Love lost, read and found
So I guess when we came out of Professor ‘C’ consultant’s room having faced our impending doom all we had left was to rely on ‘The Ghost of Christmas yet to come’ to deliver the news that would either dash our little hopes or cement its tiny glimmer.
As I was back then, I am no different now, as October 2012 was a month where I didn’t know if I was coming or going, just that each new day and breaking news was a stick used to keep us reeling on and on and even now, I still can’t separate or place each October event into precise chronological order. All I know is everything that happened, every word that made me flinch, everything I had to feel, and all the hopes about to fail.
‘A few short months’, the words kept playing over and over in my mind, in fact little else did I hear of what the consultant had to say, I had pieced the puzzle together long before and was just trying to ride on the wave. But watching as each one of my fears started to play out in real life, was like wearing a life jacket that has sprung a leak too far from the shore for anyone to hear your drowned out calls.
I don’t know if it was right then or the very next day or later that week, as by now the hospital was a regular fixture on each of our day’s routine, but in one of these many visits my resilience I felt was finally beginning to give. In each case before, I had observed Katherine just as closely as I had listened to every word each doctor ever had to say, and what they said was more than either one of us wanted to hear. In Kath’s case, perhaps it was more than she was able to hear. Right from the start and in the months following she had convinced herself that each new prognosis read better than it did. When we were first told she was terminal and had just two years give or take, she decided only to give and convinced herself this must mean 5-10 years due to her age and physical shape. When she was told only 12- 18 months, she read that as having 2 years and so we put off until a tomorrow what couldn’t wait for even today. How could my wife not see the truth and was this her just in denial?
As I have said in a previous piece, I trod carefully in choosing how many of Kath’s bubbles to burst and how many hopes I should dash and what I would achieve in stating only the bleak. But this strategy was having a grinding effect that served only to slowly breaking me down until I was pulverised and there was little else keeping me together apart from trying to be all that I could in helping my wife be able to cope.
As I sat outside one of the rooms waiting for Kath to have yet another CT scan to continue to chart the progress of her resident disease, I sat thinking of how could I keep picking up all the pieces of my crumbling resolve and again the words played over and over again, ‘a few short months’, and I wondered what did that even mean?
We had been invited to ask any questions we had on our mind but in that instance none did except Kath’s one, ‘Will I make it ‘til Christmas?’.
Why had I not asked anything else when there were so many things now I could think of?
I think I couldn’t ask the questions that were needed because in each case I was guided by Katherine’s reactions and I noticed the doctors all did the same, a lesson that I had learnt well over the years. A doctor will only tell you as much as you can cope with, as much as you can take in, and if needed they will slowly bring you up to speed but their main responsibility is in trying not to let each prognosis overwhelm you. In this way we are all doctors ourselves! A good teacher will teach in a way that leaves no one behind just as a parent will only tell a child the information its young brain can understand. A conversation between two people is only worth something in merit if each person responds to what the other is saying and adjusts if they aren’t taking it in. So what would be the point in a doctor telling you something your brain couldn’t handle?
I could not ask questions such as what can I expect of my wife’s condition and in what kind of ways will that time see her deteriorate and will she be conscious for much of the time when it comes closer to the end, or just like these, a million others. How could I ask these kind of things when Kath did not seem to want to hear them let alone contemplate the dire? What she wanted most, was to make it to Christmas and then address if and what must cruelly be. It was not my job nor intention to burst her bubble or even any part of her resolve, so if she wanted to focus on that, nothing else would really matter and answers to those questions are rarely needed when you know well enough how these stories end. If the script was set in stone, my job was to support my wife and to be strong for her as it played itself out.
But sat there sunken in my seat, there was one thing more I had to know. It doesn’t matter how much you feel you are drowning in life, you will always fling your arms around and find something to hold onto, something you hope will stop you being sucked down and maybe when the storm is gone, something to haul yourself out with. As I waited for Kath to finally come out, I saw a nurse or a doctor or someone similar walk down the corridor and as she passed I called out with my tongue so dry it was almost a croak.
“Excuse me could you give me some advice” I asked, “When a consultant tells you that you have ‘a few short months’, what does that actually mean?”
She as everyone else in that place was skilled in her approach and in her voice there was only the softness of feathers but the clarity of her words were still sharp enough to cut deep. “Two to three months at very best”, and then “I’m sorry is that not what you were hoping to hear?” as she saw a tear escape and run down my face.
She stayed a few moments more and offered if she could get me a drink or if I would like someone to talk to, but knowing Kath was soon to come out, I told her I was fine and thanked her kindly and then she left me and as she walked off I felt myself sink a little further into the seat.
Perhaps this was my encounter with ‘The Ghost of Christmas yet to come”, and now I had to make of it what I would. A simple sum of maths told me 2 months from October the 1st would only get us to the start of December and if we were lucky she might last three, then perhaps maybe, just maybe the new year. But what state would she be in near the end, and in the weeks before her demise, how often would she even be conscious? Was this really the kind of Christmas Kath was hoping to make? Perhaps all I now had left were just the ghosts of Christmas past!
As I sat there and my resilience dissolved, I leaned forward and felt I was rooted to the seat. So much rushing around in meeting routines and making everything work as best as I could while all the time I was struggling to keep each one my wife’s hopes going and our every day, and here at last I was losing my drive and as I silently thought once again of every demand in my life, I told myself in resignation, ‘What does it all really matter anyway?’ and slumped back deep into my chair.
When Kath came out of the room after her scan I looked at her and this time I looked at her differently and with all seeing eyes and I saw two things more than anything else. I saw the weariness of her pain and her plight, that and the burden of love when she looked back at me and I wondered in that very moment, if it hadn’t been her all along that was actually trying to keep from dashing my hopes instead, trying hard not to burst all of my bubbles. Perhaps I think, Kath knew me better than I ever realised and perhaps in this she was my teacher, worried about leaving me behind and the doctor I needed most to make sure I could carry the load, such burden might otherwise have drowned me. A conversation between two people is only worth something in merit if each person responds to what the other is saying and adjusts if they aren’t taking it in, and even in silence we knew how to talk the other one’s language.
Kath was no fool and we weren’t fooling each other and though we never discussed it too much for fear of hurting the other, we both knew what was coming and in that knowledge we did what we had to, to help the other survive.
In life when you’re drowning, you fling your arms out and grasp at whatever might help to haul you out. But sometimes a moment might come when you least realise your arms are flailing about because all you really want most is to give someone else a lifeline.