Waiting for the End — A Long, Slow Fall

When the diagnosis first comes it’s a shock. Like an unseen punch to the face that leaves your head feeling waterlogged and spinning, at least there’s hope to reach for. Not unlike a fall while rock climbing, the thin crevices and fissures that seemed too narrow to be viable suddenly seem like solid outposts of salvation and you reach for them, believing all you have to do is grasp one as you fall and you’ll be saved. Watching someone you love do this is just as heart-stopping. And when that person is the holder of your heart, well, you feel every shock, every impact, every kick to the stomach as if it were your own.

Five years of falls. One after another. The first came while in the hospital after that first midnight run to the emergency room; cancer. The second came only two days later, still lying in her hospital bed; stage 4…liver, lungs, bowel, lymphatic system. I couldn’t breathe for almost a year as she grasped at crack after crack in her fall.

For 4 years she underwent radiation, chemo, more radiation, and more chemo until she just wanted a break. I knew that was bad news, but I said nothing. She had grasped a crack in the rock face…holistic healing and energy mumbo jumbo. They told her she’d be fine… food allergies, blocked chakras. Hundreds of dollars an hour spent to chat with the “experts” where they recommended special herbal smoothies that, as luck would have it, they sold in the lobby of their office.

Five months went by as that crack slowly registered in her mind as a smear on the rock face, not an actual hold to grip. By then she couldn’t breathe lying down and I almost lost her the first time. That was a little more than a year ago. Emergency radiation followed by aggressive chemo with no rest period. That’s when I knew it had gotten bad. They always wait at least 30 days after one treatment unless it’s bad.

A year later, her strong, resilient body had thwarted all of the chemo options. Ironically, the less well you handle the chemo systemically, the more damaging it is for cancer. Inversely, if you tolerate the chemo well, chances are the cancer will as well. We are now two months past her last treatment option. See didn’t qualify for trials (not that they would have been any more effective than what she’d already been through. They start with the best options and move down the list to the progressively less effective ones.)

And today, after several false starts, and with a bitterness in her tone and movements, she made the next call her oncologist recommended… hospice.

For weeks I’ve smelled the same scent of garlic I noticed when she first became ill. I didn’t find out until much later that scent is a symptom of liver failure.

I’ve been angry, depressed, and suffering bipolar effects of intense agony while trying to remain smiling, optimistic, and strong for her. I know she knows it’s a mask. She’s seen it fall off too many times over the past 4 years not to have seen right through my paper-thin deception.

She’s simultaneously the girl I fell in love with almost 20 years ago and a complete stranger. She’s had her mask on too. It covers anger, depression, and fear as well.

And now we wait…together. And it is the worst wait you can imagine. Because when the bad is over, the worst replaces it.

Fear and anger have infected every aspect of our life. Hope has burned down to ash and the dust of its remnants chokes us, taunts us like the cracks on that rock face we missed on the way down. There is no rope. There is no soft landing. We are in a slow-motion freefall to the rocky bottom. And all we can do is wait.

So I will wipe my tears and pretend I wasn’t crying. I will smile at my beautiful girl’s pallid face. I will hold her hand, gently, so as not to hurt her already sore joints, and I will wait with her. Because when the holder of your heart is waiting, you wait too. That’s how love works.

6 thoughts on “Waiting for the End — A Long, Slow Fall

  1. I couldn’t ‘like’ this post because, well, I don’t like it. I have no words. Only deep grieving for Diane and for you. I think of you two so often. My heart is breaking for you and with you. I’ll wait too…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reading this broke my heart…. and telling you, ”I’m sorry and praying for you both, ” doesn’t seem even remotely adequate.

    And though I can’t imagine the fear and anger you face, I hope, somehow, during this long dark night, you can find solace.

    Love. In the end, it’s all we have.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sean and Diane,

    I walk with you on this journey of life and death. I want to take you both up into my arms and protect you from what is to come. I cannot even begin to understand this. My heart is in agony.

    Peggy Mitchell


    Liked by 1 person

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