Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#SOL16: Confession

Late Day (2016) 
The surgeon always begins a Whipple by inserting a small camera through a tiny incision to look for metastases, as widespread cancer renders the operation useless and causes its cancellation. Standing there, waiting in the OR with a nine-hour surgery stretching out before her, Mari had a whisper of a thought: I’m so tired—please God, let there be mets . There were. The patient was sewn back up, the procedure called off. First came relief, then a gnawing, deepening shame. Mari burst out of the OR, where, needing a confessor, and I became one. --Paul Kalanithi, 2016, p. 66, Where Breath Becomes Air.

I'm reading Paul Kalanithi's stunning memoir, Where Breath Becomes Air--a book he wrote as he was dying from lung cancer. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon. What strikes me is how human the resident, Mari is portrayed and how angry I am nonetheless at her selfishness for the body on that table could have been my husband's. And I wonder about my outrage. Why is it the Mari's selfishness so infuriates me? Why does this resonate so?

And within a minute I am recalling the tiredness I felt while caring for Rob and I feel a certain paralysis seize me and I can't turn away from a remembrance of a morning a week or so before Rob died. That morning dogs my every step.

I had been up with him for almost 72 hours straight. I was supposed to have been able to sleep finally after hiring an aide who was going to take care of Rob that night. I woke up when the aide came running into the bedroom screaming about blood. I had only been to sleep for about 40 minutes. I ran downstairs and saw that Rob had pulled the catheter from himself and there was blood, his blood on the sheets. I quickly called a hospice nurse who arrived at the house at 3 a.m. to replace it. The next  day the catheter would need to be removed because of blood clotting and it is the next morning that I need most to write about. That morning Rob is lying in the hospital bed in a diaper unable to get up and continually asking me nonetheless to help him walk to a chair as he keeps forgetting that he can no longer stand, let alone walk and I am the one who has to keep crushing him by telling him he cannot do this anymore--he cannot stand up. And into this mess that morning I am sobbing with my head resting on my folded arms atop his bed and Devon is off to school driven by a neighbor I think or a friend and Rob's mother is upstairs still asleep and I whisper to my husband, I need you to die. I can't take this anymore. I'm so damn exhausted.

And my beautiful husband looks at me and just frowns.
It is the saddest frown I have ever seen--a look I recall daily, on the hour, now.

And in that moment, I know I am the worse human on the planet--more monster than wife. Who would further harm a dying man? My words are a betrayal of love. I immediately tell him that I did not mean what I said, that I was just so tired, so exhausted. I feel such hopelessness. Time has ceased to function in ways that are familiar and my capacity to reason is so diminished, but none of this today excuses my awful words or soothes the deep regret I hold.

I want to think Rob forgave me for this, but I truly don't know. Since he died, I have returned to walking. Each day I walk. I do this in memory of my husband who died unable to walk. I do this in the hope of finding some small measure of grace.


  1. For me your post is suffused not only with humanity but also grace. Please forgive yourself, or at least, put this to one side until you can.

    1. I just need to get things out. It's out there now.

  2. I hope for you to know peace again soon. Your sharing of your experiences, is, in the end, far too noble and suffused with too much grace for any self-perceived "mistake" on your part to ever stain.

    1. I have loved my husband well. And his love for me was boundless. He would be the first to forgive me. Perhaps I need to be the second.

  3. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The "confession" of your humanity requires no forgiveness, and Rob knows this as well as anyone. For me, this goes to war experience, so much alike. You come back tormenting yourself for what you did or did not do, and it cannot be changed. We cannot escape our humanity, Mary Ann. At best it deepens our compassion, and we use it to ease the pain of others when possible and when needed.


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