“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”–Friedrich Nietzche
As of Thursday, April 3rd, it was 34 days since Joanie had come home from her office on February 29th. It was now 34 days since she had been out of the house.
During times like this, it was hard remember what life with her was like, B.C. (before cancer). The focus is soley on what is going on at the moment. However, during the quiet times, I would find myself trying to remember. I would go through old photographs from better times, and even many of the good times there have been over the last 12 years, despite the disease, and it helped me to remember those moments in time when we laughed and loved, and to know that we really did have something special, at least I thought so.
Those moments of reverie would be welcome but were often short lived. Usually Joanie herself, or a phone call from someone would remind me that the only important thing right then was to take care of her, and be sure she was getting anything and everything she needed.
I found myself in the role of gatekeeper now, as well as care giver. The phone was rarely quiet for long. Most calls came to my cell phone, and the calls were usually from friends who wanted to know how she was doing, or wanted to come and see her if they could. If she was awake, I always asked her if she was up to seeing anyone, and if she was okay with that, we would set up a time. Often she would talk briefly with someone, but not that often. I had seen her on more than one occasion drift off in the middle of a phone conversation with phone slipping from her hand to lay quietly on her lap.
Today, the Home Health Care troops brought in an air mattress to put on Joanie’s bed. They called it an “air pressure” mattress with three chambers for adjusting firmness and support, and they showed my how to adjust it to find the most comfortable settings for Joanie.
It took six people to make the change, and as I watched, I knew Joanie was going to be worn out from the process. She was, and slept basically for the rest of the day. The only time she was awake was when the pain would wake her up and she would need something strong to ease it.
The pain of the late stage cancer that is taking Joanie’s body apart, is something I can only imagine.
I see her lying there and bring her the powerful pain pills that will dull the outrage that is being made on her physical being.
The pills can dull the pain, not eradicate it, and the dullness serves as a reminder that she is losing the battle, but one that she refuses to believe is all but over.
The pills can dull the pain, but they cannot dull her emotional and spiritual being.
The pills seem only make them stronger, and her resolve more pronounced.
When she is awake and waiting, not for a pain pill, but a pill that will soften the anxiety, a pill that will allow her to sleep through the dullness of the pain, I can see the grim determination in her eyes and the set of her jaw. Her look is that of one who is not going to “…go gentle into that good night.”*
I give her the Atavan, and soon, her features relax, the eyes seem to soften, and she sleeps, perhaps to dream again, as she did that one night, that she has won a prize that gets her out of here.
She had the why to live, and she had already shown me, time and again, she could “bear almost any how.”
At those moments, I could not love her more than I did.
*From the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”