As I’m sitting in the hospital room—pretending to watch the television out of a desire to appear like I know what to do there—I get a momentary flash of sadness. That’s how it happens, I realize—in flashes. There are momentary feelings of sadness and fear, and then guilt for those feelings because—I’m not the one dying with Cancer. I’m not the one whose brain is deteriorating—day by day, hour by hour. I’m not the one who is immobile in my hospital bed, being asked by Nurses questions like “How has your stay been here?”—one at which I made a sarcastic joke about—as if she’s staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and not an Acute Care Unit surrounded by Cancer patients, surround by sadness and death and people desensitized to both of these things.
Cancer affects everyone-doesn’t it? Any good therapist would tell you “Don’t feel guilty for those feelings. You have a right to your feelings.” And I know—I do. We all have a right to our feelings. I just know that this isn’t about me. This is one of those times—those life events, if you will—where you grow beyond your years.
Watching someone die of Cancer is one of those experiences that you cannot explain to another person. It is an out of body experience. At times, you have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t in a nightmare. You aren’t. This is happening in your life.
The strangest part of all of it is that no one knows what to do or say. The only people you can talk to about it—really talk to about it—are your family and close friends. And this is more than enough because sometimes you don’t want to talk about it at all. After all, what is there to talk about? She’s dying. And when friends ask how she’s doing, you want to say “She’s dying” and sometimes you say it—and sometimes you try to be more graceful about it. But there isn’t a whole lot of grace in Cancer.
Sometimes you wish it would all be over. You don’t admit to this to anyone, because it feels selfish. “You shouldn’t be feeling that way,” your mind scolds you. Your inner committee holds a debate about it.
At the same time, you want to spend one more moment with her. Even though all you do is talk and hope she understands, hope she laughs at something you say. And you tell her you love her over and over again. You just want her to know that she is loved.
You crack jokes. You ask her if she wants you to read to her and she says “No- that will remind me of school”. You smile from ear to ear because she still has a sense of humor— despite everything. What a woman—what a strong woman.
You meet friends of hers you wouldn’t have otherwise met. George—she worked with him at a High School in Yonkers. You talk to him about his retirement. He tells you he took a service trip to Guatemala and worked on “Habitat for Humanity”. You are amazed because he tells you he’s 73. You tell him that you do service work and he says “It’s nice to be able to do something like that with all the ugliness in this world”- and the moment he says it- the moment the words leave his lips—you know you are right in the heart of some of that ugliness.