Monday, August 16, 2010

What The !@#$&%?

Verna picked out her casket today. Yes, that's right. I wheeled her around a room filled with steel and wood caskets, ranging from $3200-$11,000, and she chose a dark wood one with the Pieta (Mother Mary cradling Jesus) and the Last Supper etched into the metal moulding around the perimeter of the coffin.

Surreal beyond the Twilight Zone would not begin to describe the swirl of emotions we experienced today at Montes Chapel of the Pines in San Anselmo (we get 10% off if I mention him in a blog--just kidding), about five miles from our house.

As I pushed Verna in her wheelchair to the front entrance, the door opened and two friendly beagles greeted us. Verna immediately smiled. I was worried for many reasons how our appointment might go. As hospice has increased her medication she has grown foggier and drowsier, so she spends a chunk of the day sleeping on her hospital bed in the living room. Would she even be awake or semi-lucid?

I'd promised Verna months ago that she'd be able to choose her casket. Knowing that her situation was becoming graver by the day, I called the mortuary this morning. The receptionist transferred me to the voicemail of one of their intake counselor's, Ed, who we later learned is the funeral director, owner, and sole fulltime employee. He also drives the hearse.

"I've worked here for 15 years," he told us. "And I bought it two years ago from the family that'd owned it. Mr. Montes still works with me parttime."

Well, my fears about Verna's cognitive condition were unfounded. I haven't seen her this alert in at least two weeks. She chose her casket, guest book, and prayer card scenes and poem, and decided to forego embalming and a rosary service on the eve of her funeral.

And as I sat there amazed yet again by my wife's unshakeable spirit, I also kept thinking, "This is not happening. This is not happening. When will our nightmare end?"

We shared that crushing anxiety with her father, brother, and his wife before we left the house for the funeral home. Maya was at school, Miguel at baseball camp. In the presence of a hospice nurse, the five of us kissed Verna's forehead, rubbed her arm, and cried. She cried, we cried, and all of us not so silently railed against how unfair it is that we are days, weeks, months away from Verna's death.

"The hard part is not knowing," Verna said to the hospice social worker as tears streamed down her face. "I just wish I could know how much longer I have."

The social worker nodded and then said, "I know."

In the middle of our appointment with Ed, the phone rang. "You can take that if you need to," I said.

"It's the Humane Society," he said. "I have to."

It turned out that either Ed or his assistant left the door open after we wheeled in and one of the beagles ambled into the neighborhood, where he was found by a Good Samaritan who'd called the Humane Society and left her phone number. While Verna and I surveyed the caskets, Ed walked a couple of blocks away to retrieve Fletcher.

Although we found out last Thursday that Verna could be dead within a few days, according to hospice and her oncologist, she seems to be doing pretty well after hospice adjusted some of her pain medications. "And I still have things to do," she has said.

She's been writing cards to the kids for all the birthdays, graduations and other special occasions she will miss; she's helping plan her nephew's wedding in mid-September. He and his fiance, who have a gorgeous 20-month old daughter, decided to take the marital plunge sooner in order to accomodate Verna. Today was also part of Verna's process of accomplishing tasks and creating more peace of mind for herself, and another of example of how she controls as much as possible in a situation that has mostly spiralled beyond all control.

"Well, we took care of that," she said as we left the mortuary.

Yes, we did. Verna picked out a casket today and I still can't f@#$%ing believe it.

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