I have finished my Master’s degree now. Just as my husband and I believed this huge mountain was behind us, we immediately slammed into another one. This one is bigger and meaner and we will not survive it together.
People talk about “living with cancer” as a thing that one simply does. One “lives” with cancer. I don’t know how true that is. I know, so far, that my husband has “suffered” with cancer. By suffering, I mean that he has experienced intense pain, overwhelming sadness and grief that his life is ending, rage at the enormous unfairness of it, the terror of approaching and unavoidable death, and the utter indignity of losing much of his mobility and independence. As for me and “living” with cancer, I simply die a tiny piece at a time, like a chisel is being applied steadily to my soul. Little bits chipped away slowly. There is no “living” with cancer, at least not when compared to how we lived before the monster invaded my husband’s body.
Our life together has changed catastrophically, permanently, and profoundly. I cannot NOT see minutes, moments, blinks, or inklings without the yellow-bile haze of the monster’s breath filtering the light. We are polluted by this thing that not only follows us into our dreams, but also nags every word, smile, chuckle, or kiss that passes between us. It is the rotting zombie, ever-present, mindless, and voracious that stands in the corner of the room—it watches us.
But… I still, strangely enough, hold on to my faith. I truly do. But my faith has shifted…or it’s now focused on something truly solid, where before it was “in theory.” You see, I’ve come to realize that my husband has always been mortal. At some point, my husband was always going to die. And that truth was covered in my marriage vows, come to think of it. That whole “til death do you part” thing. That “as long as you both shall live” clause. Death is already written into marriage, as a thing of certainty that, barring its own inevitability, the marriage will continue. I did agree to it. I did swear by it. I did promise my husband that I would do it before God and Man. I did. It’s just that the other stuff, the “to have and to hold, to love and to cherish” part took pre-eminence and I narrowed my focus to the living my husband and I would do, and forgot about the dying we would also do. I can’t be the only one who has done this, and so foolishly, so humanly forgot about mortality. But how can we concentrate on the mortal while we are consorting within the realms of the immortal?
Love, true love, is forever. As a Christian, I believe that I take my love with me into Eternity and meet with my love there, again. Reunited forever. To me, love is immortal. And I choose this belief in a world where love has become tenuous and throw-away. Where marriage vows have changed from “until death do you part” to “for as long as you both are able.” And this is not an assault on modern marriage vows or a holier-than-thou-only-Christians-understand-marriage thing. It’s just one woman’s desperate attempt to attach a sense of hope to that which has moved so far from hopefulness. I would shake my fist at the sky if it would help, but then I am reminded again that I did indeed marry a mortal man—and that I agreed to his mortality. I guess I just didn’t understand what I was agreeing to until I met the monster. Therefore, you who have vowed to love, be warned. Remember the “small print.”
So now, bucket list. His and mine. My husband needs to clear up and order the paperwork of his life now. And he needs to take his leave of everything. The actual paper paperwork is almost done. That was the easy part. Now it’s done, the harder stuff begins…people, places, things. Saying words, sharing hugs and kisses and tears as one person passes through the gate and boards the plane to their new home while others remain, and wave good-bye, holding on to each other as the plane lifts away until it merges with an ocean of blue.
I watched a television show yesterday where a character mused that there are people in our lives whose presence we simply take for granted as a part of our being in the world. They are such an integral ingredient in our daily living, that they are fused to us, they help define our meaning in life. We don’t even think about losing these people. Neither do we imagine what life would be like without them. Maybe it’s because the mere thought is too agonizing to entertain even for a moment, so we never do. Or, maybe it’s because losing them would cause such a catastrophic shift in our life that it’s frankly impossible to wrap our head around it. I don’t know what it is exactly. All I can say is that it is a sudden and bizarre reality, and the person who wrote that television episode understands what THIS is. The person who wrote the episode has been touched by a monster like mine, and understands the depth of finality it brings. Because whoever that writer is, absolutely nailed it.
Therefore, having admitted the truth to myself, I will return to faith. It’s what I know for sure. And I know that within that safe place of faith, I can hold on to love and find joy and laughter. I will report on all of these things equally, as coins of the same value. Telling this story will be my new project. Watching my husband’s struggle will be fearsome, but witnessing his splendid courage will surely become the yardstick by which I will measure everything that ever afterward enters my life. And maybe someone suffering with their own monster will read this “tale of us against the monster” and know that they are not alone…