Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Margaret

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.


  1. Alison in Austria7:57 AM CST

    My sincerest sympathies. A cousin of mine once said, you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends, and they are then all the dearer for that. I wish you joy in every sunrise, knowing your friend Margaret is seeing it through your eyes and your heart.
    How appropriate that my word for verification is "oveys" - similar to Jiddish "oi vey" for "oh weh" in German - or "oh woe" in English.

  2. Butzeballchen9:19 AM CST

    I am so sorry for what you and Maragaret's family and friends are going through. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  3. One of the last senses to leave us is hearing. At the end, we still hear,yet may not be able to respond. And it is the sounds of those we care for and who care for us that give comfort. I am sorry for your loss and pain.

  4. Susan Gatlin4:47 PM CST


    So glad that you went to squeeze her hand on Wednesday night and understand that she will be in heaven soon. Beautiful photo of our friend.
    Susan and Jerry

  5. Chris, I'm so sorry for your loss of such a good friend.

  6. Anonymous1:21 PM CDT

    We do not know one another, but each year I closely follow your owls. I stopped by wanting to check up on the progress when I saw your post. I am so very sorry you are experiencing such sadness. I realize no words can take that away....but know that friends who are loved, are never gone.