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The Big C

I never referred to Carol as the Big C but others did. Now, I have to wonder what she thought of that nickname. Literally big? Well, she was the tallest of the Price girls that's for sure. Personality wise she had that going for her in a larger than life way as well. And she was beautiful, having modeled when she was young.

Not long ago, I came across this photo of the Price girls taken in 1965 at our grandfather's farm in Missouri; while examining it since I've been home from California, I've wondered if even back then she stood out from the rest of us?
That would be her sitting on the big wheel while the rest of us dutifully lined up on the fence rail. She's the only one of us who has a four year degree and most certainly the only one of us who believed in astrology. Oh how she loved all of that. While we rolled our eyes, she would go on to explain how she picked out their first dog, Astro by his astrology sign. Come to think of it, how did I never realize that Astro was probably short for astrology?

And it was not just the usual business about being a Taurus, she went further into moons and stuff that I never quite understood. But, it meant a lot to Carol. She loved that she and Bruce shared the same sign. Shoot, she'd known him for as long as I had according to Bruce who loves to tell the story about how he met us at Lake Como during a summer recreation program and was smitten with the two of us. Somehow I snagged him, but it might have been Carol who did. Fittingly, Bruce was at her bedside long after I could no longer stand it following her death.

It was during her time in Hong Kong where Hank worked for a year ,that she began coming into her own, finding painting as a new way of expression. Although she was beginning to make a name for herself in Melbourne, her true celebrity status blossomed during her California years. The studio in Venice Beach was the sight of some great work on her part, and it was during this time that she began collecting collectors including the wonderful couple we met at her hospital bedside. They have her artwork both in their Palos Verde home, as well as their Puget Sound waterfront property. Bruce and I walked into her room, nearly collapsing at the sight of her as she had diminished so greatly in the year since we'd seen her. It was Naida who came to hug us immediately. Telling Carol how much they loved her, they took their leave but not without leaving a big impression on us and demonstrating the influence Carol had on so many lives. A little later Joy arrived, bringing joy with her. As a former Nurse Practitioner, she knew that it wouldn't be long before we all said our permanent goodbyes.
Here Joy is explaining what the doctor had just told them while we were at lunch--Carol's kidneys were failing leaving nothing more that could be done to help her. Antibiotics were stopped, while pain medication was increased. The pain and suffering was to be a thing of the pas,t and not a moment too soon as far as we were concerned. She never opened her eyes again.

I lied to Carol and it might have been one of the last bits of communication we had. Do I regret it? I'm not sure. Although her eyes were wide open when we arrived, she was under heavy medication and would go in and out of consciousness. In the hallway her nurse and I were discussing her imminent death. When we returned to the room, she cried out--"you just said I was dying, didn't you?" I lied. That's all there is to it. I just could not bring myself to tell her the truth which was that I wanted her to die because I could not stand to think of her remaining in the state she was in. That was Tuesday afternoon. Leaving Hank at the hospital, we went to their home to feed the cat and sleep, hoping she would make it through the night as Nancy was to come Wednesday morning from Atlanta.

