Claire died yesterday at 1 p.m. I am sad, but actually less sad now that she has been released from the turmoil that her life had become. My sadness began the day she told me that she had lung cancer. It grew every time there was more bad news ... that the radiation was not working and there were more tumours on the lung ... that the cancer had spread to the brain ... that her mind was only hers part of the time ... and then the final blow ... that she had to enter palliative care because the woman I knew to be Claire had almost vanished.
But all through this year long journey from failed surgery to her death yesterday, my love and respect for Claire grew. She faced death with a grace I can only hope one day to emulate.
First was quiet dignity and hope. She believed in the medical system, and she brought to her own defence a positive attitude. Then came the realization that she would not make it, and we talked about the inevitability of a death she seemed to accept ... not welcome, but accept without fear.
During her own travails, Claire never lost sight of the fact that life ... her own life and the lives of others ... was about a lot more than the cancer. In the early months she continued to garden as much as her strength would allow. She put in new plants by the road, plants that will forever remind me of her strength, her love of beauty. She went on one last hike with her hiking group, joining the snails whom she had encouraged for so many years.
In the winter while she and Tom made their five day trips every week for radiation in Montreal, Claire was exhausted, but she always had a smile when she saw me, and she always asked about my life ... we talked about far more than cancer. We discussed the movies I lent them. She loved Kenya and was interested in all my dogs. We talked about books, and the doings of the lake.
In the spring she was very sick, and I saw less and less of her, but when she wasn't sleeping she always welcomed my visits. One day she asked me to come over, and when I got there she took me out to the garage to show me a rocking chair she wanted me to have. It is still white with primer, and when I paint this one it will be a treasure to hold onto ... my last gift from Claire ... the last of many.
Claire taught me a great deal about living life fully, and she taught me at least as much about dying courageously. She was a beautiful woman.
I want to make Claire's chair a physical embodiment of her courage, her spirit, her love of life and her openness to beauty in people and nature. I will do my grieving as I turn this ghost of a chair into a song of praise for a life well lived, for a woman I love.