Sunday, November 6, 2016

#SOL16: An Impossibly Long Ladder

from my art journal, May 2016


I have been restless all day. Waking early and walking a bit. Unsettled and not understanding the why of it. It wasn't until I had to reset the clock and to do so required putting in the day's date that my mind realized what my body already knew: a year ago in early morning I was rushing Rob to the hospital because an abscess the size of a softball was growing out of his chest.

All that day and night I would stay with him in the emergency room until he was finally admitted. He was transferred the next morning to a different hospital for surgery. I would not bring him home until the night of November 19th and that was after significant haggling with an attending doctor who in response to me telling her that the next day was Rob's birthday told me there would be other birthdays. How wrong she was.


As I was walking earlier I was thinking how the next two months will likely be tough. November 19th is my birthday--the first one I won't spend with Rob in 29 years and the very next day is Rob's birthday. Then there is Thanksgiving, Christmas, what would have been our 26th wedding anniversary and then New Year's. I was wondering how to keep busy so as to avoid some of these land mines, but no matter what I do there will be pain I will need to stand before. Yes, stand before the pain. When we hide pain, we suffer in more subtle and prolonged ways. Rob told me years ago the only way out of something, is through it.

For the first time last New Year's, Rob and I were apart. By then Rob was back in the hospital unable to walk. He would tell me on New Year's day how he was the nurses' favorite as he was the only patient in the unit who was awake and alert at midnight.  The intensive care nurses were terrific and served Rob hot chocolate at midnight. A week later he would undergo neurosurgery on his spine and the oncologist would tell us that Rob had at least another year to live. I remember saying to Rob how I wanted to remember how positive I felt about his health and outcome when times got tougher.

On our last anniversary, Rob told me how next year we would be through this and we would celebrate in style. We all had such faith in his healing, in science. By the end of January Rob would be rushed back to the hospital from an inpatient rehabilitation facility where he had been learning how to stand. He was incoherent and feverish and we would learn that he had yet another staph infection this time from the port in his arm. Three staph infections in the space of four months. And while the doctors saw to ridding his body of staph, the cancer was growing stronger, wrapping tighter around his spine, and progressing from the right lung to the left and then on to his ribs, diaphragm, spleen, and liver; organ to organ until a few weeks later he would die.


I have never been as present in the moment as I was during Rob's last 19 days. Finally he was home as he wanted, as I wanted. It felt imperative to soothe him, to care for him, to have him know in every atom he was loved. On those late nights as I sat next to his bed, I longed to understand what he was experiencing when he would pull at the covers, mumble-talk, move his arms and hands above him as if he might be climbing an impossibly long ladder, and perhaps he was. On those rare occasions when he was lucid, his brilliance shone. The last thing he would say to me was that he had figured out how to cross over. A day later he would do so.

To bear witness to your husband's death is to confirm how the jawbone unhinges like a too-wild bird seeking its flight. It's to confirm the rattle of breath and how the grip slowly loosens. And all of it feels as crucial as breathing. I remember thinking with such fervor that my husband would not die alone--that he would know the touch of my hands, his son's hands at the moment of death and I'd like to think he did.

Such experience cannot be rendered as ideas. What I write here is mostly wrong or at least quite incomplete. There simply isn't language for it.  This type of knowing resides in the body--the same body that roused me early this morning, unsettled, wanting what it could no longer have.

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