The way my husband lived with dying somehow took away all my lifelong fears—all but the fear of his suffering and of his death, and of life without him.
He planned a final family vacation for us during his last season. Short months before his diagnosis he had finally coaxed me onto a plane with our daughters, and I was still white-knuckled with terror of flying. Although he wisely did not forewarn me that each leg of the final family-of-six trip would involve four separate plane rides, I discovered that after four decades I was no longer afraid of flying.
He needed someone to be able to give him subcutaneous injections at home when he no longer could do it, and he needed carefully-mapped sequences of injections through his port. I discovered then that I no longer was afraid of needles. How could I be, after what he had been through?
He needed to know I’d be able to handle the complicated finances for getting four children through college, and I very nearly conquered my fear of his elaborate financial computer system.
He was not afraid of his own death. I never got there, but, as he told me, the two of us are made of different stuff.
Yesterday I complied with his wish for me to at least make an honest effort to take care of myself physically. I actually went to the path lab to get blood drawn for an annual physical. In The Before, after the rare occasions I actually made it to a check-up, I had let the lab slips languish under accumulating piles of flotsam in my car until they were long out of mind. Jim would not have approved.
So this time I scheduled a nearly-annual physical and left the resulting lab slip on the dashboard. After dutifully fasting and dropping my daughter off at school, I reported straight to the path lab.
I signed in at the hospital where, just across the hall, powerful chemotherapy drugs fruitlessly had coursed through my husband. A flotilla of vials had been filled with his blood at this place, and my physician husband had carefully looked over the sheets of resulting numbers. He no doubt instantly had absorbed what the tumor protein markers meant. But his face, which I could not have watched and studied more closely than I did every second I was with him, never gave that away to me.
So I checked in at the path lab and handed over my insurance card—the one with my name as the insured party, followed by our four children’s names. Jim’s name is gone. The number of names and the policy number changed once we were five.
The woman doing intake reviewed the card, asked some questions and tapped some keys, entering data into the electronic medical records system my husband had helped introduce to the hospital. She handed back the card.
“Other than that, has anything changed?” She asked. It is a rote query.
Other than that, everything’s changed. My husband is gone. My children and I have grieved through every day, in differing ways and waves, and somehow made it through holidays without him. Two-hundred-year-old trees have collapsed upon the old house he loved. Every unreachable light has burned out. I hobbled in here after seven weeks in a cast and on crutches. Now I sense rain coming in my foot, my spine, and the fingers I shut inside a solid wood door because my mind is never fully concentrated in the present. The beagles will happen upon something with his scent and I will watch as they sniff and paw at it and if I am alone I will ask them out loud if they are thinking of master and tell them they were good boys for him.
“No” is the only syllable I release.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon