…And Tears

In the mail today was a conspicuous envelope from Angela Hospice – the facility we used for Kim’s home hospice at the end of her suffering last year. Normally, these envelopes contain something about Angela Hospice, its services, or its fundraising efforts. This time it contained a note about those we lost in December of 2020 with a URL and an invitation to view their virtual memorial, since, due to COVID, they would not be doing an in-person memorial.

So I went to the URL and entered the password. After a brief introduction, the ceremony, in which the names of those who passed in December of 2020 were read as a woman lit a votive candle for each one, began. Kim’s was the fifth name.

I don’t know why, but for the first time in several weeks, I broke down and sobbed. I went to the memorial mass at St. Thomas a’Beckett, our parish and the church from which Kim was buried, on All Souls Day and did not have the same response at the reading of her name. Maybe it was the candles. All those candles waiting to be lit, representing all of those whose life on earth was over. The flames that only burn here symbolically, for their flame on earth was extinguished. So many candles, and representing only one month of last year- and only those who were under the care of Angela Hospice…

It is prudent to remember that our time here on earth is brief and that we should conduct our lives as if every moment is the rarest, most valuable thing there is. Because they are.


Smiles. That’s what comes to me now when I think of my life with Kim. Smiles. Some things still choke me up – especially events during those last 7 months with her – but I find myself smiling now when I think of most things; I find myself smiling when some memory bubbles up to the surface.

The evolution of grief has been interesting to observe. It continues to be. Most often, in its early stages, grief would drive the mind to the irrational when memories would crop up: don’t do that because it’s not how she likes it; don’t throw this away because it is her favorite. But she’s gone and what you do with her things is inconsequential. More often, grief would drive the mind to desolation and desperation: why us? How do I recover my life when half of it has been torn away? Eventually, it yields smiles.

This dawned on me a few days ago – that I now smile when I think of Kim and the moments in our life – and I mentioned it to my girlfriend, Sheila. It really hit me again this morning, looking out into the yard at the pool I put in about 26 years ago. She really wanted a pool and, though I have no love for them, I wanted her to have it. I smiled, remembering our first swim together. I smiled remembering her with each of our children in that pool over the years, playing with them and teaching them how to be safe in the water. And I smiled as I remembered her last float on her french fry-design raft the summer of the year she left us – how she wanted to be in the pool, but could not because of the various chemos, the port, the pain, and the appointments. She was feeling really good one day, and got the go-ahead from her doctor, and spent the afternoon simply floating and enjoying the day and her pool.

Odd, that: to need the go-ahead from a doctor to enjoy something when you are terminally ill. We really need to revisit that concept – as well as what should be routine screenings at a physical. The former has driven me to the conviction that if I’m ever diagnosed with something like pancreatic cancer, I’m going to enjoy what’s left, and the medical community be damned. I get the pain management aspect. And I even get the chemo to extend life, knowing that it will not cure the condition. But I don’t get the restrictions on things like getting your teeth cleaned. Kim had an appointment and was looking forward to it – who doesn’t like the feeling of their teeth after a cleaning?! But, no. Because of the chemo. A bit irrational, in my opinion: she was terminal. Let her have her teeth cleaned. Kim had to have her own towels to ensure that she didn’t get some infection that would kill her from one of us. So many restrictions; so many things designed to prevent her from getting an infection that might kill her when we knew all along that the cancer was going to kill her, anyway.

Not all of these things were onerous or disappointing to her or us, but a lot of these retrictions took things she wanted away from her long before her disease would. And to what end?

I cannot speak for someone who is so clearly faced with their own end, but I think I’d rather not have things that I love and enjoy taken from me just so that I can live a little longer. I guess we’ll get to see how I behave if I am ever confronted with that knowledge, but I really think the palliative care professionals need to rethink a lot of what they are demanding from and for their terminal patients.

First memorial mass…

Today is 2 November: All Souls Day. My parish held a memorial mass in which the names of all those who passed after 31 October 2020 were read in their memory. I had let the kids know of this mass, but none of them attended with me. I was alone with my thoughts and memories – memories primarily of that period between her diagnosis and her death.

One of the clearest memories to return was her telling me shortly after returning home from her initial diagnosis “Well, I don’t want to die.” I don’t quite remember the context of that comment, but I do remember the comment itself, word for word. It still rattles around my head. That horrible disease and its “treatment” took even that desire to live from her, eventually driving her to cease anything but comfort measures, leaving me alone with her eventual silence, administering those measures and only able to hope that what I was doing was adequate to make her comfortable in the unconscious state she was in near the end. Powerless to do any more than follow a schedule and hope it was enough.

It pains me that the medical industry – likely due to health insurance rules (but I repeat myself – look up the history of health insurance if you’d like to understand that comment) – blithely whistles past so many graveyards by not routinely checking for markers for deadly, hidden cancers such as pancreatic. Had the marker been detected a year earlier during Kim’s physical – about the time they believe her cancer started “brewing” – how different might the outcome have been? How many people lost to this, and other, cancers that remain undetected before it is too late would still be with us if they simply checked for the marker antigens regularly? Instead of bemoaning how it isn’t detected until it has already metastasized, why wouldn’t they employ a known means to detect it?

This experience, coupled with the lunacy of COVID has definitely damaged – if not shattered – my faith in medicine and those who practice it.

Strange results from attending a remembrance mass.