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In the face of death, so much love

  • Author: Eva Saulitis
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 20, 2015

What follows is the second part in a two-part exploration of mortality, hope and the natural world by Homer author Eva Saulitis. In Part 1, published in last Sunday's We Alaskans, Saulitis described the unexpected revelations that occurred when "what I feared most came to pass," when her breast cancer returned as Stage 4 in 2013. For more than two years since that time, Saulitis has published widely and posted regular blog entries on her Caring Bridge website, sharing with readers her process of coming to terms with her terminal diagnosis, in large part by writing and by immersion in the natural world. In this post, she shares several reflections from the past summer, when her chemotherapy treatment stopped working.

The art of the fugue

June 2, 2015

I'm sitting on the guest bed at my sister Mara's house on Bainbridge Island, Washington. For a good solid minute before typing those words, I rested my fingers on the computer keys, not knowing how to begin writing. My mind's numb. The other night, when Mara was very tired at dinner after an all-night shift in the urgent care where she works as a doctor, her eyes sleepy and staring off into the trees while her husband and I bantered, I joked that she was in a fugue state.

In the mental realm, a fugue state is when a person loses touch with her or her identity temporarily. In music it's something else. I remember learning my first fugue on the piano from "The Well-Tempered Clavier," how hard it was to master. A musical fugue is contrapuntal. One hand starts a melody line and keeps on going. After a few measures, the left hand takes up that melody line, somewhat like a round or canon, and continues, simultaneously but not in unison. For me as a student, it seemed to require two brains.

Living with advanced metastatic breast cancer seems, also, to require at least two brains. Life becomes a fugue. Because no one can tell you exactly how long you have left (the statistical average is two years, but the range — the reality of actual lives and the unique qualities of each person's cancer — is months to more than a decade), one musical line of your life prepares you for dying, the other for living. One line is lived along the cyclical trajectory of treatment, the other in the mind and heart.

If you're a writer, another line is formed on the computer screen or follows a pen across a page. Another line takes you through days of family, work, dishes, laundry, canning and smoking fish, making jam, tending the garden.

Today, my sister Mara and I saw my Seattle oncologist, Dr. Gralow, who told us about my latest PET scan results. As usual, she entered the exam room briskly, in a sheath skirt, white coat, sleek pumps, clutching a fat file folder. Mara and I sat with her in a circle of plastic chairs. I'd placed my cellphone on its own chair, and my husband Craig's face appeared pixelated on the tiny screen. He was out in Prince William Sound, following a pod of orcas. When Dr. Gralow started off by asking me how I'd been doing, Mara and I exchanged glances. We wanted her to get to the point. I wanted HER to tell me how I'd been doing. She asked me about my lung, my appetite, my energy level. We sensed that Dr. Gralow was not giving us the results right off for a reason. Mara is a doctor; Craig and I are biologists. All of us are keen observers of behavior. All of us have lived long enough in Cancerland to scrutinize subtle clues from medical practitioners. Finally, Dr. Gralow told us that my tumor markers, proteins shed by active cancer, were on the rise again, one taking a somewhat gentle incline, the other spiking. When I saw the graph, my breath caught. The line, which had been descending steadily the last six months of harsh chemo treatment, was now nearly vertical, the tumor marker higher than it had ever been.

The scan results, Dr. Gralow told us, were not so dire as that graph suggested: a few more active nodules here, some tracer uptake there, a little puddle of cancer fluid in my pelvis. But from past experience, she felt the cancer was about to surge. All this had happened when Dr. Gralow had given me a break from treatment to allow my blood cell counts to recover. So back on chemo I would go, to see if it could get my cancer back under control. Walking out of the cancer center in Seattle was, as always, an abrupt shift back to the land of the living: the crowded sidewalks, the traffic, the shops, the rain or sun. Always, my sister and I walked side by side, away from that medical world, conscious that I was still alive, still walking, still beside my sister.

Last night, I decided to hike the Gazzam trail behind my sister's house on Bainbridge Island with her dog. It's a steep climb from the beach to the main trail system. From there, I thought, I'd try to run, something I hadn't done in months due to chemo-induced anemia. I imagined just a half-mile or so, a test drive of my body. As the trail flattened out, I began that familiar motion, a way of being in my body entirely natural to me since I began running in high school. After a half-mile, my body felt just fine. "I'm running!" I texted Craig.

