Grace had an amazing medical history. Beginning in her twenties, Grace achieved frequent flyer status at Kaiser, experiencing:
Life-long back pain from experimental disk fusion surgery in 1959.
Life-long heart murmur (aortic stenosis)
Type II diabetes beginning in 1985.
Intestinal bleeding from diverticulosis requiring 4 trips to ER and hospital in 2006-10.
Congestive heart failure diagnosed in 2010.
Non-small cell lung cancer in right lung diagnosed in 2010, with standard treatment by radiation. Alternative medical treatment included: acupuncture, jin shin jitsu, remote healing, Stamets 7 mushroom blend, vegan-vegetarian diet, medical marijuana,.
Skin cancer on head and surgery in 2011 and 2013.
While on a walk down Sausal Creek in Oakland, a fall down a gravel slope resulted in a broken tibia.
She fell walking on an incline in a restaurant in 2007, resulting in a fractured hip and hip replacement surgery.
I found these notes in one of her health folders, apparently jotted down when the docs found the lung cancer:
Miracles happen every day. I go wither to dissolve the pattern that created this, and I now accept a divine healing.
And so it is
I come from nowhere and will go back to nowhere
Lung – I take in life in perfect balance
I relax completely for I now know I am safe. I trust life & I trust myself.
Heart- Joy Joy Joy – to flow thru my mind, body, & spirit.
Recipes — Portobello w oyster sauce, Thai soup
Books to get – Babylon Revisited F. S Fitzgerald, A Movable Feast Hemingway, This World – How the World Became Modern
Primrose oil – 6 drops
Grace was usually fortunate in her choice of a medical team at Kaiser Health. She worked with many physicians and nurses who practiced loving kindness as well as medicine. These included her family practitioner, Tim Pile, her cardiologist, Sanford Warren, the cardiology nurse practitioner, Lynn Rackerby, and her oncologist, Christine Camille Kaiser, among others.
This banner for loving kindness was just down the hall from Grace’s last hospital room before she was discharged to home hospice. The text is by a brilliant nursing educator, Jean Watson, Ph. D and RN, who has developed the field of caring science. See http://watsoncaringscience.org
Deidre, Grace’s midnight shift nurse for her last stay in the Santa Rosa Kaiser Hospital wrote this note to her in December, 2013:
Grace—I just wanted to tell you how wonderful you are—your spirit & perseverance. No matter what, you were always smiling. I hope you are more comfortable being home with your honey—cuddling. I will always remember you being my favorite patient. You are in my thoughts & prayers.
Grace’s doctors recommended starting hospice since they had nothing more to offer her.
The benefits of conventional medicine were clearly limited by Grace having heart disease, lung cancer, and diverticulosis together. She’d had much experience of alternative medicine so it was natural to seek modes of treatment there. Fortunately Sandy Warren, her Kaiser cardiologist, believes that diet plays a crucial role in treatment for heart disease. He recommended the Esselstyn vegan diet, which we adopted, trusting it would also help with her cancer.
On the cancer side, we discovered an important book for health professionals: Integrative Oncology, edited by Doctors Donald Abrams and Andrew Weil. This covers a wide range of alternative modes of treatment used in balance with conventional treatment for cancer. It includes chapters on acupuncture and Chinese medicine, diet, medical marijuana, meditation, homeopathy, and much else. The book led us to the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UCSF, which Dr. Abrams, an oncologist, founded. Grace had a session with him and several with the acupuncturist, Beverly Burns. The Osher Center
Outside of institutions, Grace received distance healing from Greg Booi and Coleen Foye Bollen, enrolled in an exercise for cancer patients program, and watched lots of comedies and Bollywood dance films. Our participation in online retreats with the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, was another key support for both of us.
Through all of this Grace remained positive and committed to living fully right up to the end.
