I've just returned from a visit to Bernice.
We spent five years making music together in renaissance costume (sometimes medieval) for kids and adults in gymnasiums, theaters, churches and recital halls. Our group was called ENCORE Early Music Ensemble and eight of us were together for some one hundred performances over five years. Bernice played recorder and taught flute, swam a mile a day, baked bread every Thursday for her professor husband and two children (now both lawyers), slept well, took care of friends, let her hair grow for thirty years and wore it in an elegant bun and charmed all of us with her incredible sense of humor. She read every issue of the New Yorker and had a masters degree in Chemistry. She was beautiful, too.
One year and three chemotherapy treatments later, she still has a wicked sense of humor, albeit a slowed-down delivery. And although only a tuft of hair has grown back, she is still beautiful. For me, her face is eternal.
Bernice has lung cancer that spread to her bones. She never smoked, but when I ask about any casual explanation of this, she looks at me, slowly smiles, and says "God has a strange sense of humor."
I flew to Wisconsin to visit and when I came up the staircase of her home, I saw her sitting at one end of her blue, '60s "Danish modern" sofa looking very thin, very frail and very pale as she sipped gatorade. She has no appetite and eats whatever her good friends have brought her for dinner. Her husband has gained weight.
She can no longer exercise -- even her attempts to walk for fifteen minutes inside the house are a bit too much. The rowing machine is out of the question, as her bones are too fragile.
We visited and talked and reminisced a bit. She's not in pain, but is painfully bored. She's on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication because she is worried about everything and is "alone too much... inside... just sitting here..."
When I left, telling her I love her and that I will be in closer touch on the phone from my busy life in Washington, DC, she said: "Keep Writing, Ruthie".