"Great," Craig texted back, "but don't overdo it." After another couple miles, looping around a trail through the forest, I texted him again, "I'm still running!" Again, he cautioned me to be careful. A mile or so later, I texted, "I'm still running!" When he admonished me again, I answered, "Forget it!" I was high now on myself, remembering with every cell why I loved running in the woods on trails. I was gloating to Craig. I thought about texting, "I'll take it easy when I'm on my death bed," but I kept my hubris in check.

A few minutes later, I realized I'd made a wrong turn and was completely lost. Where the heck did those giant water towers covered with graffiti come from? I came to a parking area I didn't recognize, saw a narrow trail through ferns and trees, and started down it, thinking it would link me back up to the main trail I'd started on. My cellphone map told me I was on the far other side of the park, and heading north, the right direction, but the park was much larger than I'd imagined. I got nervous, so now I texted my sister, who was at work.

"I'm lost in Gazzam Park! Help!" She called me and I described my surroundings, and then my phone battery died. I turned around, returned to the parking lot, found a nice couple who loaned me their phone, and learned that my brother-in-law was already on his way to get me. I was 5 miles from their home. The dog and I jogged to Baker Hill Road to wait. Baker Hill is very steep, almost as steep as the ascending line of my CEA tumor marker graph. But I'd just been running along another line. I'd been thinking, "I know this is temporary, this vitality I have right now, and I'd better enjoy it while I have it." It's why I scoffed at Craig's warnings not to overdo it. I was overdoing it because I could, and it was a glorious thing, to be alive in a body that moves me through the woods like that, even with metastatic cancer. I was running that line and thinking, "No matter what the PET scan says tomorrow, this is the truth of how I am today."

Always, these contrapuntal lines. A disease doing what it is doing in my body, not always in synch with what my body is doing out in the world, what my mind is doing out in the world. Making a strange music, elated and sorrowful, offset by a few measures. At times discordant. And sometimes, my body and the disease syncing up, in unison, as they did last fall, when one night I thought I might die, and wasn't ready. In the six months since, I've run that forest line as the cancer line has grown fainter, and now stronger. I've been very, very alive, at the same time as slowly, I've been dying, at the same time as I've become more ready to not be alive.

The word fugue traces back to the Latin fuga, which in turn traces back to two seeming opposite verbs, fugere ("to flee") and fugare ("to chase"). When catastrophe strikes, these contrapuntal impulses, simultaneously, can describe you, running through the forest, or sitting down to write, or escaping into a novel or a movie or a pain drug or reading a book about dying.

On Tuesday, I'll submit to chemo again. I will place my hands on the bag and give it permission to do what it must. I'll submit; I'll agree to try and outrun death a little longer, and then I'll find my way back onto the trail that is my life, which traverses birch forests, and spruce forests, through Prince William Sound, up and down my garden rows. I'll chase after the things that matter. I will run the line that has me up late sewing endless strings of prayer flags to honor my mother, who died last winter, and I will run it beside my sister on the gritty Seattle streets, where we ate our lunch on a set of cement steps, and leaned into each other without words after the oncology appointment. It's no easier to deal with a contrapuntal line now than it was in high school, when the dearest piano teacher you could ever imagine, a woman named Lucille Neveu, guided my hands. I never really mastered the art of the fugue. But it's what's been given to me. These contrapuntal lines of living and dying, of disease and well-being, all somehow adding up to love. It's the music that's mine, and I have no choice but to accept its difficulty.

Six prayer flags

June 21, 2015

Today, as I walked down a dusty road with my stepdaughter Elli and Craig, I asked them, "I seem better, don't I?" Yes, as my sister said, it must be like labor, the mind in its mercy blotting some of the acuteness of the chemo experience out of memory.

I was 12 miles from our house, where I'd spent the previous four days lying for hours at a time on the couch. I was out walking. I was only a tiny bit nauseous. It's weirdly hard to bear witness to myself when I'm in chemo's fugue state. It's truly like a part of me departs, and has now returned, and asks everyone, "So what the hell happened?"

This morning, I woke at 6 a.m. and Craig was already up, and I lay there for a few moments literally patting myself down, asking my body, "Are you all right now?" There was an empty feeling in my belly where the nausea had been.

