I’m sorry this blog seems so damn heavy. Honestly, our family life is not terribly different than most others – the ex dismisses the value of the step, kids are vying for attention due to their developmental stages and their life circumstances, parents routinely set aside their personal time to discuss how best to address the needs of the kids… laundry, dishes, pets, homework, respect, manners, kindness, showers, tooth brushing, bed time reading (yes we continue to read to the kids), etc. … and the whole business of one of us dying. That’s not so common, but still not uncommon. It’s life as a family.
I find it easy to reflect on the importance of serving the kids – without a doubt the most difficult and transformative time of their lives! We are determined to get it right and maximize everything positive that’s possible (as best we can). I even find it easy to report on the incredible power Jay and I have found in facing his death together – death, the pinnacle of anyone’s life, here for me to help usher Jay into as the magnificent release we all deserve. Wow! My true honor to be a part of. God put me here for a reason.
But here’s the funny part – just like pregnancy, if it’s natural, death isn’t sudden. It develops – the body (and the partners) change over the course of this natural phase. We are not the same people we were when this whole thing started to happen. We may have been distracted with all the hoo-haa surrounding these changes, but at the end we are not the people we were when we started. We have lost and gained and lost and gained along the way. When I was pregnant it was the transformation of me into a parent, and now it is the transformation into a single mother of three – a widow – an independence this experience has already been preparing me for. Just like pregnancy, actively walking your partner to the edge of life is a process. We are deep into gestation. Soon the world will change. And yet it won’t.
It was months ago that I started to mourn the loss of my dinner-date partner. As if to prepare me prematurely, Jay’s interest in food started to wane even before his last chemo option. First I was crest-fallen, then grateful to engage whatever interest in dining he had at all. This was Fall of 2013. I have let go of the Dad at the Dinner Table, though he occasionally joins us with a bowl of cereal… preparing meals without Jay in mind has already been incorporated into my thought process. Maybe we’ll call that First Trimester. I miss the old “free and easy” life where our sushi date night was an every-other-Friday kid-free highlight. I’ve let go of that now. Time and circumstances have dictated the new norm.
Second Trimester was a bit more vague – like most pregnancies. The drama still unfolded but all-in-all it wasn’t all that dramatic. Jay slept a bit more – and more. His pain was no longer managed successfully with conventional treatment. Hospice was a relief, in part because we thought of it as early and wise. Technically, Jay is still not “actively dying.” Our kids have a bereavement counselor who already sees them (at the house) and who they love. We have set it up as best we can… Yancey, Jay’s sister, seems to be coming down every-other week. She lends a sense of normalcy for the kids, a supreme housekeeping power to a neglected home, and an anchor to Jay as he makes plans to meet their ancestors soon.
Mormons have a beautiful concept of the pre-existence, which of course easily lends itself to the continuation of life’s journey into the after life (likely the very same place). Jay imagines his post-life job as watching the arrival and departure boards – welcoming people (especially those of us who may not have family waiting at the gate) and sending people off… Quinn’s children are what comes to mind for him. He expects having to traverse beautiful hills and lovely beaches – probably on his “heavenly” bike – to get from place to place. His dream job: Riding his bike up God’s Own Hills to wish his unborn grandchild Au revoir. Such a good grand dad…
This week I can see the third trimester is upon us. I lean against Jay’s shoulder in bed, late at night, and hear his irregular breathing. His cancer is consuming his lungs. He uses his oxygen machine more regularly. He can’t seem to fully wake up if he hasn’t awoken naturally. Pot cookies might encourage an extra bowl of cereal, but gone are the days of actual eating. We ordered his hospital bed today – something he never thought he’d do. It will come on Monday and then we will sleep apart. I have learned how to hold his hand while beside him in his hospital bed – we have spent many, many nights in hospitals together – but this is the harbinger of new our life as partners… I promise he will die beside me, hospital bed or not. But still, the bed comes Monday. My ability to lean against him and feel his breathing will be forever one step removed. Just another step towards the inevitable – same path we started way back when – but still a surprise when considering the radical thing that comes next.
I’ve been nesting (when depression lets me out of bed). I am starting to consider the room that will one day be mine alone… I’m seeing dark browns, coppers and reds. Textiles on every wall. Tibetan thankas and Afghani carpets. Perhaps the Third trimester is for Jay. Perhaps a First trimester awaits me soon afterwards…
Tomorrow the kids go see the new Lego movie with Yancey. I hope to plant part of the Spring garden and prepare our bedroom for Jay’s new bed. Our Food Rescue folks will collect from the Farmers’ Market and by evening we will have hopefully fed a few more Vallejo families. There are two candles lit on our mantle – one for a friend with cancer in Oregon, one for the step-son of a friend who has attempted suicide for the 3rd time. Please, if you have been moved to pray, include these folks in your petitions. Our gestation is going pretty smoothly. Our friends maybe not so much.
Thanks for checking in. I’ll keep ya posted. -A