2008 has been by any standard a terrible year for me. I woke the other day, the lake outside my window was covered in fog. It seem to be a metaphor for life, e.g. just when you think things are clear, the fog rolls in.
And getting past the fog is much harder than it should be.
As I often tell people, I am at my core a small town Minnesota boy, I grew up in a loving home, with devoted parents and my sister Bonnie. Bonnie was a beautiful baby, a darling child, a pretty teenager, and a lovely young woman. She was almost five years younger than I was, and our parents almost raised us as if we were each only children.
Bonnie graduated from high school, then went to first Gustavus Adolphus College for a year and then to the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy. After graduation, she worked for many years as a pharmacist, and for most of her adult life battled bi-polar depression. This illness had a dramatic impact on her life, causing her to spend time in 5–6 mental institutions. After each stay, she was basically forced to start her life all over again. I once asked her why she didn’t take the medications that had been prescribed for her, and her response was “that the highs (from her illness) were so high, that you forget about the lows”.
In 2002 Bonnie moved from Charleston, South Carolina to Portland, Oregon. She loved Portland, bought a darling place, decorated it, and loved her job, her friends. In February she took a group of her friends to see Bruce Springsteen. She told me that it was one of the best days of her life. Bonnie was generous to a fault.
This spring she collapsed, and post various “scans” was found to have a PNET brain tumor. An unusual form of brain cancer that typically is found in adolescents. Then there were a couple of rounds of chemo, but the inoperable tumor was determined to be growing and had spread to her spine. The oncologist/radiologist we consulted with told us that if the cancer didn’t kill her, the radiation would.
We first moved her to a group home and then to a loving hospice in Salem, Oregon. The outpouring of love and kindness to Bonnie from her friends and our family was extraordinary. I hope I will be able one day to thank each of them.
As her health declined in dramatic fashion, I marveled as to how her short term memory disappeared. And while I have struggled with my faith, I found myself wondering if God had basically taken her short term memory away so as to insure that she would not have any fear or anxiety as to the prospect of death.
From June through October I saw ever every other week, and throughout her illness she retained a very wonderful and dry sense of humor. About a month before her death, I drove down to see her, and when I walked into her room, she announced that “today was a bonus day”. When I asked why, she told me that our mother, who died in 1985, had been there earlier. When I asked her what they talked about, she smiled and said, “You know, I don’t remember…” and then laughed about her inability to recall.
On one of my trips back, I was driving in the dark, and thinking about her, and thinking about what I was supposed to be learning from her illness and the prospect of her death. I realized that I needed to let go of those things that I could not control and I needed to live in the moment. I also realized that if there was anything unsaid I needed resolve it. The next time I was with her, I asked her to forgive me for the things that I had done that might have made her unhappy. She looked at me, smiled and said “I am sure there were things, but I just don’t remember…”
I had wondered the last time I saw her alive, if I would see her again, but I didn’t.
Bonnie died on Halloween about 2 P.M. in the afternoon. Her lifelong friend Mary was with her.
We will have a memorial service for her in International Falls, on August 7, 2009, and per her wishes, her ashes will be buried alongside our parents.