I thought about my week alone at the end of May, when Craig was gone on a research trip. I sewed nine strings of prayer flags for loved ones that week and planted our garden. It was another kind of fugue state, sitting up late at a 1940s Singer sewing machine, the exact replica of my mother's, turning her old curtains and other saved fabrics into prayer flags for my sister, for friends, for nieces, and finally, for my mother's burial plot. As the stitches traveled their straight line across one edge of the fabric to make a single seam, my mind traveled a winding line of memory of the person for whom that set of flags was intended. Time became three-dimensional, and pooled all around me, like the long evening light.

I'm a writer, but it was clear to me in all that sewing that sometimes, words aren't the way. I remember an early abstract painting by Georgia O'Keeffe, and her accompanying words that were something like: "I tried to say something to you with blue."

When Craig came back into the bedroom with tea this morning, I asked him, "When I'm dying, will you read these meditations to me?" Meaning the ones in every chapter of Stephen Levine's "Who Dies?" It struck me that one's work in the world at certain points is giving, but at others might just be simply receiving, for example, words whispered into the ear, even when one's capacity to understand them is gone. Like my mother receiving my sister's touch each time she stopped breathing, on her last day alive. Each cycle of this chemo is a little like dying, some part of me dying away. It's a chance to practice surrender. In a life of endless doing, it requires a lot of self-forgiveness.

So after Craig and I talked about what Levine calls "finishing business" at the end of life (my prayer flag project felt, in hindsight, like a sweet spot of doing just that), we got up and headed downstairs, and I ate a little quinoa and coconut milk our friend Asia had made, and we headed out the road to my stepdaughter Eve and her husband Eivin's for a Father's Day breakfast.

We crowded around their kitchen table, and our grandson Findlay sat across from me and showed off the waffle he clutched in his fist, and I nibbled on eggs and strawberries, and knew I was back from wherever I had been. Still here, still living.

Tomorrow, if the weather allows and if I'm still feeling on the mend, we'll drive to Seward and head to the Sound, as we've done for nearly 30 summers, partly for whale research, and partly just to be in the place we love more than any other, the place where I want my ashes scattered. Yesterday, that idea — that I'd actually make the trip — felt impossible. And yet I will not call this experience a roller coaster. I will let go of that cliche, and that notion of ups and downs, and fears about the future and if this drug is working while it's kicking my ass. And if the drug's not working? Today, my answer is, "F--- it." Then my life will be a new version. What choice do I have, really?

And I'll go into Prince William Sound carrying a bit of news that arrived this morning from a woman who runs a tour boat out of Valdez and who knows the orcas we study extremely well. She emailed Craig that yesterday in Valdez Arm she saw six of the seven remaining Chugach transients — and that she sees them often near the face of the Columbia Glacier, which has retreated so drastically in the last 10 years that now, to reach there, one must travel up a long fjord. We have not seen the whales I wrote about in "Into Great Silence" in at least two years. Craig and I didn't have a report of all seven together last year, so we'd begun to fear that at least some had died. These last survivors have taken refuge, it seems, at the heads of glaciers, where seals abound. But the other day, in Valdez Arm, they were socializing together, as our friend and longtime field assistant, the musician David Grimes would say, quoting Brer Rabbit, "like there ain't been no hard times." It's all you can do. They are my six prayer flags. I don't know if we will encounter them, but I send them this message, "You are still here, and so am I."

He and I

July 1, 2015

Our bodies are warm. Our cups steam, my coffee caramel-thick with oat. Outside, the air is warm, though it's cloudy, though out in the Gulf, there's a storm. Not here, not now. The same gulls are winging about, swooping toward the bay, the same way they were last night. The same small boat anchored several hundred yards away from us last night is anchored there still, only the middle aged, stocky man and the older, long-haired man are no longer standing on the back deck. They are asleep. I know all this because I spied on them last night through my high-powered whale-finding binoculars.

"You're such a snoop," Craig said. "I know," I said.

Turning on our small brass lights and burrowing under the covers to read ourselves to sleep last night, we cocooned ourselves against the beauty of the evening light on the calm bay, of the wild island with its sweeping ridge line all greened up but still snow-streaked, so gorgeous, so sexy. Without the curtains, we'd never be willing to close our eyes.

