March 15, 2008


Lynn died early Thursday morning, in her sleep, with her husband right by her side and all her family (except for the daughter who lives nearby) there in the house with her. This is what I wrote in my journal the next morning at 2:30am (Friday):

"Lynn died yesterday morning. Her son woke -- for reasons he still is not sure of -- and went to check on her and found her not breathing. He waited a while, since it could have been the apnea of Cheyne-Stokes breathing and not death. But a few minutes later she still had not taken a breath. She was still warm. He had woken at the moment life left her body, as they say sometimes a person will do when a loved one dies. Uncertainty or lack of absolute certainty that Lynn had died led him to wake Leila and her partner C , because C would know, having a medical background. C confirmed that Lynn was dead and so they woke Cy, who mercifully had slept through it, and everyone else and gave them the news...I can only imagine the sadness in that household, the tears, perhaps even the relief that it was over, that she was finally at peace...

Leila called me at 8:30am on her cell and as soon as I saw the number and heard her voice, I knew. "Oh, it happened, she ---" I didn't know what to say, feel or do. "Yes, honey, Lynn died," Leila said, "and we're all feeling just the way you do. Stunned, sad, we don't know what to do with ourselves...." We talked a while but I was largely numb and didn't even feel that sad. When we hung up I sat for a few minutes, until the reality of what had happened hit me. I called Lynnie. As soon as I heard the sound of her voice, I broke down and started sobbing. Luckily, she was still home and not with a patient, so she spent some time with me. Eventually, though, she did have to go to work and I knew it, so I hung up, feeling calmer anyway. Eventually I did call Dr O, but not because she had anything special to offer in this matter (in the end it took an email to get a hold of her, since her emergency number never did get to her). In any event, I didn't need a psychiatrist particularly. What I really needed, I thought, was to be with the L's. Fortunately, Leila called back twice, inviting me to come over, so after the visiting nurse came, very late for her at 10:30am, I drove over and stayed maybe 2 or 3 hours.

(I didn't go over there yesterday, Friday, because 1) I got up very late, around noon, and had too much to do, but mostly because 2) I wanted to leave the L's alone, not bother them, because 3) I have developed this strong feeling that Cy dislikes me intensely! There is nothing I can point to, nothing he has actually done or said that proves this or that would indicate negativity if I repeated it to others. I feel indeed that I have done or been so awful or so despicable that I deserve to be so hated! But what I have done, I do not know! I only know that I should stay away, not bother people there unless it is absolutely necessary...THe thing is, I cannot say it to them out loud, no. Because it would only bring denials, only force them to say, Oh no, we do not feel that way! Cy "loves you, cares about you, doesn't blah blah blah"...All of which I would not believe, whether it were true or false. And I do not believe they would tell me so, even if it were the truth, that I was correct about it all. So I cannot bring it up at all, and in that sense I cannot even rock the boat by not appearing tomorrow as I promised to...Oh, I'll play the game, yes, and even be sucked into it, but I'll be wary and I hope I'll have my wits enough about me to stay "an arm's length" away from Cy, at least far enough away not to disturb his equilibrium!)

Back to what I wrote in my journal early Friday morning: "About Cy, he seems stunned but resigned. It is good, I think, since death is inevitable, that Lynn died slowly. I know so. He had time to say good-bye, to come to grips with losing her and his own feelings of loss and abandonment. When he finally was able to admit, "I've lost her" as he did that last week, that was when she was freed to go...Or at least he came to that point in time such that when she did die, he was able to let her go with as much "ease" as was ever going to be possible. Not ease, no, but with acceptance and resignation that she was dying and that she had passed the point of no return.

