Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yes, You Heard It Here; It's All About Me

Two of my very close girlfriends are dying. One fast, one slow. Yes, I know, we're all dying slowly, but MS isn't the usual slow kind of death the rest of us are experiencing, it's a slow agonizing loss of everything but the clear thinking functioning brain that notices all the rest of the profound loss that's taking place quite rapidly. Her diagnosis was the first blow. I was able to help her in small ways in the beginning, since I had gone through the disability hoops and knew the ropes. Trust me, it gave me no pleasure to be this particular kind of help to her. Yes, I'm glad there was something I could do for her, but her diagnosis was an agonizing death sentence with a long time locked up and waiting. It wasn't long after this diagnosis, her loss of the ability to work anymore, that her only child, her son, was stabbed to death in a downtown park. He was going to be her rock, her caregiver. He and his lovely wife were going to make her final long demise less painful. His death was not the first nail in her coffin, it was close to a stake in her heart. I don't know how she survived that loss, but she has always been one very tough cookie.

She was Salt Lake's own version of "The Devil Wears Prada." She was the fashion coordinator at Nordstrom when we were Salt Lake's version of the Fashion Police. It was her great taste and exacting standards that scared us all half to death and kept us always on our toes. I was her assistant. It was her direction and fabulous taste the determined my choices. She did the decision making on all the really big fashion shows. She hired temporary help to pull the clothes and accessories for those gigantic shows and extra help with the fittings. And then there were the terrifying rehearsals at 5 AM. And because of her, my modeling career took off in my late forties and into my mid fifties. Who would have ever imagined that there would be a market for old models? But it was a time of enormous change in the fashion industry. We hired plus-sized models, we hired petite models. It had never been done before. We were trail blazers, pioneers in the fashion industry. And she was our leader. This probably bores you silly if you aren't a fashionista, but it was our lives. Even if what you do is essentially silly, if you do it really well, it can be quite spectacular.

I called her today. It's been a couple of years since her diagnosis of MS, maybe more. And when she got the diagnosis, she'd been ill for a long time. So how long does it take for MS to kill you? When we talked today, she said she was no longer able to walk without a walker. She takes handfuls of drugs to keep her from having spasms and cramping and uncontrolled twitching. Not fun drugs. Not like the good old days, when we partied at the New Yorker. Not like the time she visited Tom and me in Santa Barbara. We were the only two women working at Nordstrom who didn't hide our cigarette smoking. We wore red lipstick and ran in high heels as effortlessly as breathing. Now breathing isn't effortless for her and it has nothing at all to do with smoking.

Z on the other hand never was a cigarette smoker. She didn't care about fashion. She lived for her children and lived the clean and very wholesome life of a woman with a real spiritual belief. I can hear you thinking "What did she ever see in you?" I realize I have made light of her need to believe in homeopathy and Chinese Herbs and acupuncture and a very pure vegetarianism to treat her symptoms for years. But I was desperate for her to fight fiercely to live. So now she's finally given in and like a very good patient is going for her radiation treatments and chemo therapy. But her odds are not good. If I had her cancer, I'd be putting notes on the very good jewelry and nice pieces of furniture so there'd be no bickering about who gets what when I'm gone.

The bottom line for me is that I never was a girl to surround myself with lots of close friends. I could hardly stand anybody. But I grew to love these two women who seem to have nothing in common. Without them I'll be lost. I cannot even imagine a life without them. We had all taken it for granted that I'd die first. Be careful what you take for granted. You may not get what you expected. But what you do get will test you. It will hurt so much you'll think it just might kill you. But it won't. That's the problem. You might end up the last one standing.