After spending 15 years in Beverly Hills, they moved to Long Beach just six months ago. Seeing the beauty she created in the new home added much to our misery. Her decorating touch is on display everywhere. As is her art.
Even though she was gravely ill for most all of the time they lived in their new place, she made sure her surroundings were the best that she could make of them. Most of us couldn't do this when we are well, let alone dying of cancer.
During these past three years, that is the one word she would not say. Cancer. Yet, according to the American Cancer Society, GIST is a rare form of cancer with only about 5,000 reported cases annually. Leave it to Carol to have something so out of the ordinary! She was far from ordinary that's for sure.
Our youngest sister Lisa went out there a few weeks ago, helping to put things in order, including her studio which she'd moved home some years ago. She rubbed her back and legs with lotion, calmed her when she became so anxious, and helped Hank with all manner of things. She was the one to tell us about how great Carol's new neighborhood is and maybe that is one of the hardest things to accept. In my few walks to the beach, I kept thinking how much she would have loved it there had she been well.
A little more than two blocks in one direction to the incredibly wide sandy beach,
and in the opposite direction a fantastic shopping street with restaurants and shops. Oh how she loved walking before she was ill. Unlike BH where her street backed up to the mountains in two directions, here there are block after block of things to see, including many lemon trees,
cool architectural features galore,
and flowers. So many flowers and succulents.
Wednesday it rained during our drive to the airport to collect Nancy, pretty much raining all day and into the night. Waking up Thursday morning, we checked our phones hoping we didn't miss a text from Hank who slept in a big chair by her side. Throughout much of her illness Carol refused to take pain medication in spite of us imploring her to do so. She claimed it made her feel worse. While I don't know if that is true or not, we were so grateful for it now. Remaining deep in sleep, the only change we detected Thursday morning was that her hands, warm on Wednesday, were now cold. The doctor came in and predicted it would probably be that day. Nancy bought a fluffy stuffed dog and put it by her heart while I wished so very much that I'd brought the quilt I made for her during her Whipple procedure that I'd seen in her linen closet. Sounds kind of selfish when I write it, but I wanted that tangible object that showed just how much I loved her in spite of how infuriating she could sometimes be. The hospice nurses told us our Mom was soon to pass and where was Carol after hearing that news? Out for a walk. That was one of those times that I could have killed her. It was probably Bruce who had to go and find her. Our Mom, knowing Carol as she did, hung on until she arrived. That was the last time I watched a loved one die, and now Carol herself. It is really, really hard to witness. Hard to lose your Mom and hard to lose a sister.

During her many years in California she made all kinds of friends, including Susan who spent time with us on Wednesday afternoon.
She and Carol met in an acting class, becoming fast friends. For any Blue Bloods fans amongst you, Susan's husband has directed many of the episodes. I mention this because Mr. Peck is a huge fan of the show and was thrilled to learn some inside scoop! Another friend who visited on Wednesday was Taralan, a friend who goes back to junior high school. It was she who first moved to California and when Carol arrived, they reconnected. Oh how she loved Carol, both as a friend and an artist. The number of paintings she owns is not to be believed. Friday afternoon, she sent a tangible sign of the love she had for Carol; flowers, that Lisa described when we sent her aa photo, as a celebrity arrangement.
It is so beautiful in person that even the men in our group gasped out loud. The smell was heavenly as was the message that came with it---"Carol, be sure and sit by a sunny window, that way I will know where to find you when I get there."

Our Carol is free as a bird now, leaving this world on a beautiful sunny afternoon in California.
She leaves behind five siblings and loads of nieces and nephews but the one who will miss her the most is her beloved Hank. Pray for him in the next few weeks, will you?

your friend,



abellwillring said…
As you may recall, when we were home for Christmas I spoke to her on the phone for 30 minutes or so. She just could not stop raving about how much she loved their new place and the area around it. She spoke lovingly of the canals nearby that were so fun to drive next to and over. I mentioned this in the card we sent her recently.. I hope she'll get to drive along them forever now.
Gail Peck said…
I do so remember that honey and am thrilled that you can claim that memory. It might interest you to know that she had a James cd in the kitchen by her player. She loved that band!
Barbara said…
Those of us who remember Carol’s infectious, bubbly, warm personality and wonderful smile from high school and junior high send our sympathy and love to all of you. In the past few years, we have grown to realize that there were exceptional facets and depths to her talents that we didn’t realize back in the misty past day. The sun shines dimmer for all of us today with this sad news.....
Gail Peck said…
I don't know you Barbara but I do so appreciate your kind words.
Unknown said…
So hard to see a friend as beautiful as Carol leave this earth. I spent some time with her talking about her art at our 40th class reunion. Carol and I weren't close in high school, but she always made me feel like we were close. Her beautiful smile, I will never forget. Her bold sweet laugh, and by could she light up the room! I was saddened and shocked to hear this news, but Carol herself would want us to remember her the was she always was. Sweet, happy, a dedicated artist with the soul of an angel. Rest my dear Carol rest. With love and thoughts for your family...

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