It was Thursday, October 16, 2014. We had picked up Maureen at her office on Tuesday afternoon, a slightly shorter day. Her breathing had continued to become more challenged. Only 3 months earlier, on July 14, 2014, we had rushed to the emergency room at Seton Hospital. The upper left side of Maureen’s abdomen was tender. It hurt to breath. Having been to MD Anderson Cancer Center a few months earlier, we knew that Maureen’s breast cancer had metastasized into the lining of her lungs. We discovered on July 14, our 24th wedding anniversary, after an x-ray, that her left lung had taken on fluid. We had our first thoracentesis, a pleural tap to the lung lining to drain fluid. It relieved the pressure, and after some coaxing of the doctors, we were cleared to leave, so we could celebrate our anniversary. We went to our favorite dessert place, Chez Zee, and got several slices of different cakes to take home and celebrate with the kids.
Yes, there was a robe in the ER at Seton Hospital, but this story is about a different robe, and this story almost 4 years in the making came full circle at the Celebration of Life luncheon at the Fairmount Hotel on Friday, a fundraiser for the Seton Breast Care Center.
So, let’s go back to the beginning of the circle, Thursday, October 14. 2014. Maureen’s sister, Dominique, was in town for a visit, which was not just fun but incredibly helpful. A delivery had occurred in the afternoon from an oxygen supply company of a rather incredible machine that would create oxygen, rather than have to deal with substituting tanks all the time. With its really long tubes, Maureen could be anywhere she wanted on the main floor in our house.
On this evening, she was on the couch, when we heard a knock on the door. It was Andrea McWilliams, mom of a friend of our daughter’s at school, and an important part of the circle, not just its beginning, but other parts, too. She had a brought a gift. In a beautiful box from Neiman Marcus was a robe, rainbow colored, soft, luxurious. A gift for Maureen to be comfortable while at home a bit more than usual. Little did we realize at that moment, Andrea would be the last person outside of our family and medical professionals to see Maureen alive.
It took me months after Maureen passed in her sleep on the morning of 10.21.2014 to tend to her clothes, emotionally and logistically. They still smelled like her. I could walk into our closet and sense her. It was a connection. And, then, over in the corner with special pillows and other mementos was the silver box. The one from Neiman Marcus. The robe from Andrea.
I finally decided that it needed a special home. We gave some of Maureen’s office clothes to Safe Space, and other, every day ones, to Goodwill. A few. Her sundresses and a couple of shirts that were my favorites, Maureen’s other sister, Suzanne, made into pillows. But, the robe. The Robe. No, it needed a different spot. A special home. A special person. On a lovely day in early April 2016, it found that person. A few weeks earlier I had been introduced to Mara Fouts, who was a Senior Director of Development at the Seton Fund. I figured she might have someone appropriate to receive it. She did. On April 11, 2016, she let me know that a recently diagnosed breast cancer patient at Seton had received it. With tears.
It would be another year before I met the person who had received the robe. At that point, past their treatments and beginning their path to recovery. For those that have read my stories about the day Maureen passed, you know that Teo’s Gelato, which is right across the street from Seton Hospital, is a special place. I can have a coffee or gelato there and look up across the street to the last place where I held hands with Maureen on 7 North at Seton Hospital. On this morning in May of 2017, I shared this story with the person who had received the robe. Pam Crowther. Director of Volunteer Services at Seton. It was surreal. It was joyous. It was energizing. Here. Two people. Connected. Connected by a robe. A rainbow. We completed the circle or so we thought.
Kyla and I had just sat down at Table 72 at the Celebration of Life this past Friday, September 28, when another mother and her daughter sat down next to us. We were both guests of Pam Crowther. Well, in the case of Dina Heller, she had also been friends with Pam for many, many years, and she told me a story that brought tears to both our eyes. A story of a girls’ weekend. A girls’ weekend at of all places a Fairmount Hotel in Telluride. The picture above is indeed the robe. The robe that on a Thursday night in the middle of October of 2014 was delivered to our home with love by Andrea McWilliams, one of the co-chairs for the very Celebration of Life at which we were sitting now. Pam was with her friends, sharing the story of the robe, and sharing the tears and the hugs that can only flow when a heart is full of love. And nothing tells of the love of God for all of us more than his rainbow. And wouldn’t you know, after a weekend full of activities that began with the Celebration of Life on Friday and ended with my two daughters and I having dinner at Lin’s Asian on Sunday night for Kyla’s birthday tomorrow, there would be a rainbow over the Austin skyline as we drove home. Love is in the rainbows, and the circle of life knows no boundaries. (This is me, Kyla, my daughter, Pam, to my right, and Lauri to her right, who was at the girls’ weekend.)