by Rachel Deming
When I first met Ms. G. she told me she was in such pain that she wanted to die. She had a nice life, a full life, and her pain was just unbearable, she told me. “I have to stay strong for my children, however,” she said. “They want to see me, so I have to keep fighting, keep bearing this pain for them.”
Over the next week, I saw Ms. G. many more times. Sometimes she was in good spirits, and other times she would cry in pain, pleading to make it stop. One afternoon when she was feeling better, she asked if she could tell me her story. She told me that she had a great story, a story that was worth sharing.
She grew up in the Philippines; as a young woman she worked at the U.S. air force base as a cleaner. While working there, she met an American service man with whom she fell in love. They talked of marriage, but ultimately before they could tie the knot, he was sent away. After he left, she had his daughter however they lost touch. She ended up marrying another Filipino man and having three more children with him. The American, she would later learn, also married another American and had his own family. Later her husband left and ultimately passed away.
Her first daughter grew up and went searching for her father. In the coming time, Ms. G. received a letter, from the American. She was scared to read it and simply kept it with her. Eventually she got the nerve to open it. It expressed the American’s continued love for her after all this time. He eventually came to the Philippines. She describes the first time she saw him again as terrifying. “You don’t know if there is still going to be feelings, still going to be love after all the time,” she told me. “But there was for both us.”
Ultimately they got married and moved to Michigan where they lived for three years and nine months together before he passed away. “He was my love,” she says, “and I feel so lucky to have gotten that time together. I lived a wonderful life,” she says. “I have four children and I got to have three years and nine months with my love. It is a good story, right?” she asked me.
“Yes, it is great story,” I told her.
“I still have that letter,” she said smiling. “Will you write my story? Maybe you publish it?”
I laugh and explain I am no writer, but I tell her I will share it. It seemed so important to Ms. G. that I share her story.
I have reflected a lot on Ms. G. She has made me think a lot about fighting and giving up and ultimately giving and getting permission to die. One evening I witnessed her interaction with her daughter over Skype. A few minutes prior to the call she had been moaning in pain, telling me once again she was ready for death, ready for this suffering to end. Once her daughter came on over Skype, however, this all stopped. As I explained to her daughter that Ms. G. could not travel to the Philippines, at least for the foreseeable future, her daughter became tearful.
“Please stop crying,” Ms. G pleaded with her daughter. “I will fight. I will do everything I can to come back to the Philippines.”
“We just want to see you, to hold you,” said her daughter.
“Yes, yes. I will fight.”
This morning Ms. G says she was able to talk to her children again yesterday. “I told them I would keep fighting,” she said, “but I know I won’t ever see them again.”
Rachel Deming is a fourth year medical student at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. She has a B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University. Before applying to medical school, she taught high school science in Oakland, CA. Rachel is currently applying for pediatric residency programs for next year, and has a special interest in palliative care, as well as medical education.