Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five Months Later

Today is my sister Mary Claire’s birthday. She would have been 56 years old today.

I wish beyond all things that she was here, so that I could bake her a cake like I did last year and celebrate with her. I would give anything to see her sitting on my couch in the den and holding her newest great niece, Ellen.

But she is not here. Instead I have spent the last five months mourning my little sister and coming to grips with everything that has happened since she told me about the lump near her collarbone.

I miss her every single day. I think about her every single day.

I have second-guessed every single decision we made about her treatment. And come to the conclusion again and again that we did do everything we could.

And I have relived the week and half while we cared for her in hospice over and over.

Ultimately, I have had to make my peace with not only what we did, but with what how it all ended.

This experience has changed me in ways I never expected. I am no stranger to losing those I love to death. I watched my father die in front of me when I was just seven years old. I lost five relatives between the ages of six and fifteen. And because of the experience of watching my father die suddenly of a heart attack, I developed a deep-seated fear of death that has haunted me my entire life. Until now.

Watching Mary Claire fight the inevitable those last weeks changed my perspective forever. She fought so hard for every moment, even though at the end the moments she was fighting for were moments where she was incapable of truly living. When I think back over what happened, the only thing I would change is that I would no longer deny the truth of what was happening to her.

By this, I do not mean that I would not have fought for her as hard as I did over those two years after we got her into M.D. Anderson. I would. Absolutely. But once we had no further options, I wish beyond everything that I had had the courage that my sisters Julia and Jane had to face the truth and the courage they had to tell Mary Claire the truth about what was going to happen. And if I am ever in Mary Claire’s situation, I hope that I have Julia and Jane there to tell me the truth. I promise I will believe you two.

I love you forever Mary Claire.

And I love you forever Julia and Jane.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


The eleventh post in my series on my sister, Mary Claire.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
At 9:30 tonight, my little sister, Mary Claire Chesnutt Luce, died. 

Only memories remain. Along with anger. Sadness. And relief. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Prayer for the Dying.

The tenth installment in my series on taking care of Mary Claire while she was in hospice care. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another day and Mary Claire still hangs on to life.

She has not eaten anything since last Thursday night.

For the past three days, the only thing she has taken by mouth is liquid morphine and an anti-anxiety med which we dissolve in the morphine.

Watching my beloved sister die a fraction of an inch at a time has been a nightmare.

When this all started, my only goal was to save my sister. Having now faced the reality that there will be no miracle for her, no cure for her, no way for her to live a full and loving life, I only want her to go and to be at peace. It is the most painful realization I have ever had to deal with. But it is the truth.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Every Day

The ninth installment in my series about my sister Mary Claire.

Monday, March 24, 2014
The first thing we do in the morning, when Jane, Julia and I wake up, is head to MC’s room to see how the night went and if there were any changes. At this point, there really aren't any changes and the few changes we see are very subtle.

Mary Claire is still hanging on to life. The hospice people say this could be because she is waiting for someone. Our mom perhaps, since everyone else has already been here. But we cannot bring Mom in to see MC with the way that MC is now. Perhaps she is simply scared to die. We don’t know. What we do know is that it hurts to see her this way. Even Mike, who we thought would never feel this way, seems to have reached that point.

And so we wait. Julia has all the funeral arrangements made. She’s picked out a plot at the local cemetery in Rockport and bought it for Mary Claire. She’s talked to the funeral home. She’s also made arrangements with a local restaurant that was a favorite of MC and Mike for a reception after the funeral Mass. Jane is writing her obituary. I am picking out the music and I have my children working on picking out the readings for the funeral Mass.

Jane and I have our system down now. Since we are giving Mary Claire the maximum dose of morphine every hour now, we are taking alternate days to be in charge of giving her medicine. Which is essential, as I’ve discovered it really is difficult emotionally giving her this much morphine every hour. One side fact: when we open a new bottle of morphine, we tint it with blue food coloring so that we can tell if the dose begins to run out of her mouth when we give it to her.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Cry for Help

The eighth installment in my series about taking care of my sister Mary Claire in hospice.

Sunday, March 23, 2014
Jane and I were woken up at about 4:00-4:30 this morning by Connie, the night nurse. MC was calling for me and refusing to let Connie give her the liquid morphine. We immediately went to her and managed to persuade MC to take the morphine. But she kept saying “Help me. Help me.” And it broke my heart because I didn’t know what to do. All I know to do is to give her medicine to control the pain. And I felt that I was failing her. So, I finally just held her and told her she could go. That it would be all right. That I would be okay. And we would take care of Mom. And that Mike would be okay. And that everybody would be okay. 

I told her to go. That Daddy would be waiting for her. And it would be okay. And at some point, she calmed down and started saying, “Okay.” Over and over.

I stayed with her until morning. My sweet little sister, I hope I am right. That it will be okay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

She would have loved this...

Note: Fair warning to my conservative friends/readers. Yes, I'm going to say things that will potentially upset you. So, if you really can't stand me using my freedom of speech, go somewhere else today. I recommend Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette. No politics there: Just joy in the creating of good food that feeds her family and her friends. On the other hand, if you can stand just a little bit of political commentary (really there won't be much) stick around and then go read Molly's wonderful words. Because this is really not so much about slamming Texas' Republican governor as it is about someone I loved.

On Friday a federal prosecutor in Austin indicted Texas Governor Rick Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power. Today he showed up at the Travis County courthouse to turn himself in and have his mug shot taken. I'm not going to get into whether the charges against Perry are baseless or natter on about how I certainly hope they aren't baseless. 

No. What struck me today was how happy my best friend Sara would have been over this turn of events. She would have been ecstatic. And we would have been emailing each other about it and speculating hopefully about Perry's hope of another presidential run being done in by this indictment. 

Sara was the real deal when it came to being a liberal Democrat, becoming more and more zealous as the years went by. The standard expectation being that most of us are fervid liberals when we are young, turning more conservative with the passing years. Sara was pretty much the opposite of that. But then she never did do anything that was expected of her. 

Today I would have shared with her the fact that my daughter, her namesake, took a afternoon break to walk down to the courthouse and watch Perry make his 'walk of shame' in to turn himself in. I would have shared the video and photo my daughter Sara shot. And Sara Gray would have loved it all. She would have relaxed a tiny bit because she saw hope for Texas in this turn of events.

Instead, I'm hoping that she's seeing this now and smiling over the fact that Rick Perry now has a mug shot and is racking up some big lawyer bills. And that he is maybe, just maybe, losing some sleep at night over this. 

It was a good day in Texas today Sara. I wish you were here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Act of Faith

The seventh installment in my continuing series on taking care of my sister Mary Claire while she was dying. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014
One thing I’ve found out this week is that if I’m alone, I break down. And I can’t break down. Even though Mary Claire is now not as aware as she was, I need to show her that I’m okay. So, I have to stay strong and not be walking around with red eyes from crying.
This morning, Fr. Rey came and administered the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Also known as the anointing of the sick or Last Rites. When he arrived, I pretty much read him the riot act. As in, “We need to do this, but I do not want MC to be upset by it.” Because I know she is afraid. Hell, I’m afraid. She is dying. And there is nothing I can do to stop it.

She did become upset. But then, amazingly she became calm at the end.  I’ve heard of this and this is not the first time I’ve seen this sacrament administered. But I was surprised by it’s effect on her. 

I’m so tired. But I need to see this through. I need to see her through this.