09
Mar
10

holiness

My last posting on this blog was Thursday, March 4, 2-1/2 days before my adopted daughter, Bettina Maria Ortiz passed from this world to the next. I had been careful not to say too much about her illness and approaching death. We kept another blog going called Longing for Light where she kept in touch with all of her friends and relatives. This blog, Called by Name was where I spoke about my thoughts and feelings and those were very intimate and personal.

My partner and I met Bettina about 13 years ago through mutual friends. We introduced her to my biological daughter (Darling Daughter) and they became friends as well. We grew into a family very quickly. In those 13 years we had many adventures together—a chosen family of adults. Big Dawg and I lived within a block or two of the “daughters” and enjoyed a small sense of community—something BD and I sorely missed since leaving a Christian communal church many years earlier. Life rolled along in hills, valleys and meadows until the summer of 2006, when I was diagnosed with stage 4, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, followed 2 months later by Bettina’s diagnosis of stage 3+ ovarian cancer.

We were cancer buddies, understanding each other at a place only other cancer people can know. Sometime in 2007, when the life threatening cancer we’d both endured shook our hearts and souls, we began to silently adopt each other: adopted mom and adopted daughter. Then we all began attending church together. Walking with other Christian hearts and minds, we encountered many thin places where the division between the holy and the ordinary seem very thin. All of us grew close in this adopted family, but the bond between Bettina and me seemed at times set apart…and so it was: adopted daughter/adopted mom.

When Bettina’s cancer recurred a 4th time in January/February 2009, we asked her to come live with us so that BD and I could take care of her. We did a major revision of households, complete with turning our dining room into her bedroom and having our meals on a picnic table in the kitchen. She joined our household one early weekend in March, 2009. We hoped she would be the exception to the  ovarian mortality statistics. We became convinced she would be and dreamed of selling our house in 2 years, buying an RV with a satellite dish and a Peace sign, putting on tie-dye shirts, and roaming the country as poster girls for inclusivity, Jesus-style. We called ourselves the wild ones…in terms of Mennonite church culture, we were.

Then in December 2009, concurrent with my news of complete remission, came hers of yet another poor CA125 lab result. Her last remission was only a few months. The cancer was back and by January there was nothing left to be done. Her body did not respond to Tamoxifen and was not able to accommodate another chemo cycle. At her oncologist’s suggestion, we made a visit to a palliative care doctor on January 25th and left her office with a contract for in-home hospice care. We were already in a mild state of shock when, by the afternoon, hospice appeared at our door ready to serve. For the next 2 days, there were visits by nurse, doctor, social worker and chaplain, as well as deliveries of drugs and medical equipment. Our lives took a 180 degree turn.

Through the next weeks Bettina began a leave of absence from her job and set about putting her affairs in order on numerous levels. By the third week oxygen was required. Enter Darth Vader the O2 machine, noisily and rhythmically supplying life sustaining oxygen to her increasingly compromised lungs. After a bit of time the uninterrupted hissing and hewing became comforting to me. The morphine, Lorazepam and Remeron kept her in a relatively pain-free state allowing her the pleasure of visiting with people as well as giving and receiving love and support through her blog. In the night time hours she was fond of listening to music, especially the songs from the Sing the Journey CD, on her little Mac Laptop. Toward the end of her time she’d found Comme unsouffle fragile on YouTube and would fall asleep to it. I would often creep down the stairs to see her with her head phones and eyes closed in the blue light of her half opened computer.

During these last 5 weeks of her life she earnestly sought God and was increasingly filled with the light of God. Her last public appearance was at our church on February 28, where she shared her thoughts and insights in a meditation/sermon. The whole service was beautifully constructed around her…songs, scripture, sharing and communion. She, the pastor and worship leader served bread and wine to the entire congregation, giving each person a special word just meant for them.

By 5:00 that evening she began a serious decline that gathered momentum to the moment of her last faint breath on Saturday, March 6 at 2:15 p.m. It was a very painful, but holy day. BD noticed a flock of Sand Cranes circling high up in the sky shortly before the hospice nurse arrived. A few minutes after her arrival our pastor came too. This is our pastor’s account which she posted on our church listserve:

I arrived at Bettina’s bedside early this afternoon. Her nurse had just gotten there and turned out to be an invaluable part of the spiritual circle around her for her last hour. After taking her vitals and confirming that Bettina was in a coma, the nurse helped make the decision that she was ready to be taken off oxygen. She removed the tubes and then clicked off the noisy oxygen tank, resulting in the first blessed quiet that house had seen in weeks.

The family, along with Bettina’s oldest friend, the hospice nurse, and I gathered around Bettina’s bed. The nurse asked if she had some favorite music, and we all answered in unison, “Sing the Journey!” We put on her favorite “Sing the Journey” CD’s. Her labored breathing eased some, slowed, and at long last she simply didn’t take another breath. She had peacefully slipped away while the choir sang, “Listen, God is Calling.”

Close friends from church and work colleagues came to the house during the next four hours. At 6:00 pm, her body was carefully and respectfully taken away for cremation.

This has been a holy day.

It was my privilege to be Bettina’s friend, teammate and Mamacita…to love and care for her to the very end. I have learned and am learning a great deal about holding on and letting go, the theme of our denomination’s Lenten season. I am also learning a great deal more about suffering than I ever thought possible.

This will may be one of my last postings on this sight for a while. I will be tending to Bettina’s email and blog, Longing for Light. You are invited to visit there for more information on Bettina’s story.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating Southward

Photo by Todd Friesen

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1 Response to “holiness”


  1. 1 Anne
    March 9, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Beautifully written, my fine “feathered” friend. What a journey.


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