There are have been many times over the years when people have told me how difficult it must have been to watch my wife suffer from terminal cancer.
Certainly, it was a year of constant struggle, of trying to deal with a disease for which there is no cure, or even a reason why.
But there’s one moment that still sticks in my mind.
After almost a year and a steady decline in health (that I often didn’t want to admit was happening), my wife was sick enough that she needed to go to the hospital for a short stay. That short stay turned into a week.
Keep in mind, that for the past year, she had been undergoing various chemotherapy treatments, none working any better than the previous ones.
It was a Saturday night, and we had been at the hospital for several days already, when her oncologist came by to see her.
I was there, sitting in one of those oversized hospital chairs, that converted into my bed at night.
And that’s when the worst moment of the entire experience unfolded before me. You know the expression of wishing you were a fly on the wall. Well, I kind of felt like one for all the good I was able to do.
It was like the two were having a conversation, alone, even though I sat no more than a few feet away.
After the doctor and my wife exchanged the usual how-are-yous, he said, “I don’t think the chemo is working.”
“No, it’s not,” my wife agreed.
“I think it’s time,” the doctor said, “to stop the medicine, and let hospice take over.”
Hey, wait! NO! NOOOOO! What about what I think?! Don’t I get a say in this?!
Apparently, I didn’t.
I watched, helplessly, as my wife agreed. There was no sadness. No grief. Not even regret. If anything, there might have been relief.
And all the while I sat there, watching them, having a life or death discussion in front of me. And there wasn’t one thing I could do about it. Up until that moment, I had always believed that somehow, some way, she was going to get better. So many people overcome cancer, and I knew she would, too.
Until that moment.
I’ve thought often about that hospital room, and that chair that I sat in, where I watched with no control over what happened.
I think that’s the part that’s hardest to explain about the whole experience – the letting go.
And it’s affected me over the years. It’s made it hard to let myself get completely close to others, always afraid that I’ll be there, in that chair again, helpless as I lose someone again. Helpless, as I watch a conversation or a series of events take away someone I love.
Ironically, however, it’s been that fear, that fear of giving that last part of me, that’s cost me relationships that were very important to me. That fear of getting close, of giving all of myself to someone again, knowing that even if I do, that chair could be waiting for me again. Some have thought it was a lack of trust, that I didn’t trust them enough to let them get past that last barrier of protection.
But what they didn’t know was that it wasn’t them I didn’t trust. It was the fear of losing someone yet again.
But in the coming year I’ve decided, that I’m going to try to take that barrier down, to try to let people get close once again.
Yes, that fear of loss is still there – a fear that at times has been almost paralyzing.
But I’ve come to realize that that fear isn’t as bad as not opening up again, of not allowing myself to be open to others – and open to the possibility of experiencing loss once again. Yes, loss is a part of life, but you can’t let the fear of that empty hospital chair stop you from living.