Monday, March 5, 2012

St. Michael's

So many have written of terminal illness with compassion and insight that the following entries will undoubtedly prove vapid by comparison. As I begin this phase of my blog, I interrogate my motives. Why do we write about impending death, our own or that of our loved ones? To commemorate? To record? To make sense of our feelings? To grapple with what is the most difficult part of life, our departure from it?

At this point, I am not entirely certain why I have chosen to share my thought about Rod's impending death; perhaps that will become more clear to me over time.

This weekend I sit in our sailboat, moored behind the Maritime Museