A Tribute to Lucia Lee Kramer
Our lives play out much like a lengthy movie, with the exception that we don't have the option to rewind it and play it again, and as we face death, and to those who face it with us, the lengthy movie is on fast forward, with our storyline being viewed differently by the different people in our lives, who are all profoundly touched, regardless of the ending. This is Lucia Kramer's movie, and she would insist that we grab a bowl of popcorn and let the show begin.
Scene 1 - The Beginning
She was born Lucia Lee Smith on February 5, 1954, at St. Vincent's Hospital, Los Angeles, and surrounded by the love of her mother, Catherine, who said, "The name Lucia means a beacon of light," and her father, Raymond, and of course, being a Catholic hospital, a swarm of nuns. Lucia's first home was in Hollywood, minus the movie stars, where she and the writer of this tribute, her older sister Valerie, enjoyed the simple pleasures in life: visiting grandma's house, putting playing cards in our bike spokes, listening to our grandfather tell us why the moon had a face as we ate root beer floats, going to Chinatown and the Electric Color Fountain in Beverly Hills, digging a hole to China, making mud pies, playing "off goes your fanny" with her cousins, (where our cousins tied us up to a chair and pretended to cut off our posteriors - exactly why this game was played is anyone's guess), and switching the list of "cottage cheese and eggs" that was placed outside the front door for the milkman, to "chocolate milk and ice cream."
Scene 2: Age 6 to early 20 - South Shores, San Pedro, CA
Our family moved from Hollywood to a gorgeous area of San Pedro, South Shores, with an unobstructed view of Catalina and many neighbor friends who explored the ongoing construction of track homes, where we all played on mountains of dirt. Lucia attended South Shores Elementary School, participated in Blue Birds and Girl Scouts, had pets that included hamsters, guinea pigs, red-eared rabbits, a raccoon named Arnold, a cat, AlleyBooBoo, and two dogs, Maltese and Heidi . We rode in dad's 1959 turquoise Austin Healey and had many birthday parties, decorated and hosted by mom. Lucia took piano lessons, and we grew up on a steady diet of Tang, TV dinners, Pioneer Chicken, the worse pizza ever from Pizza Man, and most everything processed, although our favorite was Whip n Chill, a powder that came to life in the form of a delectable dessert with the addition of water. Lucia loved red licorice vines the most. We watched the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, and later attended a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl, where Lucia helped me, as I'd been stampeded on, resulting in a broken arm. For the normal sibling rivalry we experienced growing up, we also knew when to stop the nonsense and be there for one another. She saw pivotal historic events that included the Kennedy Assassination, Martin Luther King, Los Angeles Watts Riots in Los Angeles, and the death of many rock icons the likes of Jim Morrison and Jimmy Hendrix, although she was never a huge of fan of either.
Bubble-gum pop and Credence Clearwater Revival was more her style, that is until her future husband, Andy Kramer, introduced her to a vast array of music that included Led Zeppelin and Queen. She also went on a family trip in a rented RV in 1967, "The Summer of Love" to see the hippies invade San Francisco. Our father, a history teacher, felt it was an important era. Right on, and power to the people Dad. He also felt, although we were under age, that we should see the musical "Hair," which we did at the Aquarius Theatre on the Sunset Strip. Our family was treated to the eye candy of a naked man swinging on a rope, Tarzan-style, into the audience. Mom was horrified; Dad laughed. Lucia bought her first car, a 1965 burgundy-colored, Chevy Malibu, later stolen and found on the bottom of the nearby beach cliffs. On Halloween, 1971, at the age of seventeen, on a beach near Redondo, Lucia's life changed when she met who was to become her best friend and devoted husband of over 30 years, Andy Kramer, and well, now we evolve into...
Scene 3: Early 20's to late 40's
The year was 1975. Lucia was 21 years old and all the girls in the wedding were in the dressing room of the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, assisting Lucia get into her wedding gown and laughing our heads off, enjoying every moment. She was nervous, but not overly so, for she knew in her heart and soul Andy would be her partner for life, there for her through trials and tribulations, as he'd proved earlier in the year, when her father, Raymond, died of cancer, a melanoma to be exact, and even though it was an extremely difficult time, there was Andy, not running anywhere but into Lucia's arms. Marriage proved to be Lucia's life joy, and motherhood, akin to a once-coveted, Disneyland "E Ticket." Andy's family of his mother, Rene, father, Walter, and sisters, Holli and Jackie, welcomed Lucia, and Holli and Jackie always considered Lucia as another sister, not just a sister-in-law. In 1980, her daughter, Melissa, was born, resulting in parental pride overload for both Lucia and Andy. Melissa went everywhere. Lucia told us about one day when she left her in day care, and returned to find her sitting on an outside curb. Naturally furious at the airhead daycare owner, she scooped her up and left and not without sharing select words. This was one of her strengths, never mincing words or thoughts, and, in the end, in a farewell letter to her family, her precious words were a last gift to all of us. Their son, Matthew, was born in 1984, and the family continued to grow, travel and laugh together. Lucia worked diligently as an RN for Kaiser Hospital, didn't abuse drugs or alcohol, and it was both unfair and ironic, that for all her healthy life and hard work, in her final years, she was misdiagnosed by the very doctors that also worked for Kaiser. John Lennon said it best: strange days indeed.