I too, reached a final point just in time. That day she'd seemed awake, conscious if incoherent. Not clearly recognizing who people were but not clearly out of it either. In fact, I did think she knew I was there, when I spoke to her, when I was alone with her. That was when I managed to say, among other things, "Lynn, I want you to know I'm going to be all right. I will be okay, you don't need to worry about me. You really don't. I love you and I will miss you. I will never forget you. But I'm going to be okay. You...It's okay Lynn, good-bye." I thought she seemed distressed during the time "we" were talking; she seemed to want to say something, but would get out a word or two I couldn't quite understand, then fall into gibberish and trail off into slurry non-speech. I felt that she might want oxyugen, and it seemed that she said Yes, when the hospice nurse, a nun, asked her if she did. But I don't think they ever did put it on her.

Laurie-Ann, the hospice nurse, did tell me that Lynn was not in distress or discomfort, that she was simply in the process of dying and that this was what it looked like, that I shouldn't worry about her being in pain. It was true, she was not moaning or moving about as if in pain. In fact, she seemed less in pain now than she had for the last two years. She told everyone what to do if Lynn became "rattly" in her throat or very short of breath, but apparently that never happened. Everyone went to bed as usual, and she simply passed away when all were still asleep.

Now "mom" is dead (if you recall my essay for the word "mom" in my writing group, about Lynn). For years I've worried about this day, how it would happen, how I would feel or respond. I didn't think dying would take so long nor in the end that it woudl be, well, predicted almost to the hour. In fact, E, my visiting nurse, told me late that afternoon that once regular Cheyne-Stokes breathing sets in, the patient usually has only hours to live.

Cy is alive and sad but resigned. Better than I thought he would be after Lynn's death. Better I venture to say than he thought he would be after she died, though he would never admit that, feeling it might be a betrayal of her and his much avowed love for her. I think her lengthy illness -- here there is a break I will put elsewhere -- I think her lengthy illness gave him a chance to come to some sort of reconciliation with the idea of losing her, and some peace with the idea of being alone for the first time, probably, in his life (since he went from school to the war to Lynn's arms, if I have the chronolgy correct, or perhaps it was the war, school then Lynn... Yes, I think that is the order, though I do not know if more intervened).

As to the "lengthy illness" spoken of in the obituary...What illness did she die of? She did have emphysema, but I don't think she died of it. In the end, she wasn't even using oxygen to breath, wasn't wheezing or breathing hard or short of breath at all! I think she had breathing problems only when she was smoking! But the final 2 weeks, when she no longer remembered about smoking, her breathing was fine, and even when she was smoking, it wasn't all that terrrible. She used oxygen as an assist, but didn't absolutely need it the way some people do...Or maybe she did, I wasn't there often enough or long enough at a time to know. But she could go periods of time without it, so it wasn't essential for life at all times...

So she didn't die of emphysema. And she didn't die of pneumonia or temporal arteritis, two other illnesses she had had but had either recovered from, the first, or if not cured had under control, the second. She was not even taking prednisone any longer for whatever she needed it for, nor most of her other meds, probably because she was being given palliative care only. But what did she die of? I know, I know. No one dies of "old age" any longer. It is not allowed on the death certificate these days-- I hear that is official. The proximate cause was probably that her heart stopped, so they will call it a heart attack, most likely. But really, everyone dies because their heart stops. You can't die without that happening! My question is: WHY?

But of course, it is a question without an answer. She wanted to die. She got old and saw nothing left in a life that had no point, no pleasure, nothing she could do or enjoy as she formerly had...and so she died. Case closed. I suppose it was better than going on in pain and suffering, god knows. Why they can't simply say so on the certificate, that she died of old age, or even of failure to thrive, I do not know. It would be more honest...

Enough. It is nearly 3:30AM and I must go to sleep. So this is it for now. I cannot proofread or go through this and vet it for mistakes or for mis-anythings. Hopefully I have not made too many. I may be supposed to read a new poem about Lynn at the Ls home after the funeral on Sunday. Indeed I do have a poem, laborious written this past week on demand, a series of tankas -- Japanese short form of 31 syllables or fewer, sort of like the haiku but even lovelier (though not mine!) -- but I am not sure I want to read it. TO whom will I do so? Who will want to listen anyway? And why would they bother, after all that went on just before at the cemetery...I dunno. I just don't see it. I don't. I think it would be better to simply have the poem handed out or put in a pile for people to take when they leave either the Levine's house or somewhere, either then or during the week of sitting shiva.

