“How are you doing?” I ask.
“Good now that you’re here.” She wastes no time before exerting pressure. I know I’m the last visitor of the day. She won’t want me to leave.
I choose the visitor chair with no arms on it and don’t remain for long. She wants us arranged on the bed, side by side so that I can hold her and rub her back and such. I immediately regret it. I don’t want this level of intimacy with her, and now I’ve set an unhealthy precedent. Now I’ll loathe to come back again and face the unenviable choice of unwelcome intimacy versus an abandonment/anxiety attack reaction should I decline. The more she demands the more she alienates. Bad all around.
She reminds me she’s dying. She says she’s going home Monday (I doubt it). She tells the tale of the cancer-sick man who survived because all his friends and family put their lives on hold and stayed with him 24/7 and pulled him through. I’m a little skeptical. Pretty sure cancer doesn’t give a rat’s ass if your friends are holding your hand or not.
All she wants is love – or the illusion of love. Somewhere inside she probably perceives the difference and is willing to settle for the latter. But the constant demands erode lovability.
“Stay,” she wheezes breathlessly, “’Til midnight.” How real is she being? As always I don’t know. As always I am caught between mercy and sticking to my principles – which all boils down to: blind compassion versus genuine compassion. This night I am strong and tell her I must go and why, and that I will be thinking about her and how to be helpful to her.
The next night there is an inner-circle meeting. The Liberal Theologian’s daughter; my other housemate, is the key participant. She hasn’t felt like a daughter for a long time now; more a constant nurse. She’s a sleepless estranged grieving wreck at twenty-four years old, and I haven’t been shy to point that out to people. Her girlfriend is there. We’d had a one-on-one prior to the meeting, solidifying our commitments as protectors of The Daughter.
LT’s best of friends are there: Dog Whisperer and Aqualad’s other mom, the Earth Writer. And the Priest Next Door is there and the Psychologist Next Door. Both of them speak eloquently. There words are a great comfort. And Dog Whisperer speaks passionately from a place of shared experience. She cared for the dying as a young woman too and paid tremendous costs which still she can’t escape.
I am greatly relieved to find that everyone shares my views about LT’s anxieties, fears, control issues and special brand of neediness. Some of my guilt concerning my own dark suspiciousness towards a terminally ill woman is beginning to evaporate.
We have branded ourselves the support group for The Daughter. And if necessary we will help her stand against the Circle at Large: LT’s other friends and extended family – should they take up a call to arms from LT and rally for a 24/7 home-care solution, which our little alliance is dead set against.
The next day there is a meeting between doctors and key parties from the inner and outer circles. Home-care is rejected. Hospice is the destination. And the prognosis has devolved:
“We’re looking at weeks,” says the oncologist, “Not months.”
I still can’t get my head around this; why this transparency is so welcome. Who, reading this, would wish to know, right now, their date of expiry? I can’t imagine you would. So why thrust it upon the terminal, I sometimes wonder. Why not let them wake each day unburdened by ticking time clocks? Yes I know all the practical reasons and I know that in the big picture, how critical such financial matters are not. It surprises me, is all. What are the ill thinking when they ask, how much time? Are they just praying for a nice big number? Is it a regret every time; to get the answer they gambled against?
Now that the time-frame has changed the math becomes interesting for me. If we’re talking weeks, then I could conceivably commit to weekend-only duty for a short while and so not be on-call, and pull 18 hours a day, Monday to Friday for LT, taking the lion’s share of care-giving coverage. Then we just need a couple of sisters and a couple old friends to each spend a weekend with LT. The library room could be converted to a guest room without considerable difficulty. And then five others to commit to a weekday evening each week; while I sleep. And The Daughter doesn’t have to partake at all. She can get on with being daughter.
I take these thoughts to Dog Whisperer. She and Earth Writer and Aqualad have been such a magnificent help and comfort to me this last month, it is astounding their impact on my life, especially of late. Not just their love and their hugs but their kind ears and wisdom have so reduced such otherwise lengthy internal mental processes. They have helped me cut to the hearts of the matters with every issue and spared me so much mental math, letting me find peace so much sooner. I love them to no end. I’d put my life on the line for any of them.
Of course Dog Whisper is more or less horrified at my ponderings and eager to derail my train of thought. The hospice is the better place for many reasons. She is tearful in her rebuttals, as I am tearful in my persistence that I must go through this exercise for my own sake. I have to know that I am not letting someone down in their greatest time of need, out of my own selfishness. I have to know that I have not been rationalizing; if I could make a difference.
I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
- Etienne de Grellet
Friday I visit LT and discover that she can barely manage a short walk with me and her walker. Such a struggle that I wonder was it her last walk; if its wheelchairs from now on. She talks of great plans for us. She wants to finish editing the remaining drafts of her fantasy saga. Only the last two books remain unpublished. And she wants to finish the late addition to the series; a supplemental novel, half-finished. And she wants to finish the murder mystery novel too and she wants my help with these things. And I am on board with that. Yes, I will help! But we try to talk about this for an hour and accomplish nothing. She can never complete a single thought without slipping into a vegetative state. I realize that none of this will happen. She is mentally breaking down from the cancer and the drugs. The reality is: the final books of the series will receive cursory edits from a small committee including myself, and published posthumously.
I fear that even “weeks” is optimistic. I feel like she is slipping daily. I really hope I’m wrong. The blessing is that all my former concerns have evaporated and I am truly at ease with her. There are suddenly no boundary issues. She doesn’t ask for hugs but I give them because I want to. It seems like the drugs or deterioration have left her mentality transparent. Gone are my reservations about control issues. I am comfortable, without having to shield my higher principles (or was it an ego thing all along; fear of being controlled?). She has become more fully lovable. In a sense she may get what she wanted all along, but at so terrible a price.
“Going down,” states the elevator voice with flat eloquence. So we are. I realize as I descend that this will be perhaps my most intimate dealings with death. Five grandparents were sad to lose; truly, but that is what all grandparents must do. Close friends; not so much. Not in my experience so far. I think about Biodad’s departure. That might have been intimate had we not so fully alienated each other well before or had I not fucked up a possible reunion.
The elevator door opens and there through the windows I see the other wing; the old bricks of the original section of hospital, once called Henderson. It was there I entered this world, born of Biodad’s mischief. I suppose I am grateful for that.