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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On loss

This is a topic many people are uncomfortable with, but will happen to all of us: Death.

Today is the 5 month anniversary of my husband's death. I feel like I have joined a club I didn't ask to join. The word "widow" seems so ugly to me; foreign and negative. I never thought I'd be one in my 50's (okay, so in a year I'll be 60, but for now I can still feel a little big young...)
Don was diagnosed with rectal cancer in January of 2010, and we really thought he'd win the war. He had surgery but the surgeon couldn't get it all. He had radiation, and chemo, but his liver enzymes rose and he had to stop the chemo for a while. But they told us it was looking "good." They said the tumor didn't appear to be spreading or growing, and the cells appeared to be "inactive." And then I guess a few cells decided to take a little trip around his body, ending up in his bone marrow and his liver. Then it was too late to do anything else. From the time he had the biopsy to the time he died was exactly one week. We didn't have time to talk about all we needed to; but I was with him the whole time, sitting by his side, trying to help him ease his way out of this life, and ease his pain. I kept telling him it was okay to let go, and we'd be okay. He finally allowed that to happen, and all the while I was thinking "Don't leave me, I'm not ready to be alone." So all I could do was hold him. When the doctor gave us the prognosis - several days to a few weeks - he said we could go home and have hospice care, or Don could go into the hospital as a terminal patient for palliative care but he wouldn't go home again. I asked him what he wanted to do; he asked me what would be easier for me? That was the kind of man he was; always thinking about what others wanted first. So I said I wanted him home. Hospice was a huge disappointment, but that's another story... Then he said "I'm sorry." So when I asked why was he sorry, he said,"I always promised I'd let you die first..." What could I do but laugh? We laughed together. It was one of the last things we laughed about - there wasn't much time before the cancer affected his brain and he wasn't lucid most of the time. There were moments, but they weren't long.

Sometimes people who are dying need to be given permission to go. It isn't fair to keep them here any longer than they are supposed to be here. I like to think Don's spirit is with me, watching over me. We decided together that he would be cremated, and his ashes scattered all over the world, when anyone we know was traveling, I would ask them to please take some of his ashes with them and scatter them. He has been scattered on a beach in Denmark, in a lake in Brooklyn, near my daughter, in Maryland, in Idaho, in Arizona, and of course, here in California.

But, as much as it hurts, life does go on. We have a second grandson coming in June (Max Donald), and a daughter getting married in September. These events won't be the same without him, but he is and will be forever in our hearts.

Death sucks. It sucks the joy out of living for those of us left behind, and it sucks the energy we might have. I have my good days now, as time passes the hurts passes; but I still have my "bad" days where I just cry and sob and let it all out. There is no joy for me; I find it hard to get motivated to do the things I did before. I stopped working when Don got sick, and I can't seem to get myself to go back to being a therapist for other people. I can't seem to get motivated to do my art, even though I know it would be therapeutic for me. I think I need a mentor to stand by my side every moment of every day to cheer me on, to keep going, to do what Don would have wanted me to do, and he wanted me to keep it going. If I didn't have my daughters and my very good friends, who knows where I'd be?

And most of his ashes remain in a beautiful wooden box he would have liked on the mantle, under a picture a friend hung following the memorial service. There just happened to be a nail on the wall, so he put the picture there; I happened to put the ashes on the mantle when we got back from the service because there was a place open. It's kind of funny how that worked out - the picture over his ashes - without any planning. And there's some comfort to his ashes being there. I can't explain it. But it gives me a piece of him, somehow. 5 months and counting something I don't want to count. I'd do anything to have him back again.

I welcome your comments. Thank you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life goes on...

2010 has been a really crappy year. This was the year my husband was diagnosed with rectal cancer and I stopped working to be able to be available for him; for appointments, to take care of him when he needed taking care of, and all that other stuff that goes with having a sick spouse. The truth is that he had Crohn's Disease - inflammatory bowel disease - for the 31 + years we've been married, so we had our share of visits to the e.r., hospital stays, surgeries and other inconveniences.

Don was diagnosed with rectal cancer in January 2010. He had been in the hospital the previous November for intestinal bleeding, and with all the "scopes" and ct scans, you'd think they would have found something, but they didn't. I still don't understand why. He had surgery to remove the tumor in February, but the surgeon couldn't get it all because it had grown into his pelvis and was attached to his illiac artery - the artery that feeds blood to the legs, so that's a pretty major artery to mess around with. That and the fact that he only weighed 90 lbs when he went into surgery made the surgeon not want to mess with it. He got out 98% of the tumor and Don had radiation and chemo. The first round of chemo went okay; he got pretty sick during the 3rd week and none of the anti-nausea drugs would work, so I got a hold of some pot and made him smoke it. Now, a lot of people would be grateful for an excuse to smoke some "legal" pot, but Don didn't like smoking it, even though it did make him feel better. But anyway....

In August, during his second round of chemo, his liver enzymes shot up and they had to stop the chemo because it is so toxic and since his liver was having trouble acting as a filter for his blood, they wanted to wait. He was in the hospital in September and October for various things, like intestinal blockages and inflammation. This last surgery left him with about 6 feet of small intestine and an ostomy, which we both had to learn to cope with - somehow, I was coping better than he was; helping him change bag and cleaning it and stuff. Good thing I'm not squeamish. Oh, I guess I should have warned the reader: this isn't for people who are squeamish!

So he was off the chemo, and following his hospitalization in October the oncologist said from the scans he'd had, it appeared that the tumor wasn't doing anything; he said it appeared to be "inactive." He did say he couldn't promise it was all dead (which it the purpose of radiation - to blast the hell out of the tumor cells and kill them by burning them. This is why people who have radiation treatment often have burns on their skin). So the oncologist said think of this as a break from chemo; he'd do another PET scan in December and see how it looked then. So we went on our merry little way, thinking we were okay. Well, we weren't.

In November, Don had some intestinal bleeding so back to the e.r. we went. When the e.r. nurses start to recognize you, that's a bad sign. And when I start to know my way around the hospital so well that I can give other people directions as to what's where, that's not a good thing, either.

So anyway... He was in the hospital and his platelets were extremely low. So they started giving him platelets (that's what makes your blood clot so you don't bleed out when you have an injury and you don't bleed to death when you get a nose bleed...) but his platelets kept dropping so they started one test after another to find out why. Finally they did a bone marrow biopsy and found that the cancer had spread to his liver and his bone marrow, and therefore, his bone. When cancer gets to this stage, it can be excruciatingly painful. He didn't complain of pain, however. But he was starting to act "out of it" more than he was "in it;" the dr. said it could be cancer, or small brain bleeds; the doctor at the end said it was probably build up of toxins from his liver failing. In the end, I could say he went peacefully. He wasn't peaceful the last few days, but I was giving him morphine and kept telling him it was okay to go. On Friday, November 12, at approximately 12:30 p.m., as I gave him one last dose and said "just go with the medicine; let it take you away. It's okay to go" and he very clearly said, "well I guess so." and then he took his last breath, and I listened to his heart until it stopped, felt his pulse until there was none, and he was gone. It seemed to be peaceful in the end, but we'll never really know for sure. He was surrounded by family and good friends, and a lot of love.

But what I do know is that wherever he is now, he is finally at peace and out of pain. And that is what I care about now. I miss him so terribly; but life does go on.