Kage Baker: this time last year, she had 8 days to live. Luckily, we had no idea it would be so soon, so fast.
We had come home from the seaside motel, where we had stayed until therapy was pronounced of no more use. Getting home was so simple, so absurdly easy … I called a private ambulance company, who specialized in things like this: careful, tender, non-emergency patient transport. Kage and I were learning about a whole new society we had had no idea existed: the complex service industry of the dying.
Weird, the things you discover at the end of a life. There are really, really nice people who run whole businesses designed to make it easier for strangers to die well. So don’t leave your beloveds in the cold hospital, Dear Readers. I assure you, just like canning fruit and holiday dinner and a good night’s sleep, dying is better done at home.
But the ambulance people were charming and expert, and the weather was beautiful that morning; they kept the sun out of Kage’s eyes, and yet managed to give her a view from the gurney, and point out how lovely our garden was looking. She caught my eye as she was borne up our demonic stairs for what was probably the last time, and started to giggle.
“I’ve been carried up these stairs by so many handsome young men lately,” she observed.
“And we’ll tuck you right into bed, too,” one said gallantly, and made Kage laugh.
Everyone who made Kage laugh those last weeks is on my permanent prayer list. Some of you, I don’t remember your names – but I remember your faces. I pray for you every night, in gratitude.
Death is often simple. Dying, though, is freaking complicated. The paperwork alone is enough to be fatal to someone sick enough to need it – one of the reasons you need to keep your friends and family around you is to beat away the bureaucrats that come flocking like paper moths to a dying flame. Caregivers, never forget this: you are your loved one’s best, first and last line of defense; and when it comes to the end your job is to keep the idiots away from them. The day Kage came home, no less than 4 representatives of the hospice organization showed, up after the other, well-meaning beads on a regulation string, with things for her to sign.
None of them even got to see her. Once she was tucked into bed by her male harem, I gave her a bath and some pain meds and an egg cream; put her in a clean nightie, and she went to sleep at once, exhausted. But we had long ago set up her power of attorney for me, and I had her End of Life care orders as well. So I was well equipped handle each of the earnest young women who arrived with sheafs of papers to be signed.
I remember the second one told me in worried tones, “You must realize, Ms. Baker is dying.” I was unable to be stop myself from replying: “Yes, that’s why I called you people. That’s why you’re here.” However, I did manage not to call her a moron.
When I went back in to Kage’s room, she was briefly awake. She looked at me and said, “So they figured out I’m dying, huh? Man, you can’t hide anything from these professional types.”
We sat there and snickered shamelessly. If the poor young lady heard us as she went down the stairs, she must have thought the strain was getting to us.
It wasn’t, though. There was no strain left. We had no idea how little time Kage had left, but we were pretty sure it wasn’t much. She was all right with that – she had plans, because she thought she had a month or so, but she knew it was the end. I was not nearly as strong about it. But I only broke down once where she had to comfort me, that night in the motel, crying and begging her not to go … it took poor Kage about two hours to talk me down out of the trees, but I never did it again.
And once we were back home, everything was amazingly peaceful and comfortable. The sun was shining. We had drugs for her pain. We had everything she wanted to drink. We were still reading Coppertop. Friends and family were calling, making reservations to come see her – so we knew we would get visitors Kage actually wanted.
So it was all right. Though the paperwork was a bitch.