During the spring of 2007, I visit Lynn weekly. One time we read over her old newspaper clippings, another we go through her movie collection. She asks what it was like to cover the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, less than an hour away. It was horrific, of course, just the kind of story Lynn would have excelled at coordinating—the long hours, the last-minute page changes, the late-night phone calls to verify a detail.
Reporters were so stressed afterward, I tell her, that our editor actually hired massage therapists to come into the newsroom. I expect her to find the massages amusing, coddling even, but Lynn shudders and tells me she's relieved to have been far removed from the biggest story to hit our region in years.
We drive to the Olive Garden, where she stares at her steaming plate of ravioli. Finally I realize that she's waiting for me to cut up her food. She asks if we can order wine with lunch and I say, Why not?
Halfway through our meal, she brings up the subject of her death: "I have no idea what happens to me when I go. But, see, now I don't worry about that so much. I guess it's a blessing."
She asks about friends at the newspaper. She reads only leads and headlines now; she can't follow a story if it jumps from one page to the next.
On the drive home she's tired, though still quite agreeable. She has trouble finishing any sentence, so mostly she laughs. I let go and laugh along with her.
At a stoplight, she looks over at me, her eyes beaming, and says: "If you ever wanna get married someday, let me know."
She giggles, then I giggle, and then we're both doubled over, clutching our bellies.
Why not? I say.
That would be our last visit.
During the summer, Lynn's family moves her to a facility in her Wisconsin hometown, to be closer to her daughter and several other relatives; they also expect her money will hold out longer there. In a couple of weeks, she'll turn 65.
Katie fills me in occasionally on her progress, which is...nonexistent. Instead, over the next two and a half years there are urinary tract infections and emergency room visits.
Before she becomes immobile in early 2010, Lynn enjoys wandering into other patients' rooms to socialize and watch TV. Though she has lost the use of language, she still loves laughing with people.
Family members aren't sure when to call in hospice. "I'm ready for her battle to be over," Katie tells me after one early spring hospitalization. "But Larry's not. When she recovers from a hospital stay, he'll say, 'Thank God she's gonna be okay.'"
Her advice for others? "Write your medical directive while you're still young."
When I explain that I'm preparing Lynn's story for publication in a magazine, Katie reminds me that it was one of Lynn's last lucid wishes that her story might help others. "It's all she ever wanted—to matter."
"That's not true," she adds, chuckling. "She also wanted to be Jackie O."
April 2010: I'm at the end of a yearlong journalism fellowship at Harvard, studying care for the elderly, when Katie e-mails me the news: The Queen has passed.
Carol Lynn Forbish, 67, died the same way she lived—bucking expectations. Back in 2006, doctors predicted she'd die in three to five years, probably from a painful infection, curled up in a fetal position.
But her last acts of will, I'm proud to learn, were vintage Lynn: Summoned to participate in a crafts class last winter, she refused to roll balls of yarn. When music therapy was offered instead, she couldn't sing or talk—but her feet tapped in time.
Down with the yarn, up with the Beatles.
By spring she refused all food, clamping her mouth tight and turning her head, pretending to fall asleep. As Katie tells the story: "By God, she was gonna go her own way. She wasn't gonna take any crap from death."
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