22 comments:

Sherry said...

yeah, it happens that way. i have always been a big believer in the ironies of life.

why i am still here is a mystery to me. i shouldn't be, a few times and more,over.

many times i have wondered about that and other things but now i cling to , "what is- is"

and try to get around or over or stubborn my way thru.

i try, but sometimes i do waste precious time wondering-why?

be well.

anita said...

yes, utah, it is about you. if not, then why else would you blog? yours is not a "policy" blog it's a Utah Savage blog.

what i learned from both blogging and facebooking is if you can't stand the heat, get out of the fire. i can't stand the heat so i keep to myself these days. gives me lots more time to work on what i want to work on that has nothing to do with the blogging community, but rather the trajectory of the latter part of my life.

you put your feelings and experiences out there for all the world to see and with no excuses. that's admirable in many respects. but by putting such personal stuff out there you have to acknowledge that not everyone is going to respond, viscerally, emotionally or intellectually, in the way you want them to.

so what? it's your blog. as long as you keep your comments section open, then people are going to say what they think. i'd rather have someone be honest with me and tell me i'm wallowing in my own shit than have someone be an accessory to my devolution into the pit of my own despair.

Utah Savage said...

Sherry, "Ironies of life." I'll have to remind myself that it's just the ironies of life, nothing personal about it.

Anita, I did write the title of this post with you in mind. Thanks for the kindness of your response. I think my using this blog the way I do is a bit about the fact that I don't have many close friends, so the blog is where I put all the things I might say to a real friend who isn't suffering through a painful demise. Sadly for me that leaves two friends I hardly ever see.

AirmanMom said...

utah..my heart hurts reading your words....I hurt for the challenges your friends are facing and my heart hurts for you as well.
I come back to your blog, to read of your mind and heart....
~AM

themom said...

Why can't it be "about you?" There is a catharsis in writing as you do, about the hard parts of life...and impending death. The cycle of life sucks big time. The pitfalls and the heights of life can be overwhelming. Utilize the blog as you have - there are many great insights you can gather from your army of supporters. Hang in there!

AKA Angrywhiteman said...

Yeah it sucks Utah, I lost two friends and a wife in an eighteen month period. Diabetes/heartfailure, lung cancer, and COPD, in that order.

What I had the most trouble with was the utter inability to fix any of it, and the why.

The realization of how little I am in control of, and the infinitesimally small difference my existence makes in this world was humbling.

I believe that in the grand scheme of life we are all ripples on a very big pond. I was not and still am not the thunderous tidal wave I thought myself to be.

Nan said...

The older we all get, the less funny that line ("lucky bastard") from "Grumpy Old Men" looks. Everyone dies eventually, but some deaths are definitely a lot worse than others.

Blogs are therapy. It's your space. Write what you want -- if you decide later you don't want the words out there in cyber space indefinitely you can always delete a post, and in the meantime you've had a chance to say what's on your mind.

Utah Savage said...

TheMom, it is cathartic. I wrote this late last night after spending a hot fretful day after my conversation with my fashion friend. I don't say "fashion friend" lightly or dismissively. I revere her talent, her taste, her tenacity, her ability to remain darkly funny about it all. The fact that her standards always scared us all a little bit. The fear of fierce admiration is almost impossible to forget. She laughed when I said, "Jesus, it sounds like it's all about me." Then I think she said, "That's really funny. It's how everybody feels..." Everybody who has to experience the unfair/meaninglessness of the moment of death, when the loss is over and just starting, that the reality sets in. I'll never have a friendship like hers again. There will be a hole in the fabric of my tattered life. How many holes in this moth eaten looking creature, who could be seen as the ghost of the world's oldest pregnant woman. A Pucci top, navy handkerchief-linen wide-legged weightless pants, so wrinkled they look slept in. They were. The pedicure is way past over, and terribly overdue. But who the hell will care or notice? Old lonely women are invisible. There was a word for women like me once, and I think it might be terribly offensive if you are a woman like me. It is when I walk my little dog that I am seen. Then people think "cute dog", and "great, she's got a poop bag."

Utah Savage said...

AKA, I'm so surprised to see you and hear such honest words about loss and helplessness. It's horrible isn't it? I've never thought I had any control about anything, but being on-time and knowing my lines. I certainly have always known that I had no control over anyone else.

I do think men tend to want to "fix" everything and are crushed, as you say, by the knowledge that there are some things that can't be fixed.

