Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I'm told that the translation of the word "Tutu" from Hawaiian to English is grandmother. She was a young grandmother, in her mid fifties, was divorced from her only husband and had two daughters. One of the daughters was in her twenties and the other, who had two of her own daughters, looked to be in her mid thirties.

She wasn't always called Tutu; that was a name that she had picked up when she was in Hawaii with her family on her last vacation which had been two years ago when they were all living in another world. It was her last vacation because upon their arrival home she visited her doctor only to be diagnosed with cancer and began an extremely rigorous defense. She was too young for this, she still had too much of her life ahead of her and she wasn't going to let this thing beat her, this cancer, this cancer that eventually took her from this world.

For the past two years she fought like a bandit undergoing every kind of treatment available, trying desperately to live a normal, healthy looking and feeling life. When she started the Chemo it wasn't too bad. In the beginning she had everyone fooled because the treatments seemed to be working and her appearance showed almost no change; she had no intention of telling anyone until she could tell them she was a survivor.

In her eyes, she was a survivor for two years; she was still alive always hoping and praying that this disease that had a hold of her would somehow, someday, release her from it's grip; but not in the way it did. Questions had been raised but it wasn't until the seventh month after she had been diagnosed that her family finally confronted her and asked her what was going on because it was becoming apparent that something terrible was happening in her life. At that point she felt she no longer had the choice to hide her illness or to try to shelter her family; she told them every detail.

For the next seventeen months life was literally all down hill for her. She would be fine one day and terrible the next and this cycle just seemed to continue over and over, week after week, month after month, slowly debilitating her. Six months ago she was told that there was nothing more that could be tried, nothing else that even had a glimmer of helping. These were the hardest and easiest six months of the past two years for her.

She knew her life would soon be over, that was hard, she knew she would never get to see her grandchildren grow up, that was harder; the easy part was that she no longer had to take the medications that made her constantly sick, queasy, the easy part was that at any given time she was ready to let go, ready to say her final goodbye to those she loved. She was tired. Her children found nothing easy in this at all. They were happy that her new medications were allowing her to feel no pain but they were still so sad that she was slipping away right in front of them and there wasn't a thing that they could do to keep her from going.

At her funeral, she barely even resembled the woman in the photo that we placed at the head of her casket. The picture was of "Tutu", the Tutu from two years prior, the Tutu that hadn't been ravaged yet. Her family was so proud of her. They loved her deeply. They told me that since she was finally free they wanted to release balloons at her grave side to represent this new found freedom. That day five helium balloons were released in her honor.

I have to tell you that what sounds like a trite little ritual of letting go of a balloon was actually beautiful. The funeral was late in the afternoon, the sun wasn't setting yet but was low, there was a cool breeze and we were burying her on her families farm. After the minister concluded the service at the grave, both of the daughters, both granddaughters and their daddy each stepped out from under the tent and simultaneously "let go". The balloons slowly rose, together, free, effortless, huddled in what looked like a group and continued to float up and up until they were eventually out of sight, all eyes watching the entire time.

"Letting go" isn't that simple, I know that. I realize that this is just symbolic, and some may feel it was all a show while others might still think it entirely foolish but to the seven year old, the youngest of the five who asked her mother if Tutu was flying free like the balloon on her way to heaven...it was well worth the symbolic, foolish, show.


MedStudentWife said...

It was worth it.

Stealth said...

I am always so fascinated by your job. Thanks for sharing it.

paisley said...

i am so with stealth on this.. you fascinate the hell out of me... good to have you back!!!!

deathsweep said...

Thank you all! Believe it or not with all I've seen, this job still fascinates me too. There's always a different and new side of life to be seen!

AntiBarbie said...

The balloon portion of the story reminded me of a little child who's mother had past and they would write letters and cards for her and tie them to a balloon so she would get them up in heaven.