Monday, February 6, 2012

For Heidi

I was nervous about visiting Heidi. I remembered her as an always upbeat, caring person who lit up the locker room at 5:45am and made me glad I had gotten out of bed. I knew she took great trips, and lived actively. I knew how happy she was about her son's marriage. Beyond that, I figured I didn't know her very well. I never saw her outside of Burgess, and I consider her a teammate and acquaintance, more than a dear friend. That said, thanks to the environment Tim has created, we teammates at Burgess definitely feel like a part of something bigger - a family, a support system, something. But as Sunday drew near, I considered the fact that I felt a chest cold arriving, and that I would have to depart from my children (who I see too little during the week) for hours to go visit her in San Leandro. I wondered what I would say to her and around her. I wondered if she'd even care to see me. And I almost didn't go.

I will forever be glad that I went. And I encourage every one of you to visit her as well.

Nancy, Clara, Lanshin and I entered the low-slung Kaiser care center and were immediately met by Heidi and Janet, on their way outside. Heidi's eyes were wide open, and the emotion she felt upon seeing us was clear. A tear ran down her face and she cried out for a moment. I don't think I've ever experienced a more meaningful greeting in my life. I can't explain it, but a huge simultaneous rush of joy and sharp sting of pain hit me. There are so many things I do every day that mean so little to anyone around me. This visit, it was clear, was going to mean a lot to all of us. Thanks to Nancy who had thought ahead and asked Tim for pieces of the old lane lines, we had a unique necklace for Heidi. If you look in the photo above you'll see the lane line necklace. She loved it. We apologized that there were no diamonds.

Janet led us into the courtyard and we sat, in the 70 degree February sun, and took turns holding Heidi's hand. When it was my turn, I asked if we could take some pictures, and if I could write about her on the blog. Heidi squeezed my hand so hard I could barely stand it, and nodded her head yes when Janet asked pointedly if we could take the photo. She looked at me for a long time, and responded with her thumb to rub my hand, whenever I rubbed hers. That simple movement of her finger as she stared at me let me know that she was in there, she was enjoying this visit, and she could hear us tell her we were swimming for her, living for her, missing her smile. Aside from holding my newborn children, holding Heidi's hand was the most intimate human moment I've ever experienced. I am blessed that she gave that to me, and I will carry it with me forever.

Nancy came through in yet another way yesterday with an amazing slideshow she had made, of all of you. She had photos of Tim, Anna, Marianne, Kathleen, Adam, Gary, Judy, and so many others from the recent relay Saturday morning, and she had fitted these photos to Jack Johnson tunes. At the end of our visit, we sat and showed her the slideshow, as you can see below. Heidi was fully engaged throughout the five or so minutes it took, and Nancy even noticed she was following beat of the music. Heidi's mom and dad were with us at that point, and they sat in front of Heidi, watching her watch the video. Her mom said afterwards that she had stayed where she was, in front of Heidi, so that she could enjoy studying her face in such a focused state, see her concentrating and enjoying what she was viewing. Clearly it brought her joy to watch. Nancy, you gave an amazing gift to Heidi's parents and to Heidi, in creating that video.

Finally, before leaving the center, Janet took us to Heidi's room, where we hung nine 8x10 photos of the team that Nancy had printed out, on the ceiling above Heidi's bed. She is in bed most of the time of course, and now she is looking up at your smiling, wet faces, feeling just a little closer, hopefully, to the pool. While we were in the room without Heidi, Janet finally shed a few tears - breaking her unbelievably upbeat demeanor. She talked about how hard this process was, and about much she'd learned from and about Heidi through this entire process; how magically she treated her son, her students, her friends and family, and everyone she encountered. She talked about Heidi's strength throughout her life, and ability to endure pain and struggle through various situations without a complaint, and with a smile in tact. She told us how much pain Heidi was in now, and we were stunned at how infrequently she cried out. And as I listened to this devoted, amazing sister reflect on Heidi I realized that I did know her. I know Heidi because Heidi is one of those rare people who treats everyone in her life with kindness, and an unmeasurable sense of optimism and respect. She treated me that way, and I was just a teammate passing in the locker room, in the dark cold pre-dawn. She touched my life long before my visit yesterday, and what she has shown all of us about how to live will be in our lives forever.

Equally important was, I think, the impression Janet made on me. I feel less able to express quite yet how much I respect and admire her and her entire family for the way they are caring for Heidi. Someone is with Heidi 24 x 7, and her sisters and parents have had "pajama parties" with Heidi, organized visits, done a majority of the nursing (feeding, changing, monitoring, advocating), and most importantly, have continued to smile and talk with Heidi about life. Heidi may not be taking trips right now (though Janet said she thought she might break her out and go for a car ride soon), but she is still living as actively as she can, thanks to her family. They are living through this; through whatever is to come. Actively and together. Exactly, I believe, as Heidi would want. As I would want.

To all of you, Heidi and Janet and the entire are amazing. Thank you for letting us in to your lives.


Nancy said...

wow........even before I got half way through the blog I knew I would choke up and cry..agh!! You captured the bittersweet day beautifully--thank you!! And thanks to Janet for making us feel welcome and for Heidi for touching our hearts

Janet Renner said...

Thank you so much Sarah and all of you! What an amazing blog!!  I read it to Heidi and  showed her the photos on it.  We both cried tears of joy and so much appreciation to you all!!!! Love Heidi, Janet and the rest of our family

Tasha Capen said...

Sarah - beautiful tribute, perfectly captures the essence of the beauty, pain, joy, love, all the mixed jumble of feelings I had in my visit. Perfectly said.
And Nancy, arriving with the perfect gift - as always, thoughtful, caring, attuned, carried out with strength and grace.
I'm so glad you Clara and Lanshin made the visit and brightened Heidi's day so much.

Tasha Capen said...

And I almost forgot... totally AWESOME necklace!!! :)
And Janet, since my visit several weeks ago, Heidi looks better and better!

Kim Freitas said...

Sarah, Thank you for all you did for Heidi. The photos, the necklace, and the gift of your visit. I can imagine you have so little time. It was so inspiring to see the depth of your care and affection. I loved reading the blog post of your visit. You are an amazing individual.


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Chris M Balz said...

Just echoing everything everyone else has said here, having been fortunate to count Heidi as a friend for some years now.

Danielle said...

I'm so appreciative for this blog post. I have been missing Heidi terribly and wondering when I can get to California to hold her hand as you have. She is MAGIC and reading this story of your day with her was magic as well. Thank you.

sarah said...

Thank you all SO much - both those that commented here, and those that took me aside at the pool - for expressing that you love this post. I'm so glad I could put it out there in the world for Heidi.

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