autumn days

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saying Goodbye

My dear partner lived only four months and one week past his devastating diagnosis with lung cancer.  From the day of diagnosis, his main focus was on how to stay alive longer to be here to raise his children.  His children were his life.  With this extreme focus on saving his own life, to the very last waking moments of his life, there was also a loss of getting to say goodbye.  When he focused so entirely on his survival without fully entertaining the possibility of dying, in my opinion, there was an inability to say goodbye.  My partner wrote me a two page love letter in the middle of his suffering, in case he didn't survive a biopsy surgery.  He penciled two pages of life lessons for his children.  We made a two hour video of him with his family talking about his childhood.  He also planned to make other videos of his teenage and adult years.  We were so thankful he was able to make that one video for his children.  The cancer moved so quickly we just tried to keep up.  A core team of family pulled in all the resources possible, conducted extensive research, communicated for hours each day, in hopes of finding something to slow down the angry attacker.

For a few days near the end of his life, I was able to spend a couple hours daily holding my partner's hand in the hospital, to lean in on him ever-so-gently, to rest my head against his, to talk to him as he slept.  It was then I was able to tell him about the depths of my love, how grateful I was for him in my life, how grateful I was to spend so much of my life with him, how we would hold him with us forever and always, how he could go to his meditative happy place for reprieve from the pain, that his parents were waiting for him and he could go to them when he was ready, how he was surrounded by such deep gratitude and love.  I talked and talked and talked as he slept.  When he was awake, we spoke with hope for healing and also of the details in preparing for the possibility of life without him.  It was more natural when he slept to talk about the true possibility of his dying.  We shared our hope of him surviving or at least of having a lot more time with us.

In his last couple weeks, I sat with my partner and played the sound of the Pacman game, sharing with him my visualizations of the immunotherapy acting as Pacman characters eating up the cancer cells, changing the tide of growth in his body.  Our support team visualized with this same analogy.  I put everything I had into it.  I was there for him and our children as much as I could.  I know I did my best.  It was so hard.  I wanted to do more.  We all did.  Every week received more devastating news.  One of the hardest days was when he said casually shared news with me as our children walked into the hallway with an uncle; the cancer was found in 12 additional places in his brain.  That's when it became clear where our road would lead.

I wish I could go back and hold him more, be with him more, smell his neck, kiss his lips again.  I wish I could bring his children to his side to talk with him and kiss him more.  I miss him dearly.  His smell, his voice, his skin, his heart, his everything.  These yearnings for him will continue for the rest of my life, though they will ebb and flow and maybe grow slightly more tolerable.

In support groups, I connect with others in similar situations who have partners or children battling for their lives, or those who have lost a partner or child.  It is a safe place to be vulnerable and open up about how hard this path really is.  These people have become my dear friends, my extended family.  I lean on them and they lean on me.  We walk the walk together.  I have been with my closest female friend from support groups through the months of juggling and balancing and staying sane while supporting children and a dying partner.  She shared intimately with me the details of his dying, of their transformed connection, of the love that healed and blossomed between them along the way.  This friend was able to fully say goodbye to her beloved in ways that I wasn't able.  She got to kiss him often, tell him how she would miss him, bring him his favorite meals, talk openly about death, to be alone with him, to hold him, and to share a bed with him until his last breaths.  I didn't have that experience.  I wanted that.  Holding my friend through this process allows me to experience the loss of my partner in different ways.  I get to have this long goodbye experience through my dear friend and her willingness to share it with me.

In my partner's dying process, I invited all those in our circle to participate, to see the dying process, to connect with us, to spend time together, holding one another.  I shared my feelings openly through the process, once I knew this was not a small detour for our family.  I invited others to process with us, to step more fully into their lives, into their dreams, and into their connections with others.  My dear friend allowed me in this same way to share her experience of caring for a dying partner.

My friend and I are finding the silver linings together, and processing the density of this new reality as well.  We talk about our feelings of the vases of dying flowers, of the question to wear or not to wear the wedding ring, how to make way for play and rest while also keeping the health of our children and ourselves at the forefront, how to balance so many things in our new lives.  It has been healing to share this experience with others, to be vulnerable and safe in sharing the details of this unexpected and uncomfortable journey.
While I didn't get to say goodbye to my beloved partner in all the ways and in all the hours I desired, I do get to experience a deeper goodbye through my friend's different experience.  There is great treasure to be found in opening our hearts to be with others.  I am thankful for the many ways to grieve and say goodbye.  I am so thankful for this life in which I get to find new ways to intentionally connect and enrich our collective journey.  I am so thankful for my life and the gift of knowing how precious it really is.

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