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.