photo by Tom Rankin, Director of the Center for Documentary Studies

The Last Days of Kitty Shenay

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A Quick Decline

As February winds down, Kitty weakens gradually. The cancer starts to shut her body down. She sleeps more and manages to eat less and less. Her husband, Maurice, sees what's coming.

"I love Kitty so much," he says, "and I still have not really accepted the fact that very shortly I may be alone. And I don't know if I could cope with it."

Maurice's lung cancer is now considered terminal. He's getting hospice care, too.

The second week in March, Kitty's disease overwhelms her. Her daughter, Teresa, comes to stay with her and Maurice, to take care of them, with help from hospice.

On a Tuesday morning, Kitty lies in bed, her eyes closed, her mouth open, an oxygen tube beneath her nose to ease her breathing. She's too weak to talk, even to swallow. She's now receiving liquid morphine, mostly to help her breathe more easily. At times, when someone speaks to her, she seems to try mightily to rise to the surface, forcing her eyes half open. Maurice is on the bed beside her. He sleeps, mostly, or snuggles Kitty watchfully.

Talking with Teresa in the kitchen, Roland tries to prepare her for what may be the last day of her mother's life.

"She's comfortable and she can sleep," he says. "You know, she's just really withdrawn, personality dissolves, all of her presence as a person tends to disintegrate, so that the basic core human functions of breathing and heartbeat are really the main thing. Now her feet are cooling."

"Right," Teresa says, her voice shaky with emotion. "I've noticed that. And her hands."

Teresa takes a breath, then asks, "Do people usually fight to the very end?"

"No, oftentimes folks just sort of slip away," Roland says. "She may open her eyes and look around. It might be sort of a pronounced awakening for a few moments before she closes her eyes and slips away. That would not be uncommon."

Teresa nods and dabs away a tear.

After a couple of hours, Roland gets ready to leave. He sits on the edge of Kitty's bed, holds her hand and moves close. He speaks to her softly in well-spaced phrases, not expecting or receiving any answers. "I'll see you tomorrow. God bless you, girl. You're beautiful. You've done beautifully. Get some rest, now. When it's time, just cross over."

Next - A Blessed Woman

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