Lavinia

May 12, 2014

I was a wanderer.  I was always anxious for the nurses to start my chemotherapy so I could get up and walk the halls of the Herrick Campus at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.  Sitting in a chair while cell-destroying chemicals entered my body was not my idea of a good time.  I needed to walk with my drugs in tow on the chemo pole and connect with people.  That's what life is about for me.  Even in a place that's supposed to be sad and depressing, I found joy.

 

This is how I met Lavinia.  I was new to the process.  I had only just begun chemotherapy and I was determined to find joy.  Perhaps that is why I had to wander.  Sitting in the chair, joy wasn't coming to me so I decided to get up and find it.  I remember the day I first saw Lavinia.  The chemo ward was setup with private rooms on the outside and groups of chairs on the inside.  The chairs, of course, were for those of us who were able to tolerate chemo more easily.  The private rooms had beds and these patients often experienced the worst side effects and so were granted additional space and privacy.

 

Walking by her room that day, I remember seeing Lavinia in her bed - alone.  She was awake and our eyes met.  I'm generally not the person who approaches others to chat but, on this day, her eyes seemed to say "come on in."  So I did.  I don't even recall what I said or what we talked about.  I just know we talked.  And talked.  And talked.  As we both endured the toxic drugs that were entering our bodies, we found something good.  Maybe we simply distracted each other from the reality of our situations.  But no matter, it was joy that we found.  A new friendship was born in that moment on that day.  I wandered.  I looked.  And there it was.  

 

Over the weeks and months that followed, Lavinia and I developed a real friendship.  Interestingly enough, the relationship reminded me of the one I had with Vi Gartner, years earlier.  Lavinia and I didn't see each other outside of Herrick Campus, where we had chemotherapy.  However, while there, we managed to forge a relationship that I know we both cherished.  I believe Lavinia was 78 years old at the time of her treatment and so, it proved to be difficult for her to tolerate.  She often spoke of her home and how she just wanted to be there.  She lived with her twin sister - I think her name was Polly, but I'm not sure - and they were extremely close.  As Polly cared for Lavinia, I would watch and think of my own brother and sister.  Would I care for Tami at age 78?  Would I care for Todd in this way?  Would they care for me?  It was so interesting to watch.  There it was again.  Joy.  I was paying attention and it showed up!

 

Lavinia and I went through nearly six months of chemotherapy together.  During that time, we had many conversations and just as many moments where we simply sat together quietly.  She was often tired and it was difficult for her to talk all the time.  I remember a particular moment toward the end when I saw her in the waiting room.  She was sitting in a wheel chair and her sister, Polly, was in a chair next to her.  This moment - though I didn't know it at the time - would become a defining moment in my life.  It would cement Lavinia into my consciousness and soul forever.  I didn't know it.  But I was paying attention, you see!

 

I saw her come in and, after a few moments, I walked over to say hello.  She was very weak; in fact, I had never seen her this weak.  So she didn't have to look up at me, I remember kneeling down on the floor so she could look down at me.  In fact, she sat in the wheelchair almost hunched over, as if even sitting was a chore.  We exchanged hello's and, sensing her weakness, I think I just decided to talk.  I began to tell her a story about something my sister and I had recently discussed.  Frankly speaking, I don't remember the story I began to tell; but I do remember how I told it.  Referring to my sister and me, I said something like "… her and I went to this store …".  As I rambled on with my story, her weak and frail arm lifted up and started gently tapping me on the shoulder.  When I think of this moment, I can still almost feel that gentle, loving tap on my shoulder.  It continued.  She just kept tapping until I stopped talking.  When I eventually stopped talking, she quietly echoed the words "It's she and I … Kipp, it's she and I …".  Joy.  Right there, in that moment, with barely enough energy to maintain an upright posture in a wheelchair, Lavinia corrected my grammar.

 

To this day, whenever I am faced with a situation where I need to use these pronouns, Lavinia Holmquist is alive and well.  She lives in me and through me. I carry her with me forever and ever.  She touched my life and changed me in a moment.  And she never knew it!

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