Thankful? Perhaps. Terrified? Absolutely

I am thankful for the many former students and friends who have worked with Walking with Jane two raise money for NET cancer research.

I am thankful for the many former students and friends who have worked with Walking with Jane two raise money for NET cancer research.

Thankful for what is

I have much to be thankful for: I have cupboards stocked with food, I have a roof over my head—a heated home with comfortable chairs and a warm bed to sleep in. I have clothes to wear at every season of the year. I have friends who would walk to the Gates of Hell with me if I asked them to.

It’s painful to lose your wings…

Most importantly, I have my health. Yes, I have the aches and pains anyone my age experiences. Yes, I’m still recovering from the summer’s surgery. And yes, I’m still grieving the loss of my wife seven years after her death. But my mind still works and I can still walk a goodly distance at a pace that would leave many a younger person gasping at the roadside.

Thankful but pained

One night, when Jane was in the hospital and unconscious but still with weeks to live, I stood alone in the waiting area outside the ICU. I was looking out the window at the city beyond. But the city did not register. The cars in the streets below did not register.  My mind was in the room with Jane.

I have much to be thankful for…

I was always in the room with Jane. If I went to dinner in the cafeteria, my mind stayed with her. If I drove home to pick up clean clothes and pay the bills, my mind stayed with her. When the nurses sent me out to take an afternoon’s walk, my mind stayed with her. Truth be told, part of my mind has never left that room.

Memories and weights

I still see the early morning view of Binney Street from her window—the cancer patients pulling up to the door of the Dana-Farber clinic and walking in. I still see Jane sleeping in her bed, still see her not sleeping when the bouts of insomnia came on, still see the madness and anger in her eyes. But I still see the smiles, still feel her hand in mine, still feel the tears and the final brush of her lips as she died.

My mind was in the room with Jane.

But that night, standing alone, looking out over the city, the enormity of what I was doing came down on me like the world settling onto Atlas’s shoulders. I had two decades of conversations to rely on—and they were too slender to do more than be crushed beneath the knowledge that I really was at the point of the spear—and thoroughly alone. I had friends and doctors behind me, but the weight was mine—the decisions were mine.

Living with decisions and consequences

On good days, I know I made the best decisions I could, given the information I had to work with. On bad days, the guilt is overwhelming. Most days fall between those two extremes. I console myself that Jane’s death—like her life—made a difference in the lives of others.

…the decisions were mine.

Seven years ago today, Jane was in a coma. I talked with her doctor. I talked with a friend who had come up to visit. Jane had come through one coma already. Part of me said,”Enough. Let her go.” But there was hope, I believed, with the right approach and a bit of luck, that Jane’s desire to be the first person to beat NET cancer might yet be realized. I let them convince me the chance was good enough.

Thankful, but…

And for 13 days, it looked like the right decision. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. If you’ve been in my position, you know what that feels like. If you haven’t, I hope you never do.

Jane was in a coma.

This is what it is to be a caregiver and lose the person you love at the end. You can have food, shelter, clothing and friends. You can know how thankful you should be for each of those things—and you are. You can have your health and know how valuable that is, and be thankful for that, as well.

The terror of the void

But there is this void you can’t fill—that you are afraid to even try to fill. At first, you give yourself altruistic reasons not to. “I would never want to put someone else through this,” you tell yourself. “I don’t want anyone to feel they have to live up to my image of the one I’ve lost—that they’d constantly be compared to an idealized memory.”

You can know how thankful you should be…

The truth is, you’re terrified. You don’t want to go through watching someone else you love that much die again. You don’t want to hurt like this again. You don’t want the responsibility or the guilt or the pain. You come to prefer the real pain of solitude to the potential pain of that level of loss.

The end of the world

The Mulla Nasrudin, a Sufi teaching master, put it best when he said there are two ends of the world. “The lesser end of the world is when I die. The greater end of the world is when my wife dies.” Truly, the death of one’s other half truly is the end of the world. I’ve experienced nothing more painful.

But there is this void you can’t fill…

Truth be told, I’ve had momentary crushes—feelings I’ve squashed nearly as quickly as they appeared. When I have thought women have shown potential romantic interest in me, I’ve been quick to drive those interests away–or into safer channels. I’ve never been particularly quick at picking those things up, so perhaps those moments were imaginary. But I’m terrified to think any of it might be real—and both my conscious and subconscious minds have proven quick to put a stop to any potential relationship beyond friendship. Even that, sometimes, frightens them.

Of wings and hearts

It’s not that I can’t imagine falling in love again. I hear Jane’s voice in my ear constantly, reminding me that part of that final Saturday conversation before she went into the hospital was about her desire for me to find someone else if she died—to fall in love again. But my wings were singed long before I met Jane. She healed them, made them strong again. But her death charred them back to cinders.

Even that, sometimes, frightens them.

It’s painful to lose your wings that way. It hurts like Hell to have half your heart carved out of you without benefit of anesthesia. That’s what grief is like when the love is strong enough. But I can’t live with half a heart—don’t want to live without my wings. Still, I remain terrified of what happens if they fully recover. And equally terrified of what happens if they don’t.

Posted by walking with jane on November 27, 2017

2 responses to “Thankful? Perhaps. Terrified? Absolutely”

  1. edebock says:

    As I read this, I began to wonder if you were leading up to introducing us to a new woman in your life. It sounds like you’re at least beginning to consider that possibility and I’m glad. If the right person comes along and the time is right, I think you’ll know. I’m glad you had the conversation with Jane and she released you to love again. My husband and I have also had that conversation. He knows that when (or perhaps I should say if) NETS takes me from him, I encourage him to eventually find another to share the remainder of his journey with.

    • As I’ve written before, Jane and I both thought there was no chance of love in either of our lives. I’d stopped looking. I am not actively looking now. But I’m open to the possibility. I’m not holding my breath–and I know how strongly my subconscious will fight me on this. One never knows.