My dear friend Margaret Bamberger is sleeping comfortably. She is not expected to wake up. Her fight with cancer is nearly over.
I had spoken with her by telephone on Sunday. Her responses were slow and her speech slurred, but she was still there, just barely. Yesterday, I called the ranch to ask about her. To my surprise, I received an email reply today telling me that she was still smiling at familiar voices, and that if I wanted to come out and be with her, I was welcome. I got to the ranch as quickly as possible.
In Margaret's bedroom, I found her daughter, Margie, looking after her. Margaret, bald from a month of full brain irradiation, was asleep in a hospital bed that had been brought in for her. She was no longer responding to familiar voices. She slept. If she was aware of voices anymore, I believe it was only when they bled through the thin spots in her dreams. I hope they were good dreams, and that we made them a little bit better.
I spent about four hours there, talking with Margie, Margaret's husband David, and a few visitors, sorting out some computer problems that were arising from Margaret's absence, enduring awkward silences, blowing my nose much too often, and crying as little as I could. I was grateful for every distraction that came along. Without them, all I could do was watch Margaret die a little more with each breath, and struggle to think what I would say to her whenever I finally managed to leave. In all those hours, it seemed that I ought to be able to find some right set of words that would capture a small, choice fraction of what she'd meant to me. Something I could leave behind in her dream, echoing warmly, slow to fade.
I never found those perfect words. In the end, I stroked her head with one hand, stammered-out a few essential truths, and made my exit into the recently fallen night as quickly as I could.
Sometime later, as I eased my truck past the end of the ranch house driveway, a large bat dove through my headlights, and a nightjar flushed from the side of the road. Those are things Margaret would have liked. Of course, Margaret loved almost everything about the ranch, and much too soon for all of us who knew her, she will be laid to rest there. The grave has been dug. A green burial is prepared. The ceremony will be restricted to immediate family and the ranch family. She has too many friends to do it otherwise.
I have seen my friend Margaret, who added so much to my life, for the last time. When I'm not numb, it hurts a lot.