On the shore, which is near, the hermit thrushes flute. On the water, which is nearer, the gulls wing and cry and dip as a sea lion shakes the scales off the body of a fish he's caught, and what I think are clots of foam from someone's dishwater (put on your glasses, Craig says) turn out to be a flock of mergansers, bright bottle-fly green, black and white males, and reddish-headed, gray-bodied females, following each other along the shoreline, pausing to twirl in an eddy. We sit with our coffee and we eat our pancakes slathered with raspberry-rhubarb sauce I made, and goat yogurt, and maple syrup, and there is nothing amiss in this scene, in this moment with its moody blue clouds.

In this moment, there is no cancer lesion eating away at my peritoneum. There is no upcoming chemotherapy, no oncologist in Seattle. None of that is real; none of that matters.

"This is one of the things I love best being on the boat," I tell him.

"You mean just sitting around and drinking coffee?"

"Yes. And that nothing can get us, no phone can ring, no one can find us. We're safe here."

"I know," he says.

And though we're supposed to search for whales, though it's our purpose out here, and it's good, it's meaningful, I don't want it — anything — to begin yet. I want this to be all, to last forever. Here, drinking coffee, I'm already longing for it — this mundane moment I'm in. Even as I'm in this moment, totally, it's becoming this story I'm writing after it's done. It's already becoming remember that time? It was good, wasn't it? Him saying, Yes, it was.

From there to here to there

July 26, 2015

I don't know how I got from there to here. From the UAA dorm a few blocks away, where I slept for almost two weeks while teaching in the MFA program, from the university library and the student commons, where I taught and ate and attended lectures and readings, to here, a hospital bed in a small, green-walled room with a big window and a view of a yellow-green-leafed tree and other hospital buildings, and a tube draining out of my chest, and an IV pump clicking and whirring as blood transfuses into my chest-port, and suitcases lined up on the windowsill, mine, and my sister's, and my stepson's backpack, and four sacks of groceries dropped off by my friend Margaret on the floor, and Craig sitting across from me texting.

The simple answer is by medevac helicopter. The simple answer is cancer.

About four days after receiving chemo in Anchorage in the middle of teaching at the MFA program, I started to get more and more short of breath. At night, it felt like liquid anxiety was being poured into my upper abdomen. So after my teaching responsibilities were through, my friend Nancy drove me home half a day early to see my doctor in Homer, and the next thing I knew I was in a CT scanner at the Homer hospital.

The sack around my heart, the pericardium, was filled with fluid (about 700 milliliters, when normally there is around 10), and my heart was being squeezed and stressed. An echocardiogram showed evidence for something called tampenade, when the pressure of the fluid collapses blood vessels in and out of the heart and the heart begins to fail.

On the helicopter, I was lightly strapped on a gurney with my feet pressed to its nose and the pilot beside me. It rose, shuddering, lifting me off the Homer hospital roof and over the green bluff, the paramedic's hand on my shoulder as I wept. A group of people on the ground below waved at the helicopter, and then we were flying across the green peninsula, over lakes and gray areas swept by forest fires, with the mountains on our right.

And then we were landing on the roof of Providence Hospital, and I was being wheeled in. It all happened so suddenly, this latest in my cancer's moves, its manifestations, its permutations. Everything upended. I'd barely unpacked from my two weeks in Anchorage. I'd never even had a chance to go into the garden.

At the hospital, just before I was wheeled in for surgery, in walked my stepson Lars, who was working in Anchorage, followed a half-hour later by my sister Mara and husband Craig, whose flights had arrived about the same time, hers from Seattle, his from Homer (the helicopter was too small to allow Craig to fly with me). I was being wheeled to surgery for a draining procedure. The operating theater was cold, cluttered, noisy, but the people, including the cardiologist, Dr. Alan Skolnick, were kind. They put me under conscious sedation -- a cocktail of morphine and versed -- and when it hit my system, it was like a wall of sensation falling through me, top to bottom. Not as though I were falling through a door, but as though a door were falling through me. I remember everything, though I ceased to care about what was being done to my body. It took an hour, and then I was back in the room with Mara and Craig and Lars.

Of course, it's the cancer, now setting up shop in the lining of my heart, that's weeping this stuff. Obviously the chemo drugs are no longer working. At first, we thought the next step would be a surgical procedure to create a little window so the fluid around my heart could drain into my abdomen. But Dr. Skolnick hopes the lining around my heart will scar and the layers stick together, leaving no more space for fluid to accumulate again.

