|Afternoon Light (M.A. Reilly, 2016)|
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
- John Keats
We hide the process of dying, alongside our limitations to heal. It is hard to remember that dying is actually a natural process especially when the person dying is your husband. There is such a strong inclination to save Rob, to keep him living somehow as his oxygen levels fall. But this is foolish. Selfish. He would no more want to live the way he has been this last week than would I. His interest in writing and reading, in Devon and me, in the world beyond the end of his fingertips has waned. And Rob has been adamant about never being hooked up to a breathing machine.
It's February 10, slightly before 9 a.m. when Dr. Gallinson asks Rob if he would allow intubation of a breathing tube and Rob is quick to answer, "Absolutely not."
David has just told us that the cancer in Rob's body has spread from his lungs and spine to his sternum, ribs, liver, and spleen and that he is too weak to receive Opdivo--a new lung cancer treatment.
How much time do I have left?
"A few weeks, a couple of months."
Rob turns to me and immediately says, "I don't want to be put in a box in the ground."This morning I am remembering this exchange that happened a little more than two weeks ago as I sit in the chair beside Rob's bed. Our home is quiet. The loud drone of the oxygen machine has been quieted. Devon has left for school. Rob's mom is upstairs still asleep and Rob's skin is sallowed and he appears closer to death.
I have been with him for the last few hours, well before the sun rose, and now he is bathed, the bed linens have been changed, and he is resting and restless, mumbling and as I lean in I hear him say softly, intently, "Get a room ready, God."
"You're ready to go?" I ask.
Rob has been telling me he is ready to go daily. Sometimes the request is couched in metaphor:
Help me to cross the river.Sometimes the request is direct:
How do I leave here?Sometimes the request is fanciful:
Devon give me my driving glasses. I need to fly the red car out of here.
I tell him that Devon's team won their match and now they are 10 and 4. The 'Christmas' cactus in the dining room is blooming. Who knew moving it from the living room would have such an effect? That after lots of stormy weather, it looks like we'll have a sunny day. I tell him it's okay to go to that room God has readied for him--that is where he most needs to be. I show him that outside the windows beside his bed, the birds are riotous. What do you make of that? I tell him I have saved his voice on my phone. I say, it's the end of February and the promise of spring hangs about us, restless like we are. This is a time for rebirth. I tell him Dev and I will be okay here and that we will love him forever. I say all this as I hold his hand, rubbing my thumb alongside the base of his thumb as he sleeps.
I hold his hand as he sleeps.
I hold his hand.
And I think, Love these days is more action than words, Rob--more actions than words.