the Light of God. Also on display were quilts she made her sons and the quilt she made celebrating her family reunion.

People spoke of her highly at the wake. Her father told the story of the heartbreak of her final days, when the doctors told her there was nothing else they could do. Her brother told funny stories. Her sister-in-law told how Karen wanted to buy a web cam to talk to her niece's science class about cancer, but never got to do so. She was praised by her caregivers and her parish nurses as courageous. Her husband, the last to speak, told how much he loved her, and how he used to race home after work so he could get home to her.

He described my feelings for the Better Half. I realized how lucky I was. That morning, the Better Half scraped the ice off of the windshield of my car. The same morning that this poor husband had to prepare to bury the love of his life.

Gripping his hand, I took my finger of the other hand and traced it along the prominent veins in the back of his hand. I've done it so many times. Like always, he whispered, "Good veins?"
"The best." I said.

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