Dr. Weinberg sits down in the chair that Jackie has abandoned; Virginia and Frank stand awkwardly near the door. The doctor asks Willa, “What do you want to do with the time you have remaining?”
Willa thinks for a few moments. “We had a good Christmas. With a tree and everything.” She looks at Frank, who tries to smile. “What do I want to do now? Well, I hope that I get to go swimming again but I don’t know if the Bay will be warm enough. I’d like to hold Ziporrah’s granddaughter. Her name is Haviva, isn’t that nice?” Willa doesn’t wait for an answer. “Of course, there’s logistical bullshit stuff I have to do, like finish my will and make a list of everything they need to do after I die.” She waves her hand in Frank and Virginia’s general direction. “Oh, and I’d like to walk to the top of Ayers Rock in Australia, with Mrs. Farthington.” Frank and Virginia look away.
“That is quite a list, Ms. Woods. Are you walking at all right now?”
“I am walking to the bathroom.” Willa’s smile lights up the room, “And back.”
Virginia Barre is leaning against the door but she’s far away, in another hospital across the Bay, sixteen years ago, begging her mother to fight for life as the doctors drone on about managing pain and hospice and palliation. She didn’t know, at that moment, that the tumors had already won, had already blocked her mother’s intestines, making what life she had left unlivable.
The undertow of death pulled her mother away from her, slowly, steadily, while everyone else stood around with clipboards and watched her go. Virginia screamed to wake them up, to make them get in there and fight for her mother. Social workers came, took her into quiet rooms, tried to get her to stand quietly with the others and watch her mother die. She hated them all, still does, even now that she’s seen others die and heard good doctors explain the biology of cancer and nurses talk about letting a loved one go in peace.
Virginia lasts another 10 minutes of Dr. Weinberg’s visit before hugging Willa and Frank good-bye and walking out, pointedly ignoring the doctor. Frank stays, taking scribbly notes in the back pages of his datebook, notes about the milestones Willa needs to meet before she can leave the hospital, home vs. residential hospice, nausea, opiates, etc., etc.
“Well, Ms. Woods, it is a pleasure talking with you, again. I hope you remember this conversation.”
“I’ll try, Doc. My brain is going to Harvard, post mortem, so I need to keep it in good shape.”
“Your brain will fit right in with the Ivy League, Ms. Woods.” He stands up. “Mr. Singer, may I have a word with you?”
Frank steps into the hall and Dr. Weinberg carefully closes the door. “Your friend has a very practical view of dying. Refreshing. But I think she will need some help in the more spiritual sphere. Does she go to a church?”
“No. Not a chance.”
“There are chaplains here and hospice can recommend ones who will make home visits.”
“That might not be the best plan but I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Please do. When she gets out of the hospital, let her take the lead for as long as she can. Let her make the plans, let her direct her own show, with her cast of friends. But watch out for caregiver fatigue. It looks like you have a strong community who are ready and able to help Willa die with dignity. But they will burn out.”
©2020 Jeff Raz | ISBN 978-0-9979048-3-3