Wednesday, April 6, 2016

#SOL16: Saved Voice Messages

Want (M. A. Reilly, 2009)

Everything was as it should be, except that it wasn’t. We were living in two worlds. The old one, which never seemed more beautiful, had not yet vanished; and the new one, about which we knew little except to fear it, had not yet arrived. From Afterword by Carole Blue (Hitchen's widow), p. 97. (From Mortality by Christopher Hitchens)

I miss Rob's voice. I have kept a dozen quick messages he sent to me between January 11, 2016 and February 12, 2016 saved on my phone. All of the messages were sent in the early morning and I realize now that Rob was less coherent by evening, even as early as December and so he had stopped phoning me later in the day.

Now that he is gone, I sometimes take out my iPhone just to listen to him speak. I get through 2 or sometimes even 3 messages before I am crying so hard and loud that I can't hear his voice. I don't listen to the messages in order as the idea of a narrative would be too much to bear. Rather, I select random messages and even though I don't want to, I still can hear his death approaching as the weakness of his voice increases. By the third week of January his voice is weakening. In that message I hear him say he is scheduled to have a cat scan later that day. I don't recall being startled or even concerned by this when I first received the message that January morning. Truthfully, he seemed to always be having some type of test of other. What I did not know was this test would reveal the spread of cancer to his sternum and right rib.

And even though the January 28th message is difficult, it is the first message from January 11th that mostly stops my heart. It's the one where Rob tells me the oncologist was just in to see him. "We're in good shape," he tells me with such conviction I can't help but believe him, even now months later when I know that we were in poor shape, knocking-on-heaven's-door-shape. Rob asks me to put a reminder on my calendar to call to the oncologist's office by February 1 in order to set up a chemo appointment for that week. It is an appointment that I will never make. He closes the one-minute conversation by saying, "We're about to begin the real race."

How prophetic.

On that morning his voice is still strong, determined. He does not know that in 30 days the same oncologist will tell us that the cancer has progressed, metastasizing to Rob's sternum, ribs, spleen and liver.  There will be no more treatment. Opdivo, the wonder drug, he had been scheduled to take instead of chemo the week earlier but could not because of a fever will not be given now as he likely would not survive the treatment nor would the treatment have enough time to work.

His case is now terminal.

Would you consider being on life support? the doctor asks.

Immediately Rob tells him he will not be hooked up to a breathing machine.

A couple hours later as we wait for my brother to arrive with Devon, a young resident comes in to make sure we understand that Rob's diagnosis is terminal and that he has a week to four weeks to live.

Five days to four weeks to be precise is what he tells us.  He will repeat this several times as if repetition best ensured successful completion of a given task. At some point during one of his repeats, I ask him to leave. "You aren't helping us," I say as kindly as I can muster. What he doesn't know is that we are all so far away from that room, waiting for our 17-year-old son to arrive so we can tell him that his dad is dying and there is nothing left to do medically. We will be breaking his heart.

The end when it came was so final. So declarative. More so than anything I have ever known. I don't have words to convey the difference between the moment before death and at death is like. I held Rob's right hand and Devon held his left hand. 40 minutes after Rob died, Devon still sat there, bent over his father's body, clutching his hand. 

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