O were my love yon Lilac fair…

Bonnie and Me Lilacs

Bonnie and me looking younger and thinner…

By now I assume that anyone reading this already knows that Bonnie passed away ten days ago. We had the funeral Wednesday, and I still feel like I’m trying to process everything. I expect that feeling will persist for months or even years. I had a long time to plan and prepare for this, but it’s still totally devastating and life-altering.

It’s what I imagine losing a limb would be like. You keep expecting it to be there. If you’re not thinking about it you sometimes forget that it’s gone. I’ve heard of people having a phantom pain in a missing limb, and I think they might have some idea what it’s like to wake up and look over to Bonnie’s side of the bed and remember that she’s not there anymore–that she won’t be there ever again. A part of me is gone, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel completely whole again.

I do believe in the resurrection. Life would be too pointless and cruel without it. However, that belief doesn’t seem to mean that I’m spared from the pain of loss. As with most things in my life, art and music seem to be the most readily available sources of comfort. I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem by Robert Burns, so I thought I’d share it:

O were my love yon Lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

That’s only the first stanza, but it’s the one I like the best. I don’t actually know if Robert Burns was religious or not, but if my excessive time in academia has taught me anything, it’s that any one thing can mean any other thing if you want it to. So for me this makes me think of the resurrection. I love the imagery of separation and reunion in the poem. I can identify with the bird being cut off from its shelter through the rude winter, and, like the bird, singing will be high up on my list when I see my fair lilac once again.

How do you rationally approach your worst fears?

scylla-and-charybdis-bookpalaceI’m sitting in the hospital right now waiting while Bonnie undergoes a surgical procedure to make her treatments more convenient. My situation-my whole life-feels a little surreal. Cancer creates a lot of havoc in your life, but one thing that I never thought about is how strangely it forces you to deal with really horrible possibilities.

Last night as we were preparing for the surgery, Bonnie and I got talking about living will/end of life issues.

A: So you’ve said that you want a DNR (do not resuscitate) order later when we’re in Utah. What about tomorrow? What if you’re one of the statistically minuscule number of people who have serious complications in this surgery?

B: Tomorrow I definitely want to be resuscitated. I want to see all of our family.

A: Okay, what if you’re in a coma or something?

B: If my brain is dead, then let me die. That’s fine. I don’t really want to be kept alive if I’m a vegetable.

A: What about if you’re not a vegetable, but you have major personality changes or you lose like fifty or sixty IQ points? Should they take extraordinary effort to keep you alive at that point?

B: I have no idea. Do what you think is best.

A: Thanks. That sounds like a really fun decision to make.

Now take a second and think about this conversation. Really think about it. It’s horrible. Everything about it is horrible. Bonnie is discussing the imminent possibility of her own death or disability, and I’m talking about the possibility of losing the most important person in the world. Not just losing her, but of actually making the decision not to save her life. This is not a conversation that anyone ever wants to have, much less when they’re not even thirty.

This cancer just robs you of so many little things. There are so many injustices and indignities that Bonnie has to go through, while I sit helplessly on the sidelines, unable to protect her from the one thing from which she really needs protecting.

I think what really drives me crazy about this whole situation is that fact that I have to be relatively composed and calm about the actual decision. I have to be rational, because the only decision that I want control over-the only decision that really matters to me-is out of my hands. I can’t say, “I’ve decided that you’ll live and everything will be fine.” Once that’s gone, there are only bad decisions.

Choosing from a bunch of bad choices doesn’t feel like a choice at all.

Let’s start with a depressing post

IMG_1206My wife is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’m sitting in the hospital this morning, waiting for her to finish a procedure where they inject chemotherapy drugs directly into her spinal cord to try and slow down the progression of the disease. It’s a treatment which no one even expects to work. The best we’re looking at is buying more time.

She’s 27 and she’s dying of breast cancer.

It’s been a little surreal this last week. On Friday, it was our sixth wedding anniversary. Bonnie called the doctor to get the results of a fairly routine scan. She’s been undergoing cancer treatments for the last year and a half, but we were supposed to be done with aggressive treatments for a while. Instead of the “all clear” that we were expecting, the doctor told her that he wanted both of us to come in on Monday to talk with him. That of course made for a nice, stress-free weekend while we tried not to think about all the things that could be going wrong.

My typical stress-relief strategy of “what’s the worst that can happen?” was useless in that context.

And then of course he gave us the news. That whole situation deserves its own post, so I’ll give you the short version. The cancer has spread all through her spine and part of her skull. It’s pushing on her central nervous system and there’s really no effective way for us to kill it at this point.

When you’re facing the death of a spouse, there are a lot of ugly words. Even words that didn’t sound so bad before have become really ugly:

metastasized

shunt

single parent

leave of absence

hardship exception

widower

One of the most frustrating things about this whole thing is that the grief doesn’t even get to be private for any amount of time. The day we found out about the prognosis we had to start making arrangements. Bonnie called her family, I called mine. I had to start talking to my school, Bonnie had to start working on the insurance. There’s not enough time for grief or silence, for just being alone with each other. The pain is immediately trotted out and shared with the whole world. People want to be supportive and they stop by and call and ask invasive questions, but I wish we could have had just a day or two with each other.

Cancer is a jerk.

People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I keep saying that I’m fine. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to process this situation, much less explain it to anyone else. So in lieu of actually talking to anyone who is physically here, I’d rather just send some thoughts out onto the internet. The internet is like therapy with more cowbell.

I think that’s the reason I decided to start this blog. I need to talk or vent or whatever and the internet seems to have an unlimited capacity for absorbing that sort of thing. Thanks, Internet.