Sunday, February 17, 2013
Another old salt on Fiddler's Green
I met Ruth the year that i was messmate on the schooner. The year that i met Joe.
Ruth was one of those quiet, shy, very kind people who always had something interesting to say when she spoke. Which wasn't nearly enough as far as i was concerned.
I think she went sailing at first mostly because her husband wanted to go so much, but after a bit came to enjoy it as much although differently from how he does. Like me, he wants to be part of the actual sailing crew, hauling lines, learning knots, and swabbing decks. Ruth helped out with some of this, too, but more often simply enjoyed the sailing or would help in the galley. And she always had a stack of books to read.
When she told me she had bladder cancer, i bluntly asked about the prognosis. She seemed glad that i had asked the obvious rather than shilly-shally or ignore the elephant in the room. She said the docs gave her until March of this year. When i saw her in September, she had lost weight and was quite thin. Easily tired. I offered her the use of my house if she simply wanted to lie down and be quiet for a bit before the sail, and she and her husband always came up several days before the trip to walk around, shop, or for him to help out with something at the dockhouse.
She thanked me, said she didn't want to be a bother, and i told her i wouldn't have offered if i thought she were one. They decided to do some laundry at my house just before they went aboard, and i encouraged her to take a nap if she wanted. She didn't, but sat with her feet up and a book. Her husband and i went off to the hardware store in search of a part he needed for something, giving her some quiet time. Jim was a young kitten then, quickly warmed to her, and cuddled beside her as she read.
When we got back, other sailing friends of ours were at my house, so Ruth really didn't get any rest at all. I was hoping they'd realize she simply needed some down time, but i think the desire to see her every minute they could outweighed that for them, and she, obliging as ever, didn't say anything.
I was in my walking cast and not 100% either, but i knew my condition was temporary. That this not so good day of hers would be considered a very good day a month down the road.
I've thought of her often, sent the occasional email or called to say hi and chat, mindful of keeping the call short if she sounded really tired. And so the last phone call, we chatted a few minutes. She was having problems walking and had a cane. She sounded tired but upbeat by the call. I asked her how things were going, knowing the tide was going out. The tea that i had sent along hoping to help her didn't seem to be much use, although she liked it. She said that she wondered if she just ought to give in now, because it didn't seem fair to put her husband through this and lessen the estate. I told her he'd spend all the money in the world if he thought it would make a difference, so she needn't worry about that. She knew i was right, and i asked her if she were really ready to go. She said not quite yet, and i said, "You know, no matter when it happens, we'll always miss you and love you. It will hurt. I'll be sad for me but won't be sad for you if you leave when you're ready. I will be sad if you leave earlier simply because you think you are being a burden. In fact, i'm sure it will piss me off."
And here she laughed, like the laugh she always had. Before cancer. Before when we were simply sailing, enjoying the moment. She promised me she wouldn't go until she was ready. I thanked her and told her i'd hold her to it.
We each said "I love you," and hung up the phone. I cried after that and think she was relieved to be able to talk so frankly about dying. I prayed she wouldn't have to have a lot of pain and that she'd know when it was time to go. That we could accept when that was. I wondered if i'd see her again, if she'd get to see Jim as a young cat rather than just a kitten.
The answer to that last sentence is sadly, no. Her husband called yesterday to tell me, in that break between crying jags. We didn't talk long, as he had a good many other calls to make, but he did say she didn't have much pain and how wonderful hospice had been. There'd been a huge change in the last few weeks. She couldn't stay here as she was, so she had to go.
The world is a darker place without such a kind soul, and i feel very blessed to count her as my friend. Godspeed, Ruth.