Memories and Mortality

A friend I've known for 20+ years is in hospice dying of cancer. She called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me goodbye. I whipped down to her hospital room to see her, not ready to let her go. We said nice things to each other; I mentioned common friends whom she hadn't seen for years and thoughts of them made her smile. She even joked.

Cut to last week. She was moved to a hospice, the same hospice where my wonderful mother-in-law died nine years ago. It's a clean, well-lit place. Interesting artwork for sale by local artists adorns the walls. The staff is gentle. If I had to die slowly in one location, it would do.

But could I go in? Not alone. No way. The building contained enough dense pain to fill every patient room, bathroom, refreshment nook, even the tiny chapel, and it all mixed, like a blueberry smoothie, with memories of my mother-in-law's -- my mother's -- dying. I would sit in her room with my father-in-law -- my dad -- and watch his elastic love stretch taut and twisting between his seat near the window and her face. He was there every day, all day, except for a couple of hours sleep in his old car in the parking lot around 3am. During the day and early evening people would come and go: my husband and me, our grown kids, long-time family friends. Those visits were the way we marked time after Mom sagged into permanent unconsciousness. I tried to stay there one night with him, provide him some relief from the nightly binding into a knot of despair, the yo-yo-ing between his happy memories and the present, hopeless dark. He wouldn't let me, wouldn't hear of it. He didn't want me to be inconvenienced, to be uncomfortable. I realized that it was his vigil and he needed to do it alone....

So, I visited my friend once with my husband and once with him and my dad, his dad. Both times were difficult, but the second one, accompanied by Dad, who felt obligated because she also had been a long-term employee, was almost unbearable. Both men cried at her bedside and on the way out of the building. It was the first time Dad had been back. After we vacated her room, I placed a tentative arm across his shoulders and felt the shaking, the pain and anguish that vibrated from him into me. I reached for my husband, too, but he catapulted out unable to wait on our slower pace.

I wish I could come by every few days just to sit quietly with my friend, with her partner, silently supporting their intertwined dying and living, but I can't. My anxiety ramps up to a near panic attack level when I consider it. I've pondered options: meeting my friend's partner at the door or having lunch with her first then going together to the hospice, asking another friend to go with me, etc etc, but it's not going to happen. For once, my anxiety and depression are my twin shields. I am sorry, but I'm not.

(I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please leave a comment below.)