Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Farewell, Mrs. Ell

Elaine died early yesterday afternoon. I suspect her death was associated with the cancer she has been battling since I met her. I think I visited with her four or five times over the past four years, but she definitely made an impression on me.

The first thing that impressed me was her relationship with her husband. Dr. Ell (not their real name) grew up in the Seattle slums sometime around the Depression. When he came of age, he joined the navy. Ever heard the expression, "Curse like a sailor"? He proved it true. He was quite eloquent in his use of course language, too.

When he got angry or frustrated (often concurrently), he blew like Vesuvius. It took a great deal of getting used to, but I eventually did. Once he cooled down, he was your best pal.

Imagine forty-plus years with someone like that. Elaine must have had a very strong sense of self to withstand the gales.

When I met them, Dr. Ell was the director of the residency program where I work. He and Elaine had the tradition of inviting the regular staff and residents to their house for a Christmas celebration.

They lived in a nice part of Norman, the west side, in a two-story house. There was a pool table on the second floor. The dining room was as big as my living area and dining room combined. And when Elaine met you at the door, there was no question – you were sincerely welcomed into their house.

She had a relapse early the following year, and was too weak from the chemo to play hostess. They never hosted a Christmas party in their house again – at least, not of that scale.

She was not the least bit embarrassed by the hair loss that followed chemo. She wore a simple bandana or kerchief on her head, and that was enough. She would admit it was hard. She spoke without a trace of self-pity about her symptoms, the side-effects, and her chances of survival.

Once or twice, I would hear her fuss at Dr. Ell. It was the good-natured fussing couples do after years of marriage. Perhaps the annoyance was serious once upon a time in their marriage, but you could tell she had learned to accept this was one annoyance that wasn't going to change. I never heard her nag him, never heard him speak of being nagged.

They had built a life together, raised three up-right children. They visited the Amazon two years ago, and went on a cruise last year (following Dr. Ell's retirement). I suppose Elaine might have said they had a good run.

Last I heard, Dr. Ell has not been able to take it in. She has been part of his world for so long, he cannot recognize a reality without her.

My world is richer for having known her.

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