Nan, When my grandfather died behind the wheel of his new ford sedan, alone on the road in the mid afternoon and rolled gently into a shallow ditch, I thought, "Lucky Bastard" Then when my uncle died in his sleep, I thought, "Lucky bastard. He died the death of a saint." Had kept the secret of his wife's dementia from his two sisters. He did everything for my aunt. When he died my mother an her baby sister swept in and took away everything that every comforted and meant anything to my aunt, Gwen. Put her in a nursing home and left town. She died a year later. All the women in my family die crazy and slowly.

Gail said...

Hi Utah-

I have M S. It is really hard for me to read about other people's symptoms with this disease as it is very individual.
That's not to say you shouldn't write and report your experience with M S through your friend.

I can't follow it though as it is just to scary. SO if I am scarce I wanted you to know why.

With hope for us all
Gail
peace....

Utah Savage said...

Gail, I'm so sorry for being scary. This is damn scary for me.

I just talked to Z, my friend with cancer and she is doing very well.

Jang-chub Ozer said...

My mom had MS. It can be a rough road. Of course there are different kinds. My mom had the aggressive version. Most people have a milder type and can live fairly normal lives; with only a couple of off days a month. TV talk show host Montel Williams regularly went skiing years after his diagnosis. of course he is also a marijuana user.

I suspect that can be helpful. Mom was a chronic worrier - & by chronic I mean undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Had she found a way to relax, it might've made a difference. I've got my fingers crossed for your friend.

Ghost Dansing said...

i'm sorry Utah....

Jaliya said...

Utah, losing a beloved friend is like having a limb torn off. It's no less shattering a loss than that of a mate, a child, a parent ... My "one true friend" (akin to a "one true love", I suppose) died just over two years ago, and last night I had one of those moments where I missed her so goddamn much I could have chewed off my own arm. No one on this earth *knew* me like she did. No one will replace her. This kind of loss *is* irretrievable, and the grief tears you inside out for a while.

Bless xo

Utah Savage said...

I pick Z up tomorrow early afternoon after chemo. Then every other thing is scheduled to be done by others. She will get very tired. Not too nauseated I hope. It will last a few days and by the weekend she'll be pretty perky. It would be one of life's ironies if the woman who didn't believe in Western medicine, was indeed saved by western medicine. So far it hasn't been too bad and she's feeling better.

giggles said...

I am so sorry.... Yes, I too wish I could do something meaningful to help...to make a difference ... to make everything all better again.... How sad...how ridiculously sad....

Fran said...

What it is... you should not gloss over the situation. Sometimes, life just sucks & the best thing you can do is call it what it is .... somehow just saying it out loud is a kind of relief.

At the same time you are also cherishing the time you have together & doing what you can to help.
That's huge because these days everyone is scattered and busy, so being able to ride together with a dear friend to the endless doctor's appointments is a godsend.

You are a sweetheart to keep it together & plow forward. I'm glad you have an outlet to vent all the true feelings.

Utah Savage said...

Fran, you are so thoughtful and kind. I wish I really knew you.

up and down town said...

life is so easy (if you're lucky), until it's not.
i have had nearly no experience with this-can't-be-happening moments, but i know that they are there, lying under the surface of everything else...
i can't say or do more than thank you for this post.
i too do expect (hope) to not outlive people i love, because the fear of death is not as great in me as the fear of surviving, and the pain that goes with that loss, though i have never admitted this until now.

La Belette Rouge said...

Last night I had a horrible thought about what if I was the last one standing( I have longevity in my genetics). He-weasel and I always are hoping we die before each other( five seconds before each other). I had to quickly push the thought about outliving my loved ones. It hurt too much. I am so sorry you are in this position. My heart aches for you and I so admire your courage, openness, and enormous generosity of spirit you share with us.
Huge hugs to you.xoxo

Mauigirl said...

So very sad. I knew about Z, didn't realize you were also in the slow and painful process of losing another friend as well. I lost a friend to MS almost two years ago. She never would give in to it, wouldn't even go to a doctor. She was like that.

I'm glad to hear Z is doing the chemo/radiation route and hope she is one of those who survive - there are always some who do. Sending her - and you - lots of positive t houghts.

Steve said...

well you know i am not a "fashionista" but this did not bore me.

Your love for those around you really shines through and your writing helps me in bunches of ways