Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 - 6:12 p.m.

R.I.P. Paula Evelo

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Monday, for the first time in my entire life, I went to visit a dying friend.  When I say dying, I mean to say at the very end stage of life.  

Paula has not had a very easy go of it the last three and a half years.  At Christmas 2003 she was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer and had surgery for both, and a part of her left lung was removed.  I knew about her at the time but did not know her, because one of the cast members in the production of "The Wizard of Oz" I directed that spring was her boss.  I eventually went to work for him a few months later and got to know Paula and adopted her as my "office mom."  A tiny woman with lots of stamina, she was once a dancer who owned a dance school for ballet, tap and jazz over in Spring Branch.  But the cancer took something away from her that she was never able to get back.  And the brain tumor unfortunately did a bit of a number on her abilities at work.  However, she was always kind and always supportive of me.  When I was pregnant with Travis, I was sitting in her office when I felt him move for the first time.  I will always remember that moment and she was so excited for me.  Paula received chemo and radiation treatments for both her lung and brain and they made her sick and tired of course, but, she somehow found a way to make it into work and get her job done.  At 61, she still had a lot of living to do.  Couple her cancer treatments, however, with being the sole bread winner, and full time caretaker of her husband who was suffering from Parkinson's, and you have the makings of a life of stress, worry, anxiety and sadness.  She somehow managed to so all of this whilst enduring her own malady and did it with grace.  

Spike passed away about 16 months ago, and I think it was a blessing in some respects because he had deteriorated horribly.  However, I know it put Paula into a depression and a life of loneliness.  I had just quit my job to stay home with the kiddo only a few days earlier and she relied on my for moral and emotional support.  To that end, her only grandchild, 7 year old Kirby, has been the absolute light of her life and kept Paula going all these months.  She would sit and talk of Kirby's rodeo competitions, and watching her ride her horses, and just exuded absolute joy and pride when speaking of her.  I can only imagine that when Paula was told a few months ago that her lung cancer had returned, and returned more aggressively that the previous bout, that the one thing she probably thought most of was the very limited time that she and Kirby would have together.  I phoned her with trepidation upon hearing her news because I didn't want to face the scary reality that she would be gone in a month.  Fortunately, that bit of news had been alarmist and exaggerated.  We were able to meet up with another friend for lunch and while she was not scarfing down her food, she did eat.

She told us of her decision to not undergo the extremely aggressive treatment that was being recommended for her to lengthen her life, but would not necessarily give her quality of life.  She didn't want to be sick from the chemo and radiation during the time she had left.  I respected that decision and came to acknowledge that she was going to go out on her terms, and while I would not see her that often, I would make of the most of the times we did see each other.  Last week I learned that she had spent several days in the hospital, which would explain why I was getting no response from her to my emails and phone messages.  After that stay she was sent home to die, a hospice nurse to visit her regularly and monitor her medications.

Death is not something that has crossed my path much in life.  There are only a handful of people who I have known who have died, including two grandparents, and a couple of childhood friends.  That is all.  And Monday, I went to visit a friend who deep down I knew, I would be visiting for the last time.  I could not be more grateful for having done so.  And while she was not perky and energetic, but rather on morphine to help ease her pain, she was cognizant of my being there with the kids.  She asked Travis for a hug which he sweetly and willingly gave her, and he also gave her a kiss.  It was very sweet.  Paula converted to Catholicism many years ago and I took her prayer cards, one for St. Joseph who is the Patron Saint of the Dying, and one for St. Peregrine who is the Patron Saint of Cancer Victims. I know she was grateful.  Being there in her presence was not as difficult as I had imagined it would be.  I held her hand, rubbed her legs, brushed her hair, wiped the blood tinged sputum from her mouth when she coughed, and just talked to her.  She may have been drugged up, but she did respond appropriately to many things I said to her, and it hurt me to see her cry as I am sure that she was well aware that her life was slipping away from her and she would be going at any moment.   I learned a few minutes ago that she passed away about two hours ago with her daughter and son by her side, in her own bed, in her own bedroom, just as it should be.

God bless you Paula Evelo for being such a kind woman, for your sufferings these last few years, and for being in my life, if for even a short time.  I love you Paula.

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