Monday, March 7, 2011

Elegy for Ellen


My friend Ellen De Bondt was killed yesterday by a drunk driver. It was a Sunday morning and who in the hell thinks about drunk drivers on a Sunday morning?

My former boss called me this afternoon to let me know. I was stunned. I hadn't seen Ellen in awhile, but when I was a staff chaplain at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance I used to bike to work and Ellen and I would chat in the locker room every morning.

It's a bonding experience when two sweaty women discuss their ride (or sometimes in Ellen's case her run) into work while shouting over the shower and hair dryer. My hair dryer that is. Ellen always let her amazing hair air dry.

She had a wide grin, wild hair and bright blue eyes. It astounded me that for someone who loved the outdoors, she managed to be happy while being indoors most of the day. Ellen was a nurse in the pain clinic and like being a chaplain in a cancer center, you get a different perspective on life. I can't remember her complaining about anything. She was always cheerful, sweet and enthusiastic.

Ellen referred a lot of patients to me--people who were learning to live with their chronic pain or hoping for relief from their crippling pain. When I saw the photo of Ellen's destroyed car, all I could think was, "I hope you did not die in pain. I hope you died instantly and flew out of your body in a rush of joy and freedom."

I've been walking around the house all day weeping. I was touched by the call from my boss that he would think to let me know. I realize too that hearing his voice and remembering Ellen brought up some grief I still have about leaving my staff position.

Ellen and I used to talk about living with pain and how if you can't relieve it physically, it is sometimes relieved psychically. I found this to be true for myself. When I was working in the clinic I had a bad mountain bike crash and broke six ribs, each one in two places. It was unbearable most of the time, that is, until I went in to see a patient. Then I never noticed it. Seriously.

It seemed that in reaching to out to others in pain, my own disappeared.

So perhaps this afternoon my dog Max and I will go visit one of our hospice patients. A little pain relief.

I can still grieve for Ellen and miss my job but rejoice that I knew this wonderful loving Bright Spirit. I hope she is running, biking, kayaking, hiking, swimming in some lovely precious world that is free of drunk drivers.