I sent this message out in April, but I think yours came back. This piece explains why I haven't written too much lately. Because Stan so liked your story, and since he was involved in the proofreading of what I've done so far, my heart hasn't been in it lately. I will get back to it after a while. I'll send the story so far in another e-mail, to follow.
I think I called this piece "Last Words."
Parts of this message are from my husband, Stan. He wishes you well. He thanks you for your prayers and good thoughts over the past nine years, and he wants you to know he is happy, and at peace. Stan died in March, a few days after his 39th birthday. I don't know if there is any special meaning to the day of his death, but he died on my 38th birthday. The people closest to me all seem to die on my birthday or a few days after it.
This was going to be the first, and only, public message from me. Stan and I worked on this together in January. We talked about what he wanted me to say. Some of these words are his. Several days after he died, I was writing to a close personal -- real life -- friend. I put ten words together at the top of my message. Then I cried for a long time. It was cathartic. So I shared those words with a few electronic friends; people I'd been close to since the bulletin boards shut down, and everybody migrated to the World Wide Web. Once I did that, I decided to share my thoughts with the rest of you. I wrote:
I wasn't ready
I know he was
Once I laid that grief on you, I felt better. You've been most gracious in your comments, both public and private, but now I'm embarrassed to have taken up so much bandwidth on an off-topic message.
This is a message of great joy, and a message of extreme sadness. I'm sad for a life cut far too short, and I'm eternally grateful to have had my best friend in my life for almost 36 years. I've waited a while before posting this, because I wasn't up to it when it happened. I haven't been around here as much as I was before; I have checked in and tried to take care of business, but probably not very well. In January, Stan cleaned out his computer, and he said some good byes to those close to him. I don't know if he got to everyone that he wanted to. He gave me his password, and I helped him with his correspondence, with increasing frequency, beginning in February.
He asked me to check his e-mail for a while, so I've done that too. I've had occasion to communicate with some of you since he died. Towards the end, and for a while after, until I posted my ten words, I answered your questions about how he was by saying he was doing fine, or that he was resting. That is true. His long and often painful struggle is over. For that blessing, he and I are happy. He wants you to be happy about it too.
I started to lie about his condition late in January, or early in February. January 21 was when the doctor said it was hopeless.
I can't say enough wonderful things about Hospice. I really can't talk about Hospice at all, except to say they are the most wonderful, caring, helpful human beings I've ever met. They explained to Stan, and to me, and to my dad and his girlfriend, what was happening, and why it was happening. People go through fairly predictable stages as they die. They made Stan's last job on this world much easier. He was fortunate, in that he didn't need many drugs for the pain. He was clear-headed most of the time.
Stan had liver cancer. In 1995, he was one of the lucky people who had a liver transplant. Last year, we learned he survived longer than 90% of all liver cancer patients who had transplants in 1995. Things went well some of the time, but he spent a lot of time in the hospital after the transplant.
He made a list of things he wanted to do, and places he wanted see. As we accomplished the things on his list, he added to it. We checked off every thing on the list, except for his desire to visit Eastern Russia, from where both of our families hailed, two generations ago. I probably will not make that trip without him.
The next-to-last thing on Stan's list was his desire to see Petco Park, the new stadium in San Diego. I tried to get us in for a tour, but couldn't do it. A few days before he died, I rented an ambulance and a crew for the evening, and we went to the first baseball game played there. It was a college game, between the University of Houston and San Diego State University. About thirty-three thousand people were there, including Stan, an attendant, and I. It shattered by 50% the previous record for a college baseball game. We got there early, and I wheeled him all around the stadium. We tasted a lot of the food, and he walked short distances and sat in several seats. We only saw about three innings before he got tired, and I phoned the ambulance crew to come get us. He must have thanked me half a dozen times in the next three days.
The first part of 2003 was especially difficult for Stan. He spent much of the time in the hospital, and in rehab, at a skilled nursing facility. The drugs, which prevent the body from rejecting a transplant, also can wreak havoc on the body's immune system. Opportunistic infections and skin cancers were problems. Stan got better the last third of 2003, but he began to deteriorate again right after New Years. At first, his doctors thought he could be helped by another transplant. Stan adamantly refused. He lived a long time with a borrowed liver, and it was clear to him he wouldn't survive a long time with another one, as he had other health problems at the end. He didn't want to take away someone else's chance, by removing a liver from the too small inventory of cadaver organs.
