I wanted to do good things for Tim. I was frustrated that I couldn’t. I wanted to drive down and take him a piece of his favorite cheesecake. But the cheesecake was also an offering to win back his favor because I was frantic to reconcile. I can’t bear to have someone, especially a man, angry with me. A friend told me, “Don’t rush.” I didn’t understand why.
That evening a friend came over for a back rub. She sat on the couch chatting as I knelt behind her kneading her shoulders. Suddenly my arms felt so weak my muscles wouldn’t work. My forehead broke out in a cold sweat and I knew I was about to pass out.
Strange. That had happened only a couple of times before. When I gave blood. When my first husband was undergoing his first brain surgery. When I flew across the country, took a taxi straight to the hospital and dropped my suitcase on the floor of the delivery room where my daughter had been in labor over 24 hours. The doctor was talking C-section and she assigned me to help push– “hard!”– against one of Honey’s feet. I could see she was not pushing effectively and was running out of steam. . .
Times of fear. Times of stress.
Now I let myself down shakily and lay on the carpet beside the couch, my thoughts whirling. It had been six weeks now, doing my labrador thing, so focused on Tim’s health and safety I could not concentrate on a good book, could not allow myself to be distracted by my husband’s jokes or amorous overtures.
I had been having more and more flashbacks. I would wake from a dream of Tim, curled in a fetal position, having a seizure–into the memory of my first husband, Rick, having a real one.
And nightmares of falling. I fell down a flight of stairs in our home in Ohio when I was 18 months old. I’d come away from the experience believing, No one is there for me. I have to take care of myself.
In college on Maui, years later, an ocean away from my family, with only weekly letters to connect us, I was lonely and scared. I became convinced they were all going to fall downstairs and die. It wasn’t till the school year was over and I went home to Japan and actually saw each one of them in person that I accepted the fact they were okay.
More falling fears, more memories. Rick, glioblastoma multiforme taking his life, was becoming paralyzed down his right side. Before we had the wheelchair, he fell when I was walking him around the block. I couldn’t get him up and there were no cell phones. I think a neighbor came out and drove us the half block home. It’s all a blur.
I was scared all the time. And so was he.
Helping him up the staircase–the same one I now anxiously watched Tim ascend and descend–Rick collapsed. I could have released him a little at a time to slide down to the bottom but we had no bed downstairs then so I worked to push him up instead. I have no idea how I did it. Up to the top of the stairs, over the edge onto the flat of the landing–breathe–past the point where its beige boundary crossed the blue boundary of the bedroom carpet, up to and alongside the bed–breathe–. Stumped now because it was impossibly higher than I could lift him. How did I get him up onto the bed? I don’t know.
And then, when I somehow did, he had one of the seizures. Grand mal but fully conscious, eyes terrified. And no one there to take care of him but me. Leaving Rick’s side of the bed (now Jerry’s side) long enough to dial 9-1-1 and unlock the front door. Paramedics filing into the house and up the stairs, these same stairs, stepping over our curious chow-chow, leashed to the newel post.
Later we had hospice, a hospital bed in the den (the same den in which we just watched Dombey and Son). Rick slid out of my arms when I tried to lift him from the bed to the commode. He just lay slumped on the floor. I think I called someone. He was twice my weight.
That year and a half were sheer panic from beginning to end. Hospice was–hospice, for all practical purposes, was non-existent. They gave me one bottle of something for seizures, another bottle of something for pain. I read the small print–yards of it–and pointed out to the hospice worker that the medicine she had given me to ease the pain caused swelling of the brain, which increased the pain for which I was giving him the medicine. All she said was “Oh, really?”
I tore one of the morphine patches off his chest when he bloated up like a Macy’s Day parade balloon, his face and tongue so swollen he couldn’t make a sound, could only stare straight ahead.
One nurse stirring Rick up: “Fight this thing! You can do it” The other soothing him, “Just let go, lean into the arms of Jesus and let Him carry you home.” I could have knocked their heads together.
All these flashbacks tied together, one pulling another out like handkerchiefs from a magician’s hat. Tense muscles, pounding heart. Anger caused by panic and helplessness.
Lying on the den floor next to the couch the other evening I thought, Maybe we can meet all Tim’s demands, maybe we can work out all the practical logistics but if he isn’t willing to watch himself, to avoid risks, to care—