| Celebrating the dead, celebrating life
||[Oct. 31st, 2002|10:25 am]
Today is the day of remembrance, when we look to those who have gone before us.
My friend, Annie, died of cancer a few years ago, leaving 4 small children and a husband who loved her more than I've ever seen anyone else love a wife. I remember a late winter peroid when we thought we would lose her. Her liver had stopped functioning, she had slipped into a coma, she was jaundiced and not expected to last more than a day or two. Her mother and father had both come to town to say their goodbyes, and it was very chaotic, since her parents had not seen each other for over a decade, after a bitter divorce. Annie's husband, Mike, was trying to keep the peace, deal with four frightened children (ages 2-12), and deal with the hospital. I went to the hospital early in the evening and told him to go home, put his kids to bed, and get some sleep, that I would stay with Annie while he was gone. He was grateful for the break, and I sat with Annie for the entire evening, listening to the Jewel album she loved over and over and over (the song "Hands" to me is a remembrance of Annie). The nurses came in and administered morphine. And then came in later with more. And I got uneasy. They were drugging her to death, gently. And even though she couldn't speak, I got a sense that she wasn't ready to go, that this was wrong. Eventually the midnight shift came and went, and I dozed on the foldout couch where Mike lived these days.
At 2am even a hospital gets really quiet. When Mike came back in I got up and told him what I had sensed. His eyes went wide with amazement, He had picked up the same thing, too, but the doctors had convinced him that it was only wishful thinking on his part. When the nurse came in to give her the 2am shot, he told her no. She was shocked and amazed and wanted to know what made him think he knew best, and I don't think that without my backup he would have been able to go through with it, but he demanded that they arrange for him to take her home in the morning. She might die, but it wouldn't be in the hospital.
When the nurse finally left, having grudgingly promised to talk to the doctor in the morning, Mike wrapped his arms around me in gratitude. He clung to me, and I felt that slight but unmistakable shift from gratitude to vulnerability. We made eye contact and in that quiet moment, in the dark stillness on the threshold of death, I made the choice not to let him kiss me. There was nothing of attraction in it. This was a man whose life had been about nothing but death and dying for months. Is there anything that confirms that life goes on more than the touch of flesh, the act that creates life itself? In my mind and memory, the moment is sacred, holy, frozen in silent reverence of the woman who was dying and the fact that life must go on without her.
I did not let it happen. I broke away from the moment. Because I did not believe that Mike could go forward from such an encounter with the understanding of why it had happened. I felt that he would beat himself up for his "disloyalty" to his dying wife. I did not believe that he could separate what the act meant to him symbolically from the act itself. And the moment of renewal would instead become a cancer to his soul. It was a bond better broken than begun. But a confirmation of the connection between living and dying that I will cherish forever.
(Despite the dire predictions of the doctors that she wouldn't even survive the ambulance ride home, Annie recovered consciousness and mobility, and was able to make a final trip to Colorado to see family and friends there before she died, but that tale is best saved for another time...)