We had some marvelous talks in the last month. We said all the things we needed to say to each other. He might have suffered some, just before he died, but he took no drugs in that last hour. We were talking. I was holding his hand. He squeezed my hand, said "I love you," and his hand went slack. His chest stopped moving. His eyes went dull. He was gone.
There was no sign of pain on his face. The doctor said his heart stopped.
Some of you knew the story of my nude photos. This is not the time to rehash the story, but I kept my promise to him, and put the whole set into his hands, just before I closed his coffin. When he was sick last year, he asked me to print the set for him, so I had them in the house. I never did show them to him. He didn't ask to see them; he only asked me to remember my promise to cremate him with them.
One thing was very important to Stan that I say here; he asks you all to sign organ donor cards, and to tell your families that any parts left over after you die should be harvested and donated, so others who need them can have them. Thousand of lives are saved annually by organ transplants, but there are far more people in need of organs than there are donors. More than 25 different organs and tissues can be transplanted today. Your decision to become an organ donor is truly giving the gift of life!
Stan lived into the second half of 1995, and beyond, only through the incredible generosity of a motorcyclist who didn't believe in helmets, and of his family, who -- in their grief -- honored his willingness to donate his organs. I can't begin to adequately explain the conflict I had, sitting with my husband in a hospital room, with him only days from death, knowing a donor organ had been located, but that the potential donor was still alive. That donor had his own loved ones, sitting in his hospital room, praying for a miracle, so their loved one might live. I could not bring myself to hope for the donor's rapid death.
Stan and I grew up together. We could see each other's houses from our living room windows. We were best friends from the age of two or three. We were in the same class throughout elementary school. In middle school, we were in the same cluster, and had four classes together. We always had classes in common in high school, and took one or more together every semester in university. We were never a romantic item growing up, but we were always nearby for each other, and there was some sexual activity as teenagers and young adults.
I moved in with him in 1991. We were both afraid to put our friendship at risk, but it was the right thing for us. We got "married" in 1994, with a preacher and witnesses and everything, but no license. We did it up legal like in 1995, in the same place, with the same preacher, and the same witnesses, but the second time we had the marriage license.
Stan was an engineer, an inventor with several patents, a published author, a futurist, and a genuinely nice human being. Stan was an only child, as were his parents, and all of his grandparents. He was not aware of any surviving blood kin.
When a healthy person dies, it is a shock to the survivors, and the adjustment takes longer. When a very sick person dies, some of the mourning takes place in advance, and while the finality of death is a shock, it is not a surprise, and it is often a blessing. That is where I found myself in March.
I think I'm pretty much OK now. I'm not going to do anything quickly. I'll continue to live in the same place, and do the same things. I'll continue to run what is left of the family business, keep my consulting clients, continue to serve on the same boards, and I may do a little more volunteer work. Maybe I'll look for a basketball team that needs a short forward, and I may start to play over-the-line again. (Over the line is a beach softball game, played with three-person teams.)
In six months or a year, I'll reassess my life, and decide what I'll do. I am very lucky; I have the flexibility to sit back and see what I'll do later, rather than having to go right back into the grind the following Monday. All I know for certain about my future is the mistakes I made in high school, and before, during, and after my first marriage, will not be repeated. I have some very detailed instructions on that subject from Stan. They will probably not be difficult to follow, since they are primarily about living a careful, safe and healthy life. I was on the wrong road when he and I hooked up in 1991.
I most assuredly owe more to Stan for the mental shape I'm in than he could have ever owed me. Without his wise counsel, and his love, I'd probably have been dead before he was diagnosed with cancer the first time.
I don't want to see another whole string of public tribute messages, or sympathy messages, posted here. This is not the right place for them, and I've gotten them from many of you, and from real life friends and colleagues of ours already. If you want to send me a personal message -- which is welcome, but absolutely not necessary -- please send it to my e-mail address. If you don't have my address, I'm still checking Stan's address, so you can send me messages at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of the people reading this electronic document have been special in our lives. You know who you are. I charge you all with the duty to be happy, not sad, that Stan's long struggle is over.
I will work diligently to NOT remember that Stan died, but to remember that Stan lived. I take great comfort in that thought.
Thank you for reading this, and for the prayers, and kind words, and good thoughts, and naked photos of nubile young things, which you sent to Stan during his lifetime. Please know that Stan was ready to go, and that he is better off now than he was at the end of his life. I know that Stan would join me in hoping that God will bless you, and keep you, all the days of your life.
Roxanne and Stan