Daughter Melissa recalled how her mom, "Always had a bubbly personality. I remember she'd sometimes take fish heads from the trout we caught in Whitewater, hold them up to me and sing, 'When the Shark Bites' ("Mack the Knife"). I'd freak out and she would chase me down the hall with them! Quite often Mom would be singing a Beatles song and try to dance with me, but she wasn't always goofing off' she had a nurturing side. Mom would talk to me about anything, she didn't care what the subject matter was, she'd always have an opinion. Even if I didn't want to follow her advice half the time, she was usually right. Even with her bubbly/nurturing-mommy side, she'd get business done."
Scene 4: Age 50 to 52
A lump in Lucia's foot - she wanted a biopsy but was told it wasn't necessary "just a 'benign' growth" said one doctor, who advised her to use orthotics. The advice never sat right with Lucia, who all along felt it might be "something else," a fear that was eventually confirmed in the answer of a high grade tumor, a synovial sarcoma, a disease that offered near zero hope for a cure. She faced the harsh reality that little research had been done regarding this cancer or the option of effective treatments. She faced amputation and high-level chemo. In between there were visits to UCLA and other treatments, all causing great pain and distress with ongoing tests resulting in more dark clouds, and perhaps most sad of all, no hope for her beating this dragon. Melissa recalled how her mom would try to keep a sense of normalcy, but "it was obvious she was scared, frustrated, worried and angry at how this was treated. There were a lot of tears shed, all because of this terrible, unforgiving and unfair disease. Mom didn't give up until all her options were exhausted and she did it for all of us. Although the sarcoma eventually won, she fought best she could, which gives me some comfort."
On October 12, 2006, Columbus Day, at the age of 52, the same age that her father died, Lucia, the laughing, generous, forgiving and non-judgmental beacon of light, passed away in her home, with her husband and best friend, Andy, by her side, just as he'd always been. Her struggle with the sarcoma demon, lost. One month prior to her passing, she enjoyed an overnight with her mother and me, and wrote all the immediate family members a farewell note. I asked what she was involved with on her laptop and she said, "a game," obviously wanting to keep the farewell letter a secret until she passed. That night she shared with me that she'd been hearing, "incredibly beautiful music, like nothing she'd ever heard on this Earth before" and added, "Please believe, that no matter what happens to me, I will be all right."
Life, for most of us, moves on. In her farewell letter, Lucia advised Andy "to go on with your life and be happy" and reminded him with her ever-present humor, "I will watch over you from heaven above, but not too close, lol." He recently remarried and is just that, happy, because his deep love for Lucia enabled him to continue to embrace life. Melissa is to be married to a man Lucia would have been nothing short of delighted with. Matthew is soon to have his first home, and remains in a long-term relationship that I know Lucia would smile upon. Her mom turned 84 and, more often than not, a candle burns in her home for a daughter that never left. Not uncommonly, tears are shed, along with exceptionally happy memories. I frequently reflect on happier times we shared and wonder if we can truly communicate with the dead. How cool would it be to strike up a conversation with Lucia? How mind-boggling that would be! Maybe this is a case for the Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures." The question remains: "Can I handle the lockdown?"
Is there an "end" to Lucia's life story? Perhaps not, for as long as sarcoma treatments remain in an archaic state, with amputation, heavy-duty chemotherapy and radiation overload being the only options, and the cure rate for this disease next to nil, patients, or more appropriately, sarcoma victims, will remain in the dark ages, feeling less than human, and without hope. Lucia and countless others like her will never have the justice they so rightly deserve. At least 97% of donations in honor of Lucia Kramer will be used for peer-reviewed sarcoma research, the disease that knows no borders.
Lucia's final words written in her farewell letter to her friends hold importance for all of us: "You want some advice from an old friend? Live happy, live healthy, if you want to do something, do it now. It's ok if you can't afford it, the money will come later, but your life may not. Live life to the fullest and you will never regret it. I love you all, Lucia
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