In November 2013 Grace, Martha, her husband Ralph, and I drove to Yosemite for an Autumn adventure. Unfortunately, Grace had difficulty getting enough oxygen from her portable concentrator, so she stayed in her room resting most of the time. This marked the beginning of her decline. We came home early to a quiet Thanksgiving.
This photo of two ravens near our room could have been a sign. However, Grace delighted in the intelligence and playfulness of this species, not their legendary status as birds of death.
We celebrated Grace’s birthday on December 6, with Old Timey music by Ernie Noyes and many questions to Grace about her life. The next Tuesday night she asked me to take her to ER at Kaiser where she was soon admitted to the hospital. (We laughed at a baby-talking ER doc who was otherwise quite friendly.) By Thursday her doctors agreed that she was experiencing cardio-renal syndrome (congestive heart failure linked with kidney failure). They said no further treatment would help and recommended enrolling in home hospice as soon as possible. As a parting gift they dosed her with morphine her last night in the hospital to see how she handled it. Contrary to their expectations she was still stoned when I brought her home. She sat in the car for a long time listening to the birds, including our neighborhood ravens, and enjoying the warm breezes.
Grace maintained remarkable balance through all of this. Both of us had been in death and dying boot camp for three years, since her lung cancer diagnosis. Decades of spiritual practice had given Grace a deep awareness of impermanence and the certainty of death. Martha and Ralph joined us in acceptance of this being Grace’s last months and commitment to all of us living well.
We hung a Sogyal Rinpoche poster on the wall: “When you breathe out, suddenly you can’t breath in . . . it is finished.” I read to Grace from his “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, both of ustrying out the ancient practices for conscious dying.
Phase 2: Home hospice and living with grace
Within a week Heartland Hospice installed a hospital bed in our living room and a case manager nurse, home health aide, and massage therapist started weekly visits. A social worker and physical therapist also came to help us adjust to the new lifestyle.
On another level, friends hung Tibetan prayer flags across the living room and helped me put up photos of Grace, her family, our spiritual teachers, and owls, one of her favorite animals. At one point Grace said, “Wow, I’m just a little girl from Dell Rapids.” For Christmas I hung Grace’s jewelry on Donald’s mother’s rubber plant that we’ve carried from place to place since 1985.
Colleen, a friend from Seattle whom Grace and I married to Alan, came so I could get some rest at the coast. Mary Lou, Grace’s friend for almost forty years visited and asked her to help her learn how to die. Nieces Judy and Kate and nephew Doug visited.
Gradually Grace’s breathing became more difficult, especially when moving about. She used lavender essential oil throughout the day to ease the constriction in her chest. When it became acute she needed morphine.
In spite of the discomfort and indignities of the bedridden she remained totally graceful, seldom complaining. She would always find hidden energy to come up for a phone call or visit with love and laughter.
She continued watching her favorite tv shows, along with Bollywood dance extravaganzas, comedies, and concerts. We were both deeply moved (and rocked) by the Bruce Springsteen in Dublin concert. Not the E-street band but a stage full of The Sessions band, often playing as a giant Kerry Band. We sobbed together when Bruce and others sang this song:
Further up the road, further up the road
I’ll meet you further on up the road
Where the way is dark and the night is cold.
Meet you further on up the road.
Where the road is dark and the seed is sowed Where the gun is cocked and the bullet’s cold Where the miles are marked in the blood and gold I’ll meet you further on up the road
Got on my dead man’s suit and my smilin’ skull ring My lucky graveyard boots and song to sing I got a song to sing, keep me out of the cold And I’ll meet you further on up the road.
Further on up the road Further on up the road Where the way dark and the night is cold One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know And I’ll meet you further on up the road.
Now I been out in the desert, just doin’ my time Searchin’ through the dust, lookin’ for a sign If there’s a light up ahead well brother I don’t know But I got this fever burnin’ in my soul So let’s take the good times as they go And I’ll meet you further on up the road
Further on up the road Further on up the road Further on up the road Further on up the road
One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know And I’ll meet you further on up the road One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know And I’ll meet you further on up the road.