I phoned as I had told her I would. "Hello, may I speak to Kathy Davis?"
The woman who answered lapsed into a long pause. Then, in a tired voice that dragged along the heaviness of grief, she asked, "Who is this calling?"
I identified myself, a little mystified, but only for a moment.
"Kathy died two days ago," she said. "This is her mother."
I had made contact with Kathy Davis about 10 days previous. She was happy-voiced and friendly, sounding like her hospice status might have been premature. She desired to make a final testimony to her Christian faith, to say with the apostle Paul, Death, where is thy sting?
Also, as a physician, to perhaps demystify a little the passage she was experiencing and through which we are all sure to follow.
Her mother later introduced herself as Marleen Giuliano. She was bearing up from having lost her only daughter and, a month earlier, her husband, Peter.
The house that she and Peter bought shortly after their wedding, and which Kathy had often visited, was empty now. Marleen was struggling to cope with her losses and carry on the work that both daughter and husband would have wished for her.
In late October, Marleen, 74, had gone to Oregon to bring her 48-year-old daughter back home with her to Escondido to ease her dying. Just before starting the drive south, she phoned Peter, who said, "I'm not counting the days anymore till you're in my arms. Now, I'm counting the hours."
He died that night of congestive heart failure. It was Oct. 28. Kathy was to die Dec.4.
Peter was a remarkably energetic man of 89 who worked as a meat cutter. He once owned his own market but wanted to stay active.
(Anyone who says of an 89-year-old that it's time to go has never lost anyone at 89. That's always said of someone else's loved one.)
Peter and Marleen had a late autumn romance. He was 72 and she 57 when they married, each for the second time. They met in church, and devout Christianity made their marriage vibrant, she said.
"We kept saying, ‘Gosh, this has been the most wonderful 17 years of our lives.' He would say, ‘Yeah, I hope we get another 17.'
"We were always holding hands. His daughter used to laugh and say, ‘Get a room.' I miss him so much."
Dr. Kathy Davis was a family physician who fought the trend against revolving-door patient sessions. Marleen says Kathy was forced to leave a clinic in Washington state because of a rigid rule that patient visits should be no longer than five minutes for each problem.
Marleen says, "If the patient would say, ‘By the way, I also have this rash on my hand,' they were supposed to make another appointment for that. The (clinic) gave her several chances. She would not limit her time with patients. She cared too much about them. She said, ‘That's not why I went to medical school.'"
Kathy moved south and found a clinic in Medford, Oregon, that allowed her to treat patients as she felt was ethical. She was there for eight years.
Kathy was a single woman who found herself in a common quandary regarding marriage and family, Marleen says. "She was so focused on becoming a doctor, she never had time for dating. By the time she finished residency and wanted to date, she found no acceptable single Christian men, and she wouldn't have considered anyone else. She was OK with it, but I was always sad that she didn't get married and have kids."
Kathy was treated for aggressive colon cancer for four years and continued to treat patients until last October, when she knew the end was near. That was when she came with her mother to Escondido and became a hospice patient.
Marleen tears up as she tells of her daughter's dedication. "She loved her patients. She brought her oxygen to work with her. As she charted between patients, she would use the oxygen, but then she would go in to see her patient without it. When she couldn't do that anymore, she knew it was time to leave."
Marleen summarizes Kathy's attitude.
"The hospice pastor asked her, ‘Give me one sentence that would be your biggest prayer.' She thought, then finally said, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for your peace.'"
As she endured the cancer, Kathy was recorded as saying, "I had a patient with breast cancer, and she described it as the best thing that ever happened to her because it forced her to change, to live each day as if it could be her last. I didn't understand it then, but now I do. Now I go, ‘Oh, yeah, I understand!' I see things so much clearer now. I see the little spider's web, or the sun setting, the smell of the pine trees."
Now, Marleen is alone. Grief stands at her elbow, and her face reflects the shadow it casts. "My husband is gone, my daughter is gone."
To deal with her reality, Marleen turns to her faith for comfort and to her own medical profession for purpose.
In 1956, Marleen was a student at Vista High School and spent happy days in the comfort of a middle-class Jewish home. Not just that, but orthodox Jewish, which lends gravity to what was about to occur.
"A friend of mine asked me to go to a youth meeting. She didn't tell me it was at a church or I never would have gone. ... At that meeting, I accepted the Lord Jesus as my savior."
Then she went home that night to tell her parents the "good news."
"My father was a career Army man. He said, ‘If you are baptized, you are not coming back in this house.' I waited until the night before I left for nursing school to be baptized, and then I couldn't go home."
The languid stream of time smoothes sharp edges. Marleen's mother became a Christian also, and her father became friends with her pastor and took trips with church groups. He even performed the seder ritual at Passover for the church.
Do you still feel that you're a Jew?
"I am. I'm a completed Jew."
Marleen became a registered nurse, gained a master's degree and spent her career in obstetrics and teaching nursing. It is her profession that now holds the promise of relief from grief and a purpose for going on.
For years, she has been active in a San Diego missionary group named e3 Partners Ministry. Its members travel to underdeveloped countries to "plant" churches and provide medical and other help to the people.
In that effort, Marleen has traveled to eight countries, including Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Peru. The problem she has at the moment is that participants are expected to fund themselves, usually about $5,000. That's an obstacle for Marleen because of medical costs and probate entanglements.
She is hoping to leave in May for Ecuador.
"Kathy told me once not long ago, ‘I'm here on earth to serve God and other people. I will do that as long as I possibly can.' She did, and now her service will be continued by me."
Marleen Giuliano wakes up every morning to a silent house. She retires each night to an empty bed.
But if you ask whether she is alone, she will say no.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]© Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.