Friday, July 16, 2010

Grieving for Lilian

This is the 6th or 7th time I've written something about Lilian, but it will be the first time I tell you about the person she has become. As I wrote in the beginning, she's a petite, white woman, well groomed, well dressed, somewhere near 50. When I first knew her, she was quiet, rather dull, in fact, and I didn't think so much of her. She'd stare into the distance or make some remark in her flat affect way, and then drift back into her mousy silence.

In the fall, her energy level picked up dramatically, and suddenly a lively, teasing, sweet natured personalty emerged. I assumed that the change in Lilian was a change in drug usage, and I was right. The Lilian who was fun to be around was the real Lilian, no longer repressed by whatever she was putting in her veins or taking in a pill. She was rapidly becoming sicker, though, leaning a little sideways from a stroke, her t-cell count plummeting almost to the point of full blown AIDS, going into the hospital with serious breathing problems. None of that seemed to bother her, however. Lilian had a level of denial that made her seem indomitable.

She disappeared for a while, and came back sicker than ever. She was still the same sweet natured Lilian, eagerly finding the good news or the humor in anything and laughing delightedly at her own self mocking jokes. The denial, however, was gone. She even spoke about having to start getting honest with herself about how sick she was. She was thankful for the support she received. She was thoughtful. She seemed like a remarkably well integrated adult. I don't know how such growth can be possible for a woman who was helped into prostitution by her mother while she was still in her teens and who appeared to have spent all or most of the long years that followed caught up in the trauma and addiction that come with a life of "getting into cars." Still, there it was. I saw the growth. I saw the whole person, the one that had been dormant all that time, blossoming forth with all her rich appreciation of the world around her.

Lilian came back sporadically, used the snow storm to manipulate an overnight visit with her grandchildren away from her transitional house. She was still a pleasure every single time she came. Recently, she has been gone for 8 weeks. It was time spent in the hospital and a nursing home. She is leaning on her cane much more dramatically now. She's had the AIDS pneumonia and probably another stroke. Her legs are badly swollen, and her hands shake from the seven medications she's on. She has an infection in her intestines that the doctors can't cure, and they've told her that they will have to remove her colon. That means a colostomy bag.

Lilian is still alive. She's still a lovely person but every time I see her now, I think of a snowman, slowly decreasing in the sun and the rain. It's hard to imagine a return to health for Lilian and hard to imagine that she has all that many more years left. She's still trying, though. She still has her good attitude. I'm going to try too, although my attitude isn't nearly as good. I hope to find a way to take her for a second opinion on the colostomy bag thing. Still, I've already started to grieve for a good woman who may have begun to enjoy her life only at its end.

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