I dozed in the car whilst my wife had her meeting. We were parked in Morningside in an area I like to think of as the counselling quarter since so many of the houses seemed to be occupied by therapists. It has long been commented that no therapist could possibly afford these houses on their own salary and so must have an independent income from somewhere else. Before my wife left we had programmed the satellite navigation system (not part of the new car but imported from the old) with the Marie-Curie Hospice and I knew we only an eight minute ride away from our next destination. I thought we would arrive at the centre way too early but in fact it was only four minutes before we said we would get there.
The centre is located near Fairmilehead but inside the ring road. It is a lovely purpose build structure with most of the patient rooms facing south overlooking the grounds and further out the fields surrounding Edinburgh. The receptionists were very helpful and content, getting us to sign in before directing us to L’s room; apparently L had moved from Curry to Orkney. The inpatient section was on the first floor and coming out of the stairwell we turned right and followed the corridor to the end. On the left seemed to be small multi-bed wards (four beds?) and on the right were offices and toilets. There was a single room at the end of the corridor, L’s room.
One of the things I found out from hearing about L’s terminal diagnosis was that it is very easy to slip into thinking and grieving like the terminally ill person is already dead. I am not saying that I thought “she’s dead” just that in my grief I found myself behaving and thinking like she was dead that is, trying to recall the good times from the past as though L had no future. I have to remind myself that L was still alive and that there was still the possibility of shared experiences ahead. Going to see her reinforced this opinion. L’s belly may look like she is in the first visible stage of being pregnant, and she had obviously lost quite a bit of weight but she was very perky, and chatty. Her abdomen may be riddled with cancer but her upper chest and brain seemed to be functioning perfectly normally if not enhanced by the acceptance of her lot, reflections on life, and appreciation of others.
We talked about many things and as my wife pointed out later, anybody looking into the room trying to work out who was the ill one would have seen me dozing in the chair not L. I was reminded of the time a few days after my transplant when I was healed enough to move around independently but still on high dose steroids and opiate based analgesics; I felt like superman, I could do anything and be anything, nothing daunted me. Obviously L’s outlook is going to be different since I was embarking on a new life, but I can still remember that seemingly being the best of myself and hence have an inkling into the attractiveness of drug induced euphoria; the overdrive of steroids and the positivity of opiates (just don’t mention the constipation). Later my wife and I remarked that on a few occasions we both could feel the tears welling as L talked and reflected. We did reminisce about past times particularly around the kids, but I learnt more about L’s upbringing and relationship with her siblings and I was able to relate to a lot of the hospital tales she told and share my own version.
Earlier in the day another friend S, had asked if I wanted to go blackberry foraging but I had declined saying that I had the car to pick up and L to visit. She texted back and said that sounded exciting to which I replied that I had mixed feelings because L was the one with terminal cancer. My blackberry liking friend pointed out that L would still probably enjoy seeing an old friend and to have an ordinary conversation. In her way S was reminding me that L was still alive and that my friendship still existed. Having a limited time left, L seems to be able to focus on what is important to her and appreciate her life she has had, and on the friends she still has. L will be dead soon but whilst she lives I still have the chance to extent our friendship and learn from it; visiting her in the hospice has certainly allowed me to do that once already. I absolutely have no issue about going back and seeing her again.