OF LOVE AND EXPLORATION - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

© Christopher Earls Brennen

EMBROIDERED CLOTHS: Last Act

"I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

From "He wishes for the cloths of heaven" by William Butler Yeats (1899).

Katharine Doreen Kerr and I lived and loved together for over 47 years, from the day we met on Jul.20, 1960, until her death on Aug.22, 2007. She was a lovely, gentle woman with whom it was a true a privilege to share a large fraction of my life. We brought three children into this world and they, all three, enriched our lives immeasurably. We emigrated to California and made a home there in Pasadena where the country and the people showed us great kindness. In the first few years, believing that we were destined to return to the United Kingdom, we travelled widely, striving to see as much of the country as we could. Mostly we could only afford camping trips but our inexpensive 8ft by 8ft Sears tent was raised in almost all of the National Parks, Monuments and Recreation Areas west of the Rockies. Camping was not really Doreen's choice but she endured it since the children enjoyed it so much. As the years rolled on and our immigration became permanent, we were able to enjoy many foreign trips to places as distant as Japan, Australia and Africa though her favorite destinations were England, France, Italy and, of course, Ireland. She missed her family, her parents and her sisters and it was always a joyous trip back to the United Kingdom to see them.

With Kathy and Dana, with Bills Dream Boy and with Not.

   
In England in 1986 With Sadie and sisters Jaqui and Christine and
in Ireland in 1998 with her sisters.

   
In Oxford in 1986 and Tuscany in 2002.

She lived a very private life, devoted to the children and to her animals. She loved to read and our house was filled with books. She also loved her animals, dogs, cats and horse. She had me build a spacious indoor/outdoor cage in our garage for two stray cats that Patrick brought home and who could not fend for themselves out of doors. The horse she bought was her greatest joy; she would spent hours feeding and grooming "Bills Dream Boy", and learning the elements of dressage.

She was very proud of the accomplishments of all three children and enjoyed at least the first few years of our four grandchildren's lives. The tragic and premature death of our son, Patrick (see "Streeteagle") truly broke her heart. She was immensely proud of the first male born of her maternal line for five generations. She did all she could to encourage and support him (perhaps even too uncritically) and to shield him from my excessive disapproval. At the age of twenty three he was finally beginning to mature when suddenly and tragically he was taken from us. His death truly broke her heart. She never really recovered a will to live and her health inexorably declined in the years that followed. One of my great failures in life was my inability to halt that decline however hard I tried.

Then came the worst days of my life. My beautiful wife, my lovely Doreen, was diagnosed with colon cancer. My daughters and I did all we could to explore medical remedies but the faces of the doctors clearly indicated that the cancer had too wide a hold, had spread too far to have left any hope. Better to allow Doreen to take what enjoyment and peace she could from the few days that were left to her. I think she always knew there was little hope. For me there was a jumble of emotions, unbelievable sadness at the prospect of losing the one person to whom I had confessed my whole being, whom I always believed would outlive me. Anger and shame that I had not done more to get her to medical attention much earlier. Panic at what this looming tragedy would mean for my daughters and grandchildren. Helplessness, anguish and a guilt that I should be doing more to enrich her remaining days.

I remember several moments that are seared into my brain. The first moment when she emerged from the doctor's office to tell me she had cancer. I could barely walk to our parked car - yet I cannot imagine what it was like for her. The moment of anger when we realized that our appointment for a CT scan would be delayed due to our own incompetence in making the right appointment. The terrible moment when we were shown the colonoscopy photos with those huge cancerous growths. And yet there were uplifting moments as well. The minutes in the ambulence that was taking her home to die; in her delight, she joked with the ambulence attendants about her almost weightless body. Her comments to her daughters when they lifted her into a sitting position just a couple of days before her death; "Augh, you naughty children ...". But then, finally, the still, cold and lifeless body that no longer looked like her. The terrible zipping up of the body bag as the mortuary attendants took her out of our beloved Sierra Madre home for the last time. And, for the purpose of final identification, my last glimpse of her on the closed circuit TV screen in the mortuary. It was only a little over a month from the colonoscopy to her final breath. So little time to erase that beautiful life force, that inspirational kindness, those fluorescent blue eyes.

Almost as quietly as she lived her life, she slipped away in the small hours of the morning of Aug.22, 2007. Knowing that the end was near I had spent the night sitting by her bedside. She was beyond speech but, in the hope that she could hear, I spoke to her softly of the good times that we had shared. Finally, about 4.30am when I could no longer keep my eyes open, I asked the hospice nurse to watch her while I got a few minutes sleep in my nearby bed. Fifteen minutes later the nurse woke me to tell me she was gone, gone while I slept. It was almost as if she knew it was time to go.

She wanted no ceremony, but rather a very private farewell and burial beside her son with only myself, her daughters and sisters present. We buried her high on the mountainside of Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier. Dana, Kathy and I each spoke at her gravesite. I knew then that if we were to survive this second tragedy, we could only do so with each other's assistance for only the three of us could know how we felt. But each of us also needed to make our private efforts, Dana and Kathy for the sake of their children and me for the sake of them. I had no idea where or how I could possibly find the strength.


Last updated 8/1/01.
Christopher E. Brennen