I’m in Minneapolis, a day early (and possibly a dollar short). I’m here for a conference that starts on Wednesday, so I don’t really need to be here until tomorrow. However, a couple weeks ago, before being invited to attend the Grace Hopper Conference, I learned that a former coworker and someone I consider a friend and mentor, has stage-IV pancreatic cancer. I used to teach with Melinda at The Yellow Nunnery. Then I moved back to her home state of California, and she and her husband retired to Honduras (I always mistakenly think she is in Nicaragua). Melinda is one of those people that has been on my list to visit along with friends in Morocco, Spain, and Australia. I made it to two of the four places this year.
So when I learned that Melinda was undergoing treatment in a hospital in Wisconsin, and that I was going to Minnesota, I scheduled my trip a day early so that I could drive the five hours across the state border. But I didn’t make concrete plans of anything because, by then, she was leaving the hospital for the final time and settling in for hospice care. And I know that a lot can change in two weeks, especially since she’d only been eating ice chips for the previous three weeks. Considering the immense pain she was in, I was secretly hoping that her god would be swift and merciful.
Before I got on the plane this morning, I left her a message that I was on my way to the midwest. As I debarked, I read a message from her husband that said she’d slipped into a coma and things were progressing quickly. I left him voicemail. Awkward voicemail. This is one of those times that I never know the right things to say. I told him that I was going to stay put in Minnesota. I didn’t want to intrude on their grieving process. This is time for family.
Besides, I have my own grieving process for the world losing another intelligent, strong-willed, powerful woman. It includes sitting in a strange place, drinking a beer, and typing on my laptop. Melinda is adventurous and curious. So in her honor, I’m exploring and I’m enjoying life. I’m eating and savoring the flavors of food and drink since she couldn’t consume anything but water for the last few weeks of her life. I may have just squandered calories on a plate of fried, gouda mac & cheese balls with spicy catsup along with a Summit Extra Pale Ale at Brit’s Pub & Eating Establishment in downtown Minnesota while watching people play lawn bowling on the rooftop bar. But the calories were worth sinking my teeth through the hot (Minnesota-hot, not Thai-hot) tomato sauce into a crispy coating around a ball of gooey goodness.
As I type this, the sun is setting behind one building while it reflects off the windows of another. I find myself in the juxtaposition of being blinded in the shade while contemplating life and death and what we all mean.