Learning To Love You More




Assignment #31
Spend time with a dying person.

Linda Oatman High
Narvon, Pennsylvania USA
Email Linda



On the last day of September, 2004, I spent an hour with my cousin Karen Bergey, who was dying after a long battle with ovarian cancer. My first grandchild - Connor - was 4 months old and Karen had never seen him, due to the danger of cancer patients with depleted immune systems being exposed to infants who'd recently had immunizations. However, on that warm and beautiful September afternoon, I decided that Karen had to meet Connor. Connor had to meet Karen. She was dying. Karen knew that. All of us who loved her knew that. Connor didn't know that, because he was so new at living that he had no concept of dying.
I packed a pacifier, a baby bottle, and rattles, and strapped Connor into his car seat. I drove the 5 miles to Karen's log home in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. She'd built the home with her husband: log-by-log. Driving up the long lane, through the trees bright with autumn leaves, I reflected upon the words I should, or would, or could say to Karen. I'd already told her that I love her, the last time I thought she wouldn't make it through the week. I had no idea what to say. Connor couldn't talk, so it didn't matter for him.
I was slightly nervous as I lifted the baby from his seat. We opened the door. It was always unlocked at Karen's house. "Hello?" I called into the silence. No answer. I tiptoed in. "Hey," said Karen. She was in bed. September sunlight streamed through the huge windows in her bedroom, illuminating her face. She was pale, so white, and gaunt. Her body was wasted from the disease, and she was weak. When she saw the baby, her face lit up like the sun. Karen loved babies. Babies loved Karen.
Her gray cat was in bed with her, purring, curled next to the pink pillow. I climbed into the bed, and propped Connor - a plump Buddha - between us. He laughed at the cat. Karen laughed. I laughed. The cat purred.
We didn't say much. I didn't stay long. The baby was tired, and so was Karen. I knew that it was the last time that I'd see her, in this lifetime. I told her once again that I loved her. I kissed her. I hugged her. I told her goodbye. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you for bringing the baby."
She went into the hospital the next morning. Unconscious from pain and medication, Karen reached out her arms. "I thought that somebody was handing me a baby," she said. "The baby's coming," she said, again and again.
Karen died less than a week after she met my grandson. I wrote a poem for her, all about her life and a little about her death. I read it at the services. There were inside jokes about her hippie days and her yuppie days and her days of teaching ESL to students named Phuc.
Karen's life is finished. Her death continues. And me, I have the greatest grandson, lots of memories, and that last sweet hour that I spent with my cousin Karen.