It’s 4am and almost on the hour. My first thought is that my son hasn’t woken for his midnight milk/snack/bathroom visit, my second thought is that today is two years since my husband died. I wished the memories that flooded back were the joyous ones of us exploring the globe on our bikes, dining in the finest restaurants and laughing at ridiculous jokes. But instead it’s the guilt that I wasn’t there with him when he took his final breath.
The nurse had called to advise that they had stopped feeding him. The last meal he had was yesterday when I had carefully spooned the custard dessert between his cracked lips. With eyes closed he smiled sweetly as he tried to swallow. His small nod thanking me and I knew this man forever grateful for the smallest actions was fading from me fast now. He lay back on his pillow trying to speak but that was also too difficult now. Our son was only 3 months old. I lay him on top of Russ’s chest and he put his hand protectively over him. “Jack, Jack, Jack,” he said over and over. My tears flowed freely for the first time in many months as I never wanted him to see me cry. What an incredible gift our precious son was at the most challenging of times. Russ would die knowing he had created this perfect life, a son. It wasn’t until recently I had learned of his dream of becoming a father. Almost too late.
I held his scrawny hands tightly, his grip was also still strong surprisingly as he nodded in and out of consciousness. The drugs had now taken over and the journey into permanent blissful sleep was well underway. It was the only humane way they said, relieving the extreme pain yet also bringing death closer. I was constantly at odds with our medical treatment program. First we sustained life with chemo and radiotherapy by attempting to slow down the tumour growth poisoning the body rather than letting nature takes its course. I’m all for pain medication but the rigorous fight against the inevitable spread of the cancer seemed ludicrous when all we were to gain was a couple of weeks. Looking at my husband now and the weeks we’d gained I wondered if he weren’t better off already laid to rest. But there was still consciousness there, he knew Jack and I were beside him and that was better than no Russ wasn’t it?
I hated the version of my husband that this cancer had morphed him into. His head was so swollen with fluid it looked like a balloon had been inflated beneath his skin, his eyes set so far back in his face. As his medical power of attorney I had decided further surgery to remove the fluid from his brain was too risky which the doctors of course questioned. As little intervention and risk as possible once we’d decided to stop the chemo. The body finally left to its own journey of physical disintegration. His once athletic and muscular legs suffering such dystrophy that were merely bones covered with skin. His hands reminded my grandmothers, covered in bulging veins with long fingernails that were in need of filing. Had I not been his wife I may have found the seamless transition over five months medically interesting.