January 30th

Kage Baker spent the last day of her life in a tremendously good mood. I can’t think of a much better way to spend it, than happy and with your family.

I ought to leave today’s entry at that. But I don’t want to. It wasn’t one of those quiet, nunlike deathbeds, all white linen and hushed voices – Kage’s bedroom was full of people all day, laughing and joking and carrying on. Kage was, too. Even the last few hours, when she was in coma, we all stayed and talked to her – but before that, it was a pretty lively party. Kage was indisputably happy this day a year ago.

That really, really matters.

We went to tremendous lengths to accomplish it, too. Had to fight well-meaning hospitals, evil architecture (I will never trust stairs again.), and a lot of medical personnel who were too tired and overworked to treat patients like people. Kage had only three neglectful nurses, but even one is too much when you’re sick enough to be in the hospital in the first place. Patients like Kage – who was polite and cooperative and too sick to fight back – are easily overlooked and bullied. Luckily, I am a nasty old lady … always pack someone like me, Dear Readers, when you have to go to the hospital. I am a vicious were-Corgi.

Anyway, it took a truly surprising amount of effort to ensure that Kage could die in her own home, in her own bed, in a place that was not filled with brights lights, whistles, alarms and shouted conversations. Really, trying to actually rest in a hospital is like napping in a machine shop. Where the mechanics are all loud drunks. Servicing carnival rides.

It helped that none of us who were with Kage this day a year ago realized how short the time was. We had a house full of loving people – Anne and her girls, Emma Rose, and a blessed surprise in the person of Wayne Fisher.

Wayne is an old, old, friend – from Faire, and all manner of life adventures between Faires, too. Kage loved him like a son. We didn’t expect him, and then he suddenly turned up – having driven from the Bay Area at his usual 90 mph – to see her. He stayed till the end, and made her very happy.

All day, people were with her – usually at least one niece curled up on the bed with her and often all three. She and Anne got to sit and talk a lot – an indulgence I had had all along but that poor Anne had not. As I said, we thought we had a month or two; Anne planned to be up every weekend for that time, and so she and Kage were settling in for some serious catching up … but I think Kage knew it would not last.

Her head began to hurt again. The tumour in her cerebellum had not been idle all this while: as our friend Athene had commented in despair, “She doesn’t have cancer, she has killer kudzu!” Yeah, pretty much. And it was pressing on her medulla oblongata, which controls (among some other vital things) one’s breathing.

Kage thought the mere sound of medulla oblongata was hilarious, by the way. Like clavicle, and uvula, and epiglottis. They made her laugh. Writer are odd.

People talk, with perfectly warranted horror, of how cancer can take agonizing years to kill someone. I guess none of us is ever pleased with what we get out of Death’s grab bag, because those of us who have watched our loved ones melt like candles in a blow torch cannot really recommend that route, either. Do you now how quickly cancer can grow? In the space of a day and a night, a woman can go from vital and alive to dead of respiratory failure as a tumour eats her body’s ability to remember how to breathe.

That’s what actually killed Kage. It got harder and harder to breathe, and the pain in her head began to grow. I could give her meds to deal with the pain, and for maybe the only time in her life she didn’t fight me about taking them. I had meds to strengthen her heart beat too – another task of that hilarious medulla – but she didn’t want them and I didn’t press her. As the afternoon wore on, she began to slip away and I knew she did not want to linger.

The last thing she asked for was to have her pillows re-arranged. The last thing she said was that she was much more comfortable. The day was over by then, evening coming on; I think she saw that last sunset, looking west our her bedroom window. She saw something – there were a few minutes when her eyes were intently focused, just after we fixed her pillows … Shortly thereafter, she was in a coma.

We all stayed with her. We talked to her, we assured her she could go, we played Do You Remember? There was actual laughter, and there was still family all over her bed.  People took it in turns to nap in the living room, but we mostly even ate there with Kage. I think. I don’t actually remember eating or drinking: my memory of that evening is a fixed camera shot on Kage’s face. I was only a pair of eyes, watching her.

Anne and the girls had fought it as long as they could by midnight, and were lying down exhausted in the other rooms.  But I had given up sleep weeks before. Wayne and I were holding Kage in our arms when her breath stopped at last, but I think she was already far gone and away before that. The high tide that night peaked at 10:15 PM. She died 3 hours later, at 1:15 AM, as it flowed away into the west. Couldn’t have managed it more neatly if she had tried.

I checked her pulse – still. I checked her pupils – fixed and uneven. I checked her breathing – quiet at last.

I went to wake up Anne.

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About Kathleen Bartholomew

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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11 Responses to January 30th

  1. Jennifer says:

    Oh… I did not know her – I only loved her work – and even still, reading this now makes me cry.

    She had a gift, and so do you.

    I am so glad to have found you, and grateful for her wish that you carry on writing. So sorry for the cause – to lose a sister, someone I wish I had had the opportunity to meet – but glad that you are doing this work all the same.

    Like this

  2. aardvarkian says:

    I need to read some of Kage’s work. I just found her on Goodreads. Well told, Kathleen.

    James

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  3. Tom says:

    Oh, Kate, you keeper of promises. Thank you.

    Like this

  4. Valerie says:

    This is a beautiful, beautiful memoir. A fitting tribute to a great writer.

    Like this

  5. Kara says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with the world. I am so sorry that you lost your sister, but you clearly did a magnificent job making sure she was given dignity at The End, and have honored her final wishes with your writings.

    Like this

  6. Margaret says:

    My condolences on this very sad anniversary for you. I was so pleased to learn that you were able to waft her out of the hospital so she could be with her own loved surroundings and people. I spent three days in the hospital last year, for something that was supposed to be outpatient (godlike surgeon made his own decisions) and can only support your feeling that medical personnel, however well-intentioned, are slaves to schedules and overwork, and stuff that would be helpful or comforting gets overlooked or neglected. So I’m glad that Kage Baker had you and her other family and friends around her. All honor to you, were-Corgi.

    Like this

  7. Allison says:

    Dear Kathleen,
    I wish you and your family kindness and peace on this day. These writings have been both heart breaking and uplifting. Honest, and blunt, beautiful and sad. Thank you for the strength and courage, and the devotion and love you have shared here – these memories of Kage. I’m so thankful to know that she liked reading Coppertop again. Hearing that made me smile so much, to know that it made her happy. I will love your sister’s work all my life. It is a great gift to know that it will continue through you.

    Like this

  8. Having been around a few of these events, I believe that was an excellent discription of that experience. Most frequently I think they slip away when no one is watching.

    The near simultanious completion of the book with the anniversary of the event, is splended. Literary even.

    Like this

  9. Kate says:

    Thank you, Mr. Gillan. I try. When I realized how close I was to finishing, I simply tabled sleep until the job was done in the right time frame. An old trick you know as well!

    Like this

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