(First published in January of 2014)
Hospice came today.
And they came yesterday.
Today we met our nurse who will be walking with us. She left with a bag of homemade cookies and a couple of big hugs after 75 minutes of getting acquainted that caused us to draw in close. We’re so glad to have medical resources for evaluating and understanding heretofore unfamiliar things.
On Monday a hospital bed will be brought from the Salem warehouse as ordered via the corporate offices in Arizona that handle such things in the western part of the country.
Two months ago today we knew there were awesome and fearful things we did not understand because two days earlier we had gotten a cold call from a regional cancer research center, the caller clearly believing we were expecting the contact, “Hi! I’m calling to set up your appointment at the cancer center.” Oh.
And right then the disconcerting silence we had endured for two frustrating weeks after the routine hernia repair fell off its great lofty table and shattered into a million pieces with a ROAARRRR that no one but us heard.
On November 9, I wrote,
I fully realize that I am being prepared for what’s coming, and that the heart-rending I may allow in these days when it could be sidestepped by simply refusing to “go there” – will make what’s coming go better –
I don’t want to do this. But I will.
Deep waters require His grace and the wisdom I desperately need within my own thoughts must be drenched in His grace. I’m a frail, frail vessel.
Our first appointment with the cancer specialist was on November 15. That is when we were told what has been confirmed by a variety of procedures and tests since then – the cancer was advanced and metastasized and untreatable.
The day before that appointment,
I woke up from a sharp dream where I was out on a huge lake. The water was perfectly still. I was supposed to be paddling across the lake.
I was on a flat wood square raft of some kind and didn’t have a paddle.
I got across somehow and went into the stores along the shore trying to see if there was a paddle somewhere I could buy. The only one I eventually found was the remainder of a broken one – with jagged edges about ten inches above the paddle area. So I was carrying it around the store with me while I kept looking for a whole one.
So here we are two months later.
Today was busy and so was yesterday.
Yesterday the Admit Nurse and the Social Worker were here. It upsets me that the social worker has to be involved because I still equate the presence of social workers with either being on welfare or having been caught abusing children or something equally awful.
We ate peanut butter cookies with them and signed a cardboard-weight, hot pink piece of paper that documented the Do Not Resuscitate orders that they emphasized could be changed in a second if we change our minds. We gave them copies of the durable POA and the Advance Directive.
When they left after three hours we had crossed another one of those invisible lines that we’ve been crossing since November 7 when the young lady who later became our friend had to deal with shattered and shocked people when she was just doing what her job required – calling to set up an appointment.
We keep crossing those invisible lines. Deep, deep lines carved in the sands of time. We have no choice about crossing them – because our journey lies ===> that way. He is on one journey and I am on quite another but we still travel together.
Before November 7, we would have had no answer to this question,
How on earth will you two function if you are facing a shock-of- your-life diagnosis with limited life expectancy and zero advance warning?
Now we have the beginning of an answer.
- We will weep with one another and with trusted friends.
- We will share laughter and good humor with close family on New Year’s Day around a roaring bonfire.
- We will fill binders with tab dividers and forms. Blank forms and completed forms. Forms to be mailed and forms received in the mail. To-do lists and daily logs where every contact is noted so we don’t lose track. Lists of questions that are crossed off as they are answered. Copies of reports and tests received after every appointment and procedure.
- We will speak plainly when we have a thought and when we are confused and overwhelmed, we will be comfortable with silence.
- Sometimes we will sing a family song softly to one another.
- We will understand that tears don’t need to be fixed or wiped away and sometimes we’ll just let them run down our cheeks and drip off our chins.
- We will dance like nobody’s watching.
- We will make spreading mulch in the perennial flower garden a team job when, before, it was a given that he had enjoyed that as a solo job.
- He’ll go crabbing with our son and grandson whenever the tide’s right.
- He will make lists of items in the garage and yard that he wants to take care of so that I won’t have to deal with them alone.
- Eventually we will put away the first two binders that filled with all of those papers because reality overtook us and rendered both the tabs and the forms irrelevant – first one binder and then the other.
- We will plan a very special trip for our wedding anniversary later this month.
- I will recognize that no matter how close I get to his heart, he walks his journey alone except for the presence of Sovereign God Who Loves Him. And he will recognize that no matter how many times a day he just quietly holds me in his arms as we stand together in the kitchen – or the living room – or the garage – I walk my journey alone except for the presence of Sovereign God Who Loves Me.
We both understand where this journey ends and because of that, we have a new greeting we sometimes use during the morning hours, “Not today.” We know there is a day coming when we could properly say, “Perhaps today.” But not yet.
Not today. Some day. But not today.
Our best pastor of many years ago was known to say, “You know, none of us are going to get out of here alive.” The man was right.
Before my father died of cancer in 1962 he slipped into some moments of semi-consciousness from time to time. He had been fearful that he would perhaps display unpleasant language or behavior if that should happen. Not to worry. When it happened, Mom was there and said that he kept quoting Psalm 27:1 ~ “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Dad was right.
This morning I told him that I’m thinking about changing my mind – that I’m not going to let him leave. He chuckled and said, “I know you like to control things, but I don’t think it will work this time.” He’s probably right about that.
We shed a lot of tears today.
The choice we repeatedly make to talk about painful things (like moving furniture to make room for the hospital bed) right in front of his face is piercing and sometimes just feels flat rude….but the intimacy and strength that is the harvest of that painful choice? I’m here to tell you we will not trade that away for temporary comfort. It’s been a hard day.
I watched M.A.S.H. reruns last night with my head on his shoulder, his arm circled around and holding me close. It’s been a good day.
Tomorrow our son and his family are coming down to watch the Seahawks-Saints game. It will be a good day.
On Monday when the hospital bed comes, it will be a good day and a hard day. It will be good to know that he won’t have more uncomfortable nights when it’s difficult to breathe because of fluid buildup, because he can sleep with his head raised. It will be hard because we will cross another deep and invisible line in the sand of reality over which we can never return – we can’t go back to where we used to live.
Obviously a case can be made either for sharing a bit of such a journey – or not. We know the friendship and encouragement of many of you, so we choose to break the silence from our corner of the woods a bit.
When I talked with him about the idea of sharing some of this walk with you he thought about it for a moment and then said – quiet-like, “I don’t see why not. Go for it.”
We do want you to know that while we are definitely not all right the fact is, we’re all right: deep waters and the grace of God really do go together.