The prognosis is bad. The cancer is late stage. The doctor spoke in an optimistic tone in September of 2008, yet we knew what was in store. We had just celebrated our third wedding anniversary Labor Day weekend.
From where I sit at my home desk now, 8 years later, I see him lying on the hospital bed set up for his end of life hospice care. He is snoring lightly, not the way he snored beside me for the better part of 13 years. I needed earplugs. He adjusted to my elbow nudge signal to roll over so I can sleep. Come to find out that nudge really annoyed him. Hurt sometimes too. Earplugs are something I no longer need, and I’m glad to be free of them.
The confounding part is that here we are. Here he is, the pillar of my world, lays dying. Frail where strength was on his arms and torso. Gone is a genius, a professional, an author, entrepreneur. Left for the moment is father, husband, son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. All of these roles he held. I remember the diagnosis pointed at him about his body and soul, yet from the time of that first moment, it was ours. We were in it together.
Meeting new people is difficult. I do my best to cover my fears and sadness. Yet when I meet someone new, face to face, and discover this person and I share loss, I feel so relieved. It’s like I can exhale and be myself. Sure, I’ve held back. Me, the wannabe national writer. That was my dream. Cancer, I felt, stole it from me. Cancer ended our plans for a child. Cancer changed the track of my life. Early on after his diagnosis, I had to bring in a paycheck, keep our health insurance intact. I was a second shift nurses assistant in a rehabilitation facility. The pay was lousy but we had health insurance.
It was a crazy risk and a big leap of faith when I took the plunge in graduate school. Chemotherapy treatments, radiation, and multiple surgeries subdued the cancer. So much poison into his body gave us a brief window of possibility that my dreams could occur.
For four years after grad school I aggressively pursued stable employment. By the second interview, when things looked promising time and again, I wasn’t chosen. Something was off about me. Perhaps it was all the uncertainty I was hiding.
Like all human beings who have been through a trial of such a duration, we feel for the pain of others more deeply. If you haven’t been there, you can’t know how horrible it is. We, I speak broadly to include my global sisters and brothers, who know loss will be there for others as others have been there for us. Quite often those others are strangers or acquaintances met on the health crisis escalator.
Grief is never-ending but changes with time and changes us in the process. Each day I struggle as the caregiver. I try to support our home, keep it neat if not clean. I struggle with his elderly mother who is the polar opposite of me. I wish I had more friends and family close by.
Eight years are a long time to live in anticipation. Well, we knew the end would come and we would go our separate ways. His soul will leave his body for the great unknown, and I will live. Somehow.