Sunday, August 2, 2009

Wake up!

Yesterday, I attended a type of event that I had never been to in the past...a wake. As you may know, I am part of a running group for cancer survivors called "Cancer to 5K." Helen was a member of the team the season before I joined. By the time I joined, her Leukemia had come back, so I never got to meet her. I came close one time as I drove to Johns Hopkins to visit her. But, when I got to the hospital, I was told she was released the day before. That was the way it was for her for her until eventually she spent her last several months there.

Last month, after all the clinical trials were exhausted, she decided to go on Hospice. That was a Thursday. She passed Friday. Helen was 21.

I didn't know what to expect at a wake. It was held at an Irish Pub in Arlington where she used to hostess. The pub closed the entire place to the public just for Helen's party and there were a lot of people there. One I met flew in from London. I sat at a table with other "Cancer to 5K" team members. While we chatted, Helen's mom sat down and greeted us. She asked, "who are you?" :-) After we told her, she said that Helen loved running with the team. She would work as a hostess until 2am Friday nights and be at the runs at 8am Saturday mornings.

In the back of the pub, there were lots of photos of Helen growing up. One, in particular, stood out to me, so I asked about it. It was her giving "the bird" to the camera. I thought it odd to put that in the display. Her mom proceeded to tell us a story...

Helen would ALWAYS do that to the camera. Their refrigerator was covered in photos like that. The Friday she passed, the Hospice nurse said, "the only thing keeping her alive is the ventilator. If we turn that off, it will take about an hour for the oxygen to leave her body." (That sentence hit me hard and I was amazed at how easily her mother was telling this story.) So, they turned off the ventilator. It was over two hours later and she was still breathing. The nurse said it was due to her youth. "No," her mom replied. "It's because she never did anything she was told to do." Helen's brother started laughing, but it wasn't at the joke. He told his mom to look at Helen's hand. Helen was giving the finger. She died a couple minutes later at 1:51pm. Her mom pointed out this time because 151 was Helen's favorite shot of alcohol.

So, at the family and friends gathering at the house, they purchased a couple bottles of 151. But then realized, they didn't have any shot glasses. No worries...what they did have was PLENTY of pill cups from all the meds she had to take. So, they all did a shot to Helen out of a pill cup. :-)

Up yours, Helen!

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