|Self Portrait: Lips (M.A. Reilly, 2016)|
I bought a brisket.
A few days before Rob was released from the palliative care center of the hospital, I went to Kings Supermarket in Morristown, NJ and bought a 4-pound beef brisket. I had never cooked a brisket before. In fact, I'm not even sure I ever ate brisket. But on the night of Valentine's Day as the threat of snow and ice came true, my husband told me how much he craved brisket. I was able to get him some cooked brisket that night from Kings and swore I would make him brisket when he came home. So, the next day I had the rather heavy hunk of beef wrapped, not in freezer wrapping with its shiny waxed paper, but in the regular oatmeal-colored butcher paper as I intended to make brisket during Rob's first week back home. While at the supermarket, I also bought all of his favorite foods and carted the many bags of groceries to the car and then to our house. My husband was coming home after having lived in the hospital for the previous 50 days. He left the morning of December 30th by ambulance. It was mid February and he was coming home to die. I realize now, months later, that I believed more in the possibility of a miracle than in the certainty of his death. Surely God would intercede and save this man.
The brisket is now probably freezer burned. I placed it there, in the freezer out in the garage the fourth day Rob was home as he had stopped eating. I spent the next two weeks eating mostly orange wedges as I watched my husband prepare himself to die. It seemed orange slices were what I could best swallow. Each morning I peeled an orange and left it in a bowl on the counter. And throughout the day, I would take a bite now and then. After months of seeing to his care, I was told that I now needed to shift from life saving to comfort. The fine people from Hospice helped me to understand this, but what they did not know, what I did not know, was that secretly I was still waiting for a miracle.
It took a few days more before I gave up placing the oxygen indicator on Rob's finger. The drone and bang of the oxygen machine filled the pockets of silence. Next to the hospital bed in our family room were three pulse oximeters. We had three in case one might break and another might be lost. Throughout Rob's fight with cancer, it seemed the measure of his health was directly tied to how high his oxygen saturation numbers were. Above 90 was reason to cheer. Like the brisket, the oximeters seem to have gone missing as well.
What gets lost is sometimes too much to count.