Lights in Dark Places

Susan’s parents and sister have all arrived safely back in California after three weeks here, much of that time spent shuttling back and forth to the hospital in Barcelona.

I can’t possibly express how important it was for everyone to have had that time together. Had we taken the doctor’s advice exactly one month ago yesterday – dope her up and let her die – none of this would have been possible. Sitting down to meals together, cooking together, strolling on the shore, chatting, laughing, crying, hugging, caressing, just being.

The day before they left I took Susan and her family to the tiny village of Castellet for a stroll and a picnic. We sat in the partial shade of a leafless fig tree next to the castle, the sun warm on our faces as we looked out across the lake, watched grey herons glide low across the water, listened to songbirds chittering in the trees. It was, quite simply, a marvelous day, and I think we all felt privileged and blessed to be there.

But of course that evening the time inevitably came to say goodnight, which in this case was also goodbye, since I would be taking Susan’s family to the airport early in the morning, while Susan would still be sleeping. Although I was there to witness it, I still can’t quite comprehend how absolutely soul-shattering it must be to say goodbye to your child, your sister, knowing that you will never see them again. To watch your daughter’s back slowly recede up the stairs and realize that it will be your last glimpse of her alive. 

After I got Susan to bed I went back downstairs and we sat around the dining room table, discussing Susan’s wishes and the last days of her life. Or tried to, anyway, before the strain and the pain ruptured our self-restraint and we just had to sit, crying and holding hands, until we all subsided. 

And when the tears had all drained away, we were able to smile, even laugh a little. Oddly, some of my fondest memories of this time together will center around weeping. The night her father and I just sat at a table, sobbing and holding hands. The idea that I would ever sit at a table to sob and hold hands with my father-in-law would have previously been inconceivable, but there we were.

Or the night I slumped on the sofa, exhausted and emotionally shot, and succumbed to that body-wracking, snot-bubbling, breath-robbing strain of weeping that often includes some kind of high-pitched keening combined with a touch of low visceral moaning, and my sister-in-law came to me and just held me until the moaning stopped. As absurd as it might sound, I will always cherish that. Ah yes, good times, good times. 

To be honest with you, Susan’s condition is deteriorating with each passing day. It’s difficult to get food into her, and so with every hour a bit more of Susan disappears, shrinks, diminishes. Not long ago our goal was to keep her above 100 pounds. Then 90. Now 80. Susan is evaporating before our eyes, like a puddle in the sun. 

But as she said to me the other day, “Even if I die tomorrow, this extra time will have all been worth it.” I can’t argue with that.

 

7 Comments

  1. Oh Matthew, I have tears in my eyes right now. It must be so, so hard going through this. If you need anything, please let me know. I have witnessed both of my parents becoming ‘less’ every day, I know exactly how you feel. Big hugs to you and Susan. I pray for you both.

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  2. Dear Susan, dear Matthew,
    thank you both for sharing all this with the world, as an example of what cancer means and as an example of not letting yourselves be defeated, never. I’m sure that everything human beings experience with this world and with each other will remain in its own particular way, even if we, all of us, are long gone.
    May all Goddesses and Gods bless you and your loved ones and guide you safely on all your ways

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  3. You have a beautiful wonderful family Susan surrounding you. So much love. You are love. My thoughts are with you all. Angels you all are ❤

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