Last night I found a little spiral notebook. I have about a zillion of these floating around, because I carry a notebook in my purse so I can write things down as they occur to me. Often I forget to pack the notebook, so while I’m out I buy another little notebook, and while I’m at it a new pen, because writing with a new pen is a physical thrill to me. Non-writers might not get this, but I’m past worrying about what people think.
So I found this notebook, and paged through it to see if there was anything worth keeping. There was. This notebook was with me about two years ago.
In November of 2006, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Fran Gordon died. She’d had cancer for years and had been doing pretty well for a while. The summer before at Strawberry Festival she asked me to sing at the Heritage Museum up in town. She and her husband Dick were deeply involved in the Heritage Museum. The stage was a sheet of plywood set on the ground in front of the museum, with a PA set. I ended up singing a lot of hymns a cappella, and Fran came down and stood on the plywood with me, laying on her alto harmonies. My friend Tara listened, but most of the crowd passed by, some giving us a nervous glance as they went into the museum. We had fun singing those beloved old tunes, leaning into the harmonies, singing and laughing. It was a beautiful day.
A couple of months later she called to say that her cancer was back, and it was everywhere, including her liver. I don’t know if she knew the cancer was growing on that fine summer day. It would have been just like her to know, and to smile and sing anyway. In retrospect, I think she knew that all her treatments were holding actions, buying her time, but her attitude and intention was always, “I’m sticking around.”
That’s what she told me when I went to visit her.
“I want to see David go on his mission, and I’d like to see him get married,” she said. Fran was a Mormon born and raised, and David was her son, who was in high school. I told her that day that if she needed anything, anything at all, like a ride in to chemotherapy, to call me, and I’d be happy to take her.
Because she’s a Mormon, I figured her LDS family would take care of such things, but she did call me soon after and say she needed a ride in to the hospital for chemo the following Tuesday, and could I take her? Of course I could. Now I wonder if she called me because she knew I needed to do that for her.
I showed up that morning and helped her into the car, and loaded up her wheelchair. She was terribly weak, and terribly pale, and said she felt so tired. We talked and laughed on the way into town. We must have talked about a lot of things, but what I remember most vividly was her telling me passionately how she hated the F-word and all its variants and euphemisms: fricking, effing, freaking – all loathsome in Fran’s sight, because the way the word was used and what it meant was so disrespectful and demeaning to women in particular and to all humans in general. I was impressed enough that I avoided using the word or anything like it for months afterwards, out of respect for Fran.
When we got to the hospital we put her into her chair and I pushed her to her appointment. We sat in a waiting room with large aquariums that had fluorescent fish wafting around inside, and I took a picture of her with hair, because she knew she was losing it again. It was already starting to fall out. She planned to have it shaved off, but before that she was going to allow David to decide how to style it before it went.
She told her caregivers how tired she felt, and it was decided that she needed a blood transfusion. She told me that I could go back to the island, and asked me to go pick up Dick at work and bring him up to the hospital, which I did.
The transfusion helped, but not as much as one she’d had previously. We all knew the cancer was winning.
She had her hair done to David’s specifications. It was a multi-colored Mohawk. Libbie Anthony took a picture of Fran with her new ‘do before it was cut off.
Her sisters arrived from other states to take care of her. I went to see her on a Thursday, just a couple of weeks after I’d taken her to the hospital. She was in a hospital bed in the living room, placed where she could look out the windows and see Maury Island and the Cascades in the distance, and all the way to heaven, probably, from her perspective. She was white as her sheets, either asleep or groggily awake. I visited with her family for a while, said good-bye, and left. I don’t know if she knew I’d been there.
Two days later she passed. Her funeral was the following Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The Mormon Church was packed. Fran had made such an impact on so many people’s lives. She had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her. She’d been the president of the PTA for years, she did lights for many local theater productions, and she sang and acted in many of those productions. She was deeply involved in the community, and she was deeply loved.
For months after she died, when I thought of her I felt like falling to the ground and sobbing. It’s such a tough world, and it hurts to lose someone who makes it feel worthwhile to be here. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for her family.
Apparently I went somewhere a few days after Fran died, and I wrote in this notebook – remember the notebook? – while I was on the ferry, and that’s what I found last night:
Nov. 21, 2006
The last time I rode the ferry
Fran was with me
And now Fran belongs to the ages
(“I’m right here with you,” she says in my mind
“I want people to know
I had a good life
And no regrets
You don’t know
I can see it now
It will all be well
And I’ll be seeing you soon.”
My Lord will comfort me through these good-byes
It is a parting for a while
But not forever
You’ve gone ahead
I lag behind
Still you live on
A gift and a song
In my heart and mind
We’ll miss you so
We already do
The question we ask
Is how in this world shall we do without you?
And you say, “Cheer up”
And we see you smile
“You haven’t lost me at all.
Can’t you hear me call?
See you in a while.”
Fran Gordon. What a gift she was. How we miss her.