Sunday, June 3, 2012

martha, my dear.

i'm not sure whether i've ever mentioned my dear friend martha.
or, as she's become known for people around me now who never knew her,
my friend martha who died.

martha & i became friends in 1981.
i was a freshman, she was a sophomore. at different high schools.
but with a mutual gang of pals.

she was tall, tan, blonde, beautiful,
brilliant, hilarious, creative & kind.
i have no memories of her in which she's not smiling or laughing.

& i've never had a better friend than she, even now.

she came to the university of texas at austin a year earlier than i.
we lived in the same dormitory for a year once i followed.
from there, our friendship thinned a little,
as i pursued journalism & she medicine.

she returned to dallas for her internship,
i moved to tallahassee for my first big job.
she married her longtime love, rob.
i fell in love with my future husband, hank.

& by some alignment of the stars,
she & rob returned to austin for her residency,
while i returned to austin for my guy.
martha & i rekindled our friendship.

she become a general practitioner,
& she & rob had a daughter, kaleigh.
the three of them were at our wedding. i've got a photo somewhere.

she became pregnant with their second daughter.
she & i shared lunch [kaleigh, too] when she was about six months along;
i've got a clear picture of her in my mind, standing on the sidewalk by the restaurant,
trying to navigate her swollen belly to wrangle 2yo kaleigh,
who was squirming between her legs.

she's laughing in the spring sunshine at her own absurdity as i back my car up & wave goodbye.

two weeks later, she was dead.

she collapsed at her office midday, regained consciousness long enough
to provide rob's cell number, & never awoke again.
her colleagues at the hospital where she had done her residency
worked for four hours trying to revive her. but ultimately, they failed.

she was 31.

they delivered baby tess & put her on life support.
but she had lost too much oxygen during resuscitation efforts.
she was braindead. rob had to sign the order to stop life support,
& held his tiny daughter as she slipped away to join her mama.

then he went home to raise their other daughter, alone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

this weekend, kaleigh graduated from high school.
the facebook photo of kaleigh in her royal blue cap & gown,
flanked by rob in his light blue dress shirt, both of them beaming
with well-earned pride & relief, is simultaneously heartwarming & heartbreaking.

rob is an awesome dad, clearly the best choice martha ever could have made,
even had she known she would be leaving him to parent their child all on his own.
& kaleigh is an amazingly perfect blend of the two of them,
smart & funny & sweet & happy, with an easy smile & a unique loveliness about her.

i was invited to a post-graduation get-together at their home.
it was good to see them both [it had been rather a while],
& to reconnect with martha's mom & one of her three sisters.

kaleigh wore a university of colorado boulder tee to tout
her destination next autumn, where she'll be pursuing her design degree.

there were smiles all around, as there are at such celebratory occasions.

but as i began my drive home post-party, i lost it.
i sobbed — for the depth with which i still miss my friend,
for her missing this milestone in her daughter's life,
& for kaleigh missing her mom being there.

& i drove home to my two crazy little blessings, healthy & relatively happy
& frequently annoying as the day is long
[especially the 13yo, who carries martha as her middle name],
& i remembered to send up a prayer of gratitude for today,

when we are all still here together.

martha, summer 1983, about to be a hs sr.


Diana said...

Sob. Thank ou for reminding me of ALL the things for which I have to be thankful. Hugs to you as you mourn your dear friend.

Jen said...

My heart hurts for the loss of your friend, knowing that no matter how much time passes, the loss is still great. Thank you for sharing about Martha and her touching story, a reminder to savor each moment. xo

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless and grieving with you Kris. I was her roommate in Kinsolving and we shared an apartment our senior year. Martha was a special soul. What a gift she was to all of us. Martha, Rob and Kaleigh attended our wedding too. I stayed with Martha and Rob after not seeing her for over a year. Three weeks after my visit I received the call from Rob. I was just telling someone the other day about her. I miss her and still grieve her loss. We must live our lives knowing the frailty of life. How each moment matters. I grieve with you my sister.

kriscard said...

thank you all so very much for your kind words & healing thoughts.

another friend inquired via email what caused martha's sudden death, & i realized i unintentionally neglected to mention it [i guess maybe in the telling of such a tragedy, it didn't seem to matter all that much?]. she suffered from a congenital heart defect no one ever knew she had until her autopsy.

i can't recall the name of it, but it can be genetically linked, so kaleigh was immediately tested for it & also has it. she has been on beta blockers, forbidden from vigorous sports & regularly checked on by a cardiologist since she was 2.5yo . . . & may be for the rest of her life.

so martha's death might well have saved her daughter's life . . . & might i just say, that's so martha. ;)

cpfirrmann said...

Hi Kristen, Thanks again for your beautiful blog about Martha. She had undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome. Knowing the diagnosis has made a difference in a number of ways. Clearly, it has provided Kaleigh with the care and treatment she requires. While Martha's inheritance of Marfan's is likely a random mutation, my other sisters, our children and I have been screened. As a high school Anatomy & Physiology and Biology teacher I tell my sister's story to every class I teach... I've had several students tell me that because of Martha's story, they've also connected family, friends, or themselves with the Marfan Syndrome. I also feel like it makes a difference to support The National Marfan Foundation, in Martha's memory, in an effort to enhance awareness and to promote research on the Marfan Syndrome.

kriscard said...

cindy, thank you so much for your clarification & elaboration about martha's diagnosis. & now, knowing the name of the syndrome & the existence of a research foundation, i will definitely be contributing in martha's memory. i've always written a little check to rob around martha's birthday each year for kaleigh's education fund, but now that she's off to college, this will be a wonderful way to continue to honor martha. thanks again. xo