Now I'm alone in the room with the green walls. It's 9 am, and outside it's gray and rainy. Dr. Skolnick has come and gone, and the news was positive: almost no fluid left in the lining around my heart, which is beating strongly, everything pumping normally again. He's hopeful this plan is working. After two units of blood, my head is clear. I haven't had pain medication since midnight last night.

Last night, I took a hospital stroll with Craig, Mara and Lars, my first long walk since I got here. We roamed down long corridors to another part of the hospital where it was utterly quiet. These felt like my first steps back into life. Craig ran pushing Lars down an empty mezzanine; I fiddled around on a grand piano; we posed for goofy photos.

In a day or two, there might be a drive with Craig to Homer, down the highway along Cook Inlet, dressed in normal clothes. There might be re-entry into the world outside this window. This place is a limbo, the hospital, and also this zone between living and dying I've inhabited.

Whenever I come fully into this place, this limbo, I realize how unready I feel to leave this life right now, how much I still have to prepare. As I'm writing this, Craig is talking to Mara about the book we've been reading all summer, "Who Dies" by Steven Levine. We're talking about the traps of optimism and pessimism. We're each trying to find our way out of this crisis situation. But I'm thinking about another book I've been reading by Stephen Jenkinson, a once-palliative care social worker, called "Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul." He recounts an interaction with a terminally ill woman in which he "advises her not to 'put away' her dying for some future date but to treat it as a 'prized possession,' because it's the awareness of death -- and not happiness or positivity or stoicism -- that allows us to live fully in the time we have."

That's what it's been for me these three days: a close brush with death, perhaps the closest I've experienced. he world outside the window looks different. I don't quite yet know what the place is I'll be entering when I leave this hospital. It will look like my house, and my yard, and my town. But something's shifted, and I'm not yet sure exactly how.

Coming home, take two

July 28, 2015

At the moment, cancer is doing its thing in me, and my heart's too fragile for chemo. There will probably be some new strategy when I go to Seattle in a couple weeks, but who knows? It's not for tonight, or tomorrow, to dwell upon.

For now, there's more important work to do. It started in the hospital the other day, with Craig reading aloud to me and Mara from Steven Levine's" Who Dies?" Levine worked with thousands of dying people, and what they taught him is actually hopeful. He said when people had to let go of all that had once defined them, they learned who they were underneath all of the doing, underneath all of the ways they'd created an identity out in the world. Many grew profoundly at peace, happy even. They learned who they really were under all the trappings of the body and ego, and they learned to love that actual self. I had a tiny taste of that today, sitting with Craig in a Mexican restaurant in Soldotna, feeling physically weak and rather crappy. But I told Craig, in that moment, I could feel it: basic self-love, without conditions. No need to prove anything to myself.

It's actually easier to acknowledge the truth of Levine's teachings when the body feels crappy. The mortality of the body expresses itself in the way it breaks down all around you, but there it is, you. And who is that you when the body falls away? Today I got a glimpse. Just accepting the self, even if she can't perform all of her usual tricks. Just being. Not striving. It's something to hope for, in a situation in which hope often feels like a trap, or even a danger. Perhaps getting to that kind of acceptance is one thing I do have power over: working toward it, absorbing the words Craig reads out loud to me, the conversations that come after. Stephen Jenkinson, who also worked with many dying people, writes that a true definition of health doesn't exclude illness or aging. Hmmm. Maybe there is something sane to hope for — to find my way, through this process of illness, of dying, to a true state of health.

The most-defiant act

Aug. 12, 2015

Last week, I listened to visiting musicians from the "eighth blackbird" ensemble play a composition by Richard Reed Parry called "Music for Heart and Breath" at the Bunnell Arts Center. The pianist wore a stethoscope, the metal disc slipped into her bra so she could hear her own heart beating as she played. Another musician played the xylophone at the same time, to the rhythm of his own breathing.

I sat listening with Craig, moved by the haunting piece, aware of my own heart beating in my chest, my own breathing, aware of the fragility of my heart, how it had begun to fail almost three weeks ago, in response to all the cancer fluid pressing in upon it, and even so, it beat on. Something inside me has changed since that close brush with death. The feeling that I have turned a corner has not faded, only intensified. It's like I am living my life with a stethoscope to my own heart, listening to my heart closely, listening to my breath, and moving to those rhythms, not so much to the rhythms of my brain. My brain pushed me to strive. My heart urges me to be present, to be honest, to turn toward love.

