Sunday, November 27, 2016

#SOL16: What You Cannot Tell Yourself


There are two times that stand out in my memory. These are from the time Rob was diagnosed and sick. The first date is December 9. It was the afternoon Rob had a chemo treatment--the second and last one he would ever have. But of course, we did not know that then. By December, he was unable to walk, but could still stand and take a step or two so long as there was a surface he could hold on to. I had brought him home from the hospital on November 19 and we lived a rather interior life my small family and me. Yes, people came to visit, but for the most part, we remained at home. Secluded. Making the very most of the time we had. And what I could not see then was that it was easier to pretend all would be okay, when I wasn't confronted with how sad our situation had become.

Rob at home last September. Who knew he would lose the capacity to walk, just 6 weeks later?


It wasn't until that day of chemo treatment that we ventured out beyond the walls of our home. Devon had come along with Rob and me to the treatment center and he was pushing his dad in a wheelchair when we entered the crowded waiting room. As I looked around, I noticed how much older everyone was and how no one, absolutely no one, was in a wheelchair except for Rob.

It was sobering.
How could all of these older people be in such better shape than Rob?

There were quick looks of sadness made by those waiting as they took in Rob and our son, who was just 16 at the time. My husband's hair had just started to grey and Devon was still growing into his body. Sitting next to Rob that afternoon, I felt anxious as if there was something I should be fearing, yet I could not name what frightened me most.

At the end of that week, I took Rob to see his cardiologist--a man who was the same age as Rob--a man he thought of as a peer. I had left Rob in the car as I got a wheelchair from the office. I had parked in the lot below and needed to get Rob up the hill and into the building. It took most of my strength and I remember worrying that I would not be strong enough to get him up the hill. When we finally entered the office, bringing in the cold air with us, most everyone was solicitous, moving around so I could sit next to Rob. Here too I noticed that everyone was so much older than Rob and yet none were bound to a wheel chair.


Why I remember these two dates is that they were the first time I saw such looks of sorrow on the faces of others. Looks of sorrow aimed at us---the family who would know such loss. I remember feeling sick and anxious and yet not knowing why. It was as if I could not distance myself from something I had to learn that would be so very painful.  Rob would remain home with Dev and me through Christmas and our anniversary before being rushed to the hospital the morning of December 30th. He would spend the next 50 days away from home before he would be able to return. By then death would be a matter of weeks.

Some truths are hard to learn, harder even to face. These are the  lessons that must be named by others first before we can find the strength to utter what we most fear to say. What I could not bare to tell myself was apparent on the faces of those we passed. 


  1. Mary Ann again I am so moved by your writing and see in it strong comparisons to both "When Breath Becomes Air" and "Being Mortal". Wish the medical profession would listen more to patients and their families to help them navigate difficult times.

    1. I wonder if being a medical professional who,works with the very ill doesn't lessen empathy for some over time? We did meet many exceptional healers on this journey too. I think of the young doctor from Ireland who brought Rob a literature book of myths. He had met him in the ER one night and would visit off and on the last few weeks of Rob's life.


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