“The hardest part,” she said, “Will be when I don’t have to come here every day.”
It was about the fourth time she’d made that statement in the past couple of hours. Since we’d arrived to visit Mike at the hospital on Thursday evening, Jen seemed relieved to have someone different to talk to, so she just kept on talking. It was obvious she was trying hard to come to terms with what was happening to her husband, and being helpless to change it, wanted to do something – ANYTHING – to keep from succumbing to her sense of loss.
His turn for the worse, only a week before, had caught her completely unprepared. He’d been hospitalized since January 2nd, and had gone through radiation treatment. His condition appeared to be improving. He was undergoing physiotherapy to strengthen muscles ravaged by ionic radiation so he could walk again. For the first time in months, it looked like he was going to be home, and soon. Jen thought they were past the worst of it, and although his life might be shortened, they’d still have a few years together.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, she was dealing with the logistics of becoming a widow far before her time. A will. The paperwork. The arrangements. The disposition of belongings – the items that will become the treasured keepsakes for family and friends after Mike is gone – seemed to be foremost in her mind. Anything to keep her soul-crushing pain at manageable levels.
I was very fortunate. With gas prices the way they are we couldn’t afford to make the 600 km round trip, but in spite of her grief, Jen reached out and helped us out with money for gas. We debated waiting a day to make better arrangements, but in the end decided to leave that afternoon.
I was able to visit with Mike on Thursday while he was awake and lucid. I felt like an idiot because I was smiling - even though he was physically beaten down, I was so damn happy to see him it was irrepressible. The entire drive there, I worried that he wouldn’t even know we were there. But there it was – that glint of mischievous humour still danced in his eyes. He wasn’t in pain, he was just trapped in a failing body. And he was still Mike, proudly bearing the scars of his hard-fought battle. Maybe there was even a tiny bit of hope…
The next day we returned to the hospital, and he was worse. Overnight he’d gone from being able to speak to only making vaguely coherent single-word responses. He could still understand words spoken to him, but responding was nigh impossible. I took his hand, told him I loved him, and spoke the last words I would ever speak to him, carefully chosen because of their meaning to us in our shared Trek-geekitude as well as their stand-alone definition:
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”
He moved his fingers and shifted his head. I left the room with a heavy heart.
We hugged Jen and went to the elevator to begin the long journey home. While waiting, my wife asked what I’d said to Mike, because she couldn’t hear. When I told her, she said that from across the room, she saw his lips move saying “Me, too.” And she started to cry.
“Is that from Doctor Who?” she said as the tears streaked her cheeks.
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. She’s seen Wrath of Khan at least a half a dozen times.
“No, wait. I remember. Star Trek,” she corrected herself.
I smiled, trying to choke down the lump in my throat. She is, after all, only a Trekkie-by-marriage.
We returned home to our children and pets, speaking frequently of Mike and Jen and their struggle. How no matter how much my scientific and mathematical logical mind knew that the outcome was nearly inevitable even as far back as when he was diagnosed, and even in his current state, I couldn’t completely give up hope. That accepting any memorial item from Jen felt absolutely awful, because that meant acceptance that there was no hope. That even a 1 in 10,000 chance is still a chance. That I could only accept something if I told myself in my head that I would give it back to Mike as soon as he got out of that bed and went home.
There are always possibilities.
What stayed with me all weekend was how suddenly things had changed. Two weeks ago, Jen was so optimistic about his condition that I’d wondered if he’d be coming to visit this summer. We’d joked about sitting out front with our Medical Marijuana authorization paperwork, openly using our little vaporizers to taunt the douchebag ex-cop across the road. We’d talked about Star Trek Online, and I was excited to tell him about it going free-to-play so he could just show up any time without worrying about the expense. I thought of all the “gotta tell Mike later” things that I hadn’t been able to share yet.
We go through life taking things for granted – it’s human nature. Ever since we grew out of the stage in infancy where anything out of sight ceased to exist, we live our lives assuming that the buildings and furniture will be in the same place, and we’ll always have a chance to fix what went wrong or apologize for an inappropriate comment or even to say I love you. There’s always tomorrow to do that thing we put off today. If you’re feeling a little cranky or tired, don’t worry about it. Tomorrow, tomorrow… there are infinite tomorrows. Who cares if we skip the hugs and kisses, and write one off here and there as “just a bad day”…
Mike died on Monday morning.
There won’t be any more chances to play games. No more swapping in-jokes back and forth while our wives look at us and wonder what the hell we’re laughing at. There will be no more visits. Jen won’t hear him speak the words “I love you” aloud ever again. No more caresses. No more chances to make up for that time he did that thing that made her mad. No more…
Life is fragile and brief. It can be gone so quickly and unexpectedly that we can’t be prepared ahead of time. Even when we’re aware it’s being shortened, we still believe we’ll have more chances. A little more time. Another opportunity.
Let the people you love know how you feel. Let go of the ones you don’t need who cause you pain. Don’t skip an opportunity expecting it to come around later, and don’t take tomorrow for granted. Hug your children. Make love to your partner. Give – and receive – the gift of laughter whenever you can.
There are no throw-away days.