My brain has been somewhat of a nemesis. It has kept me awake at night. It has paralyzed me with fear. My heart is another matter. My breath is too. A friend taught me a breathing technique to help me sleep. A therapist taught me to interpret anxiety in another way, to heed its acid burn under my sternum and go toward what I fear, and speak to what I fear, and I've learned that by speaking, by not denying or pushing away, the anxiety is balmed. The corner I have turned is the one that fully accepts my coming death, and lives beside it. I haven't climbed into my death bed, but it's there in my house. The truth is, it's been there all along, for me, for you.

Having turned this corner was affirmed today by my most recent meeting with my oncologist, Dr. Gralow. I am now months past the average survival for a person with metastatic breast cancer. I have left the place where the oncologist enters the room as an absolute authority figure, confident in her next move, speaking of treatments that might give me years. My cancer has outwitted Carboplatin, Taxol, Herceptin and a host of others, and now we are trying for what feels like a "Hail Mary pass," an experimental-ish approach for nine weeks, but with no guarantee, and the decision whether or not to continue trying to treat my cancer anymore in my own hands, a month-to-month decision. Dr. Gralow seemed more humble than in the past, taking her time, answering all of our questions, no longer so sure. The most recent PET scan showed further progression of my disease. There is more fluid in my abdomen. My tumor markers have continued their steep rise. The presence of cancer in the lining of my heart, the lesions too small to appear on the scan, are the ones that threaten my life, yet for now, the fluid in the heart lining has not returned. I choose to see what happened to me a few weeks ago metaphorically, as my heart insisting on being heard. I choose to see it as my heart taking the microphone and the podium from my brain.

We asked Dr. Gralow directly if I was in the last six months of my life, and she said that when she heard what happened in Alaska, how quickly the fluid accumulated around my heart, how quickly my heart began to fail, she thought at the time I was. But now, she's not so sure. Besides the cancer, I am in good health. And so the Hail Mary pass, a new-ish way of using the monoclonal antibody Herceptin not to attack my cancer cells, but to carry chemotherapy into one type of cancer cell (but not into my healthy cells). I seem to have more than one type of breast cancer cell in my body, and we have no way of knowing which type is active right now, so this is just a guess, a stab in the dark.

But truly, it is not the point. The side effects of this treatment are minimal, so I will give it a try, but in the meantime, I have turned the corner, and Craig and Mara and my stepkids and many friends and family have turned the corner with me. In this place, there's no space for anything but honesty. I am learning to have hope and faith in things other than oncology's Hail Mary passes. I have hope in my ability to push through my fear of death, which is very real, and to not shove it away. I have hope in my ability to reconcile my dying as an essential and meaningful aspect of my living. I have hope in my belief in the mystery and dignity of death, as I experience it out in the natural world.

After all the doctor visits in Seattle, Mara and I had lunch near the Elliott Bay Book Company, then browsed the shelves. I found the section on death and dying and bought "Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death" by Joan Halifax, who is a Buddhist. And today on the ferry, I found these words, and I know it's weird, but as I read them aloud to my sister, who is my best friend, they filled me with that new kind of hope: "Perhaps the most defiant act in the face of death is the love of one person for another. The love of two people is a deliberate act of creation and an affirmation of life. In the context of progressive, incurable illness, love is a declaration to the force majeure that whatever else we can or cannot change, including death itself, we matter to one another."

Today I walked beside love down the streets of Seattle, and I talked with love and love and love on the phone, and love called and left messages, and I cried with love, and laughed with love, and it was even there in the compassion of the nurse who performed my echocardiogram, in the way she warmed a washcloth for me to wipe the gel off my skin after the exam was over.

It was in the thunderstorm that rolled in over Seattle and dropped rain on the parched ground. And love is arriving on airplanes tomorrow, as family gather to mark my mother's passing, and love arrives in messages sent in the mail, remembrances of my mother, and love is there even when it can't present itself. Love was and is so big, my heart can't contain it. If there are miracles, then this is one. In the face of death, and dying, and grief, and all of it, there is so much love.

Eva Saulitis is the Homer-based author of four books of nonfiction and poetry.

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