This blog post is part 1 of a 4 part series. I thought this series may be helpful to anyone who is facing the death of a loved one or knows anyone that has passed away. At times you may find it difficult to read, yet in the end I hope you can see the inspiration and gratitude I found in this 24 hour period.
It was about 10pm, I had gone upstairs to get ready for bed. Ian was sleeping peacefully as I walked by the bed to go to the bathroom. I turned the water on and let it run to get hot. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I got through another day. I wasn’t surprised by what I saw, dark circles under my eyes, gaunt cheeks, pasty white skin and haunted eyes. I gazed at the reflection and noticed that the waist of my pants was bunched up where the leather belt had drawn the belt loops close together so my jeans didn’t fall down. I had lost about 15 pounds since we had arrived home three months ago. Given the fact that I didn’t have any weight to lose on my 5’6” frame I looked on the verge of anorexia. Food had lost its taste and I had more important things to take care of each day. My dirty blond, shoulder length hair needed highlighting, my dark roots were beginning to show more than I liked, but leaving the house for a 2 hour event wasn’t going to happen. As I stared into the mirror, I lost myself. I had crawled into the mirror and burrowed into the blue hollows of my eyes. I stared and stared back. I didn’t recognize myself and yet I knew who I was and what I had to do – I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to run and never come back, but I knew who I was and I knew that I was in this for the long haul, no matter what that meant. Till death do us part.
I brushed my teeth feeling the bristles on my gums thinking of what was to come. As I washed my face, the hot water felt good and bad at the same time. Good because it made me feel something, bad because it felt like a flame licking my face. Such routine in such chaos. I went to the closet and pulled on a t-shirt and some flannel pajama bottoms. After getting my night clothes on I turned to walk back into the bedroom. The bedside lamp on Ian’s side was on and the rest of the room was dim. The two windows on either side of the king sized bed were closed and the curtains were drawn. I couldn’t believe that our bedroom had been turned into a hospital room in the last few hours. There was the boxed air mattress on one side of the bed, which I would have to figure out how to use and place on Ian’s side of the bed in the morning. Also there was the freshly delivered plastic covered shower chair and walker which were pushed into the corner by the television. A bedside commode was also brought over, which I was thankful for because I didn’t think Ian would be able to ever walk to the bathroom again. The oxygen compressor was on and making a loud whirring noise. Ian didn’t seem to be bothered by the noise, and I was so relieved that he was getting the fresh clean oxygen that he needed. I walked to his bedside. I had showered him earlier in the day, which I never thought I would be able to do. The thought of it felt so demeaning for both Ian and me and yet when I took him into the shower and washed his shrunken 125 pound body, the reality of it became beautiful and lovely. He was a man returned to a child. He sat innocently, depending on me to clean his body. He had been a robust 230 pound man 7 years earlier, before being diagnosed with Lymphoma.
As my eyes wondered over the king sized bed with the cream and tan satin duvet cover, which we had purchased almost two years prior for our ten year anniversary, I caught sight of the new wedding band on Ian’s finger that I had given him a week ago as a surprise Valentine’s Day gift. His fingers had gotten so small due to his continued weight loss that his original wedding band was swimming on his ring finger and he finally had to put it in a safe place so it wouldn’t be lost. He had mentioned once or twice over the years that he had wished he had gotten a yellow and white gold band, as it would have been more versatile. I decided that I would get him a yellow gold and platinum band, one that would really last. It seemed extravagant, as it cost over $1,000 and yet when I handed him the gift and he fumbled to open the ribbon wrapped package and saw what lay within, the tears in his eyes made every penny worth the expense. He was so grateful to be able to show his love for me by wearing his new ring.
I continued to follow my gaze up to Ian’s sunken face. He looked serene and ravaged at the same time. He was in no pain while sleeping which was a blessing. Yet his face showed the stress and stain of fighting this terrible disease. The scar on his neck seemed to grow as his body shrunk. It was the original sight of the lymphoma, a swollen lymph gland which after removal never healed properly and left an angry scar. He had undergone 3 bone marrow transplants, one a year after his initial diagnosis, which was in 1997, and two more during our 7 month stay in Seattle, where we lived with our two children in a hotel for over seven months so that Ian could get the best cancer treatment in the country. He had also undergone hundreds of countless horrific experiences trying to fight his way out of this terrible type of hell. His cheeks were sunken, his brown hair a wisp of its former self, his skin sallow and hanging. His mouth had become distorted; his teeth seemed disproportionally too big for his small face. It was almost as if his skull was peering out from beneath his skin. At the time all of these changes had happened so gradually that it didn’t seem so striking. I could really only tell when we went out in public and saw the way people would stare at us, then reality was brought home to me – that things weren’t right. I bent over and kissed Ian’s forehead, “Goodnight my love, sleep well.”