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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2177180
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Family · #2177180
A grieving husband reflects on the process of preparing a loved one to die of cancer.
It starts with the shakes.

Always the shakes. Trembling at her core, the upper and lower extremities of her skeleton steadily lose control of themselves, driving even the simplest task towards near impossibility. To the naked, outside eye it may seem like she might just be getting older, but it seemed she couldn’t be a day over twenty-seven.

Though as Heather stirred awake on what was supposedly her last week in this life, George couldn’t help but reflect on the Doctor’s orders for when the shaking had started.

Just make her as comfortable as possible.

Gazing into her hollow eye sockets, with her memory long faded and gone, George Mitchell Napier reminded himself of a time an eternity ago in spirit but two months ago in reality.

She’d been jogging again, out on the trails just behind their home in the Adirondacks. One night she complained of a nagging headache that seemed to ebb and flow into her temples for two or three days. It had just turned from later summer to early fall in the estern most part of the mountains, so they assumed that their altitude combined with the physical stress of her jogging had caused just a simple migraine.

But when George pulled into the parking deck just a block from their brownstone on the Upper East side of Manhattan on a Sunday evening, he noticed those fucking shakes. She was struggling to lift her purse up from her lap to around her shoulder.

George uttered that fateful first question. The first of a long strand of questions without good answers, questions that shook George to his knees, begging God or whatever was out there to tell him why.

Do you think you need to see a doctor? You look like hell, Heather.

She insisted no, it was just a little headache and what she presumed was an oncoming fever, plus she ran an extra two miles that morning and couldn’t keep her pace so it had to be some virus or something.

He pleaded with her.

Please, just go see the doctor, I can watch the kids tomorrow, it’s probably just the flu coming on early.

Which led to tests, poking, prodding, scanning, and evaluating. Which led to bad news.

Stage Four Brain Cancer.

A trio of tumors pressing on her frontal lobe. Maybe a month and a half to live.

And then those fateful orders.

Just make her as comfortable as possible.

Again, there were plenty of questions: What about experimental treatment? Are you sure chemo won’t work? Is there anything you can do?

Then there were the answers. No, no, and no.

Being blunt but empathetic is a rare combination; this Neurologist sure had perfected the art of giving a grieving man that courtesy. Of course, now the attention turned to Heather and following through on those orders.

They never tell you that you’ll need comfort too.

As George looked back on life in the two months that followed, he thought of the countless opportunities he’d whiffed on: the flowers, rescheduled date nights, and all the missed I love you’s (just because). If he had only gone the extra mile, appreciated his beautiful wife just a little more… Maybe God, or whatever omniscient being was halting sinners and supposedly performing miracles, would have shown just the slightest bit of mercy.

George had days where he bargained with God, crying out his prayers in between sobs and shouting, all in vain as the inevitable gap in his life without Heather grew nearer. Early on, he asked God to make this a big misunderstanding, but as the cancer spread and Heather’s memory of their life together began to wash away, George pleaded for a miracle, or just something treatable.
He researched all kinds of statistics.

Over 8 million women survived cancer in 2013, why couldn’t Heather be one of them?

She went on a Thursday.

Expecting death is a gut-wrenching process. George came to that conclusion after the last Monday he spent with her. That morning, she cried out in pain for the first time in weeks; a low guttural gurgle followed by the slightest bit of spit-up evoked itself from the remnants of what was once a strong, educated and loving woman who deserved better from this life. His stomach dropped when it came, the gastro-intestinal remains trickling off her chin. He couldn’t stand it.
The pain was indescribable from the outside looking in- George couldn’t imagine what it felt like inside her hollowed, tumor riddled skeleton.

That’s what she became on that Thursday afternoon: skeletal. He heard the gurgling from the other room, and rushed to the hospice aid’s side as she said to hurry, it didn’t look good. When he entered their master bedroom, her air tubes were clogging with blood spattering out of her nose, trapping her breath in her own skin and bones, suffocating her until she went with a sigh, eyes open and gauntly.

Those images burn their way into one’s soul if you let them, and while George had always been a fairly strong individual, he found this scene to be exceptionally haunting. The end of a life lived too short, but lived so fully, he cried himself to sleep for three nights.

Planning the funeral was the most difficult.
George stood and gave a few words as a newly broken man.

Heather’s parents were always financially supportive with the treatment, and while he knew there was nothing to be done, he couldn’t help but feel pangs of guilt seeping into his consciousness prior to taking the podium, as if he’d let Heather down in a way.

What more could he have done? He’d taken 3 months leave from work to grieve over the impending death of the love of his life thus eliminating a financial pay-back to his in-laws. He’d moped around the home as Heather’s brain slowly was crushed by the growth of the tumors, and her memory slipped almost instantaneously. He could have aided her in keeping sharp: playing brain games, cards, anything to keep her conscience and spirit alive and well as her body died.

In the end, George always seemed to come back to those fateful orders from months ago.

Just make her as comfortable as possible.

Had he done that? Had he done justice to the life Heather left behind?
He pondered the assumed simplicity of the orders, and realized there was a lot they didn’t tell you when preparing for death.

They never tell you that she’ll awake at night with screams early on, as her cranium tightened with the added weight of the cancerous growths, pressing down on her feeble temples.

They never tell you that the prayers can’t work, they won’t work.

They never tell you that you’ll lose your connection with her around week 2 of the comfort stage. She’ll gaze into your eyes, unable to pronounce basic syllables, not knowing who you are.

And they never, ever tell you that although you may give up on God, you may give up on life, and you may give up all hope, you shouldn’t.

You should continue to lead a life worth living, one that exemplifies the characteristics of her legacy, one that gives you a warmer feeling than you felt when it all started.
When you lay your head back, remember the laughs and smiles that took your breath away, the winks and licking of lips that drew you into her grasp so quickly you didn’t even know you were in love until you were smacked right in the face with her lips; her kiss enveloping you in a feeling so deep it almost doesn’t feel real. Don’t let those scenes fade; they are a part of a wonderful story to be told someday, a story of love worth having, and lives worth living.

What they never tell you is that you’ll be just fine.
© Copyright 2018 Jack G. (gorsbanquet at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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