Sara died this weekend. Her best friend Pam called me today at work to tell me. Sara was one of my clients, but we had become friends. We met almost two years ago when she came into my branch to get some help after her partner of 20 years, Beverly, had died.
Sara was the sort of stereotypical New Englander that pops into your mind when you conjure up an image of one; a gruff, almost unreadable exterior, masking an encyclopedic knowledge of the Red Sox and what the weather over the coming week is supposed to be, a smile that spread through her eyes long before it reached her lips and a lightly acerbic honesty that endeared her to you. When Sara came to me for help, I was my normal empathetic self, prepared to cry when she discussed her love story and armed with how I would guide her through removing Beverly's name from their accounts.
She didn't want any of my bullshit, and she didn't need my empathy. I wasn't going to get a love story, because that was theirs to own and not mine to intrude on. That was what Sara had left. We didn't cry, and we weren't taking Beverly's name off anything. They would remain together on paper, if she couldn't have her in the flesh. Sara did share that she was upset Beverly had gone without any warning, that there was no way to prepare. But can you ever be prepared.
Sara came in a couple times a month, refusing to do anything online, preferring to work with us in person. We would laugh over something minor, talk about baseball ... I'd ask her how she was. She'd look me in the eyes and never say what I already knew. We did this a lot. Over the last year, she started using a cane due to an exacerbated knee injury. No big deal, she said. She was going to get it taken care of after she dealt with a surgery that was planned in the coming new year. I pressed, and she told me she needed to have heart valve replacement. She wasn't worried, and I hid my fear.
My mother had valve replacement surgery in 1996. It was challenging for her, and she took some time to recover, but she did. During the surgery, they installed a pacemaker, a standard part of the process then, although I don't know if that is still the case. This pacemaker worked well until 2008 when it was time to change the battery. It was this surgery, the "routine" one to replace the battery, that ultimately led to my mother's rapid decline and eventual death. Her heart had come to rely on that pacemaker to work, and the shock of the change to her system was too much.
Before Sara went into the hospital, she brought her best friend from college, Pam, to meet me. Sara had decided that she wanted to put Pam on her accounts to make sure the bills were paid while she was in the hospital. It was a very difficult decision for her, because it meant removing Beverly's name. The three of us soldiered through it though, and they had me rolling on the floor with laughter. They shared stories of their college days, female college sports before Title IX, how Sara had a hell of an arm and how Pam would still drive all the way down from Maine to share in their Red Sox season tickets. It was a good time.
A week and a half ago, Pam called me to say that the surgery hadn't gone well. Sara had had a stroke immediately afterwards, and the surgeon wasn't very hopeful. Strokes are a major concern after valve replacement; blood clots can form around the new valve - whether mechanical or pig valve - breaking off and speeding to your precious brain. My mother had a stroke several months after her surgery. Although she recovered fully from that one, she had multiple little ones in the years after that impacted her emotionally. She was always worried that a big one would come while she was driving and cause her to kill someone. Eventually, this worry and her worsening congestive heart failure led to her coming to live with us.
This morning when Pam called, my first question was how Sara was doing. Her long pause confirmed what my heart already knew was coming. Sara had died on Saturday. She had struggled. She had suffered, even though the doctor told Pam she wasn't in pain. She had pulled her feeding tube from her throat, and then she died. I remained silent throughout and had to remind myself to speak before Pam had to ask if I was still there. She told me that Sara really liked me, and Pam felt it important to tell me, to not have me have to read about it after the fact. We cried, and I thanked her, told her that I would help in any way I could. I didn't say anything trite about Sara finally being reunited with Beverly, because that would have been the sort of thing that would have pissed Sara off. And honestly, I don't think they were ever really apart.