It was a small town. Not long after, the young nurse to be met a young psychiatrist starting out a medical practice who was newly "divorced". (Actually the divorce would not go through for months, but no reconciliation was likely, so he can probably be forgiven.) Apparently he'd sealed the deal by saving someone's life with CPR in front of her.
So she was very quickly a presence in my life, as we kids went for the weekend visits. Then, a year later, my father moved to Rapid City and my mother moved to Austin, Minnesota, and the visits became longer, but further between.
The thing about the visits...my father did not do children well. In fact, he didn't really do guests at all, as I was to find out years later, and refused to rearrange his life at all for visitors. So most of these vacations were spent with my sister being watched and entertained by my stepmother.
At the time, they were both bikers, heavy into the Sturgis thing. She was very Irish, and looked the biker-chick part, with hip length long red hair. But they weren't typical bikers. My father was a practicing psychiatrist and she was a trauma care nurse. She was a wonderfully intelligent woman with a biting, cynical wit.
About the time I was 8 or 9, she became pregnant with my half-brother. Almost immediately after giving birth, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. At the time, the treatments were not so good as they are now, and the prognosis was bad. It was a near thing and at one point she was, as a Catholic, given last rites. (IIRC) But she beat it.
For whatever reason, the marriage ended. That my father had thought health insurance was a luxury while spending his doctor's income on porsches might have been part of it. More likely, it was just my father being my father. In any case, the marriage hobbled along for a few years and then died.
About this time, my father stopped having us kids come visit.
When I turned 18 I began to visit him again, and also reconnected with my brother and therefore my stepmother. She was a great person to know and so it wasn't all that surprising to want to spend time with someone who wasn't technically my relative any more. (Though I suppose the mother of my brother always would be.)
Time passed and eventually she married a wonderful guy who was pretty much everything my father wasn't. He was also pretty well off, maintaining homes both in the San Fernando Valley and Deadwood. I lived in San Diego at the time, and so would visit when I was in the area. Later, my brother, after spending part of his teenage years with my father, came to California to go to high school, so I visiting even more. My brother had a rough time in his twenties, but my stepmother seemed happy. She'd been a high-powered nurse, working in critical care units (and full of gruesome stories about the work.) She spent time in helicopters helping support patients as they went to the one hospital that could save them. But eventually, only in her early fifties, she retired. She'd enjoyed the small town hospitals but did not like the uncaring bureaucratic behemoths of LA.
And so she seemed to have a happy life. Lots of travel with her husband. Really, everything she wanted, as far as she said.
Then that bastard cancer came back. The trouble with radiation therapy is that while killing the cancer today it can lay the groundwork for cancer tomorrow. But after a double-mastectomy, she beat that, too. But the ravages of the treatments run ragged over her body. She was tethered to oxygen and very recently had some fainting spells where she had hurt herself very badly.
I last saw her about a year ago. She was as intelligent as ever but there was a sadness about her. She was realistic as only a nurse who has seen it all can be, but it was obvious she was not done with life. This morning, I got a message from my brother that she was in bad shape. He called later in the afternoon to say that she'd died.
She was only 58.
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