In any event, here, for whatever good it does, is the poem. A few notes about it: Lynn and I met at folk dancing -- a group called "Always on Sunday" which she started and taught for many many years, specifically, we met when I was sneaking a cigarette and she came out to catch my second hand smoke, having quit due to emphysema but not really having ever quit mentally...I would wait for her at every hospital I was ever in, and she would always visit...She collected turtles, and indeed said she WAS a turtle herself, belonged to an online group of people that called themselves Turtles, (I considered them the Order of Turtles) because they loved turtles so much...She often had red-capped birds of some kind at her bird feeder, and her kitchen was an absolutely wonderful place for plants, which she claimed was the reason for her "green thumb" but I thought it was her sunny personality that grew the plants and people she loved so well...She loved Balkan folcdances and could still tap out the complicated rythms and it still pleased her to hear the music to the very end...I think that is about all you need to know to "get" this poem.


in memory of Lynn Levine 3/2008

my friend prepares a plate
pink with grilled salmon
setting out salt
I wonder if she remembers
we met dancing

“always on Sunday”
dancers join belts, hands
but she joins me
two clandestine smokers
what fools

in a hospital slouch
day burns on
my backache reminds me
she visits bearing
lightweight plums

turtles, turtles! on sill and pot
she is a turtle
I ponder
does a hard shell protect her
are her soft parts hidden

red-caps at the feeder
bamboo roots in a glass
under her thumb
this green kitchen sun

Balkan steps tax
she can still clap the rhythms
drum accordion
and one voice singing
her eyes laugh

in the garden
no one prunes the roses
peonies recall
the gardener
grow lush pink frills

she breathed in
then out of this world
death is friend to the dying
far off the whistle
of a departing train

Posted by pamwagg at March 15, 2008 02:22 AM | TrackBack


Dear Pam,

I'm so sorry to hear that Lynn passed away. Please forgive me for not stopping by to check on you and for not keeping in touch. Since around Christmas I have been withdrawing from people and I'm not sure why yet. I'm going to try to reverse this trend. Spring beckons and I must come out of my hibernation!

I am so out of touch with death, except for the anxious fear of it from time to time. I hate the idea of any living being suffering, but it is a basic fact of life that I, too, will have to come to terms with when my parents die (my mother turned 80 on the 16th and my father will be 82 in August). At least you had the opportunity to spend time with Lynn while her spirits and health began to fail. More than that you had many years of solid motherly friendship with her. She sounds like she lived a full, long life and a part of her will continue to live on in you.

It's funny you should mention red capped birds because a few weeks ago I noticed a dedicated group of small birds with a rich red spot on the top of their heads coming to feed on the bird seed I've been putting out all winter. I'd never seen them before. I looked them up in a bird book and I believe the ones here are redpolls. Lately they have taken the place of the chickadees in having a certain courage about them. Now every time I look at them I will be reminded of Lynn and the love you two shared. Wherever she is, may she be free and peaceful.

I will finish reading your blogs tomorrow and post some more. I still think you are a wonderful person: honest, strong, talented and smart. You will get through this loss.

With respect and fondness,


Posted by: Kate K. at March 31, 2008 11:29 PM

Dear Pam,

I decided to check your blog tonight on an impulse.

My sympathy goes out to you in your time of sorrow.

Your poem is a beautiful tribute.

You have loved, and lost, and tis better to do so than to never have loved at all.

Remember your friends are just an e-mail away.

May you find comfort now.


Posted by: Christina Bruni at March 16, 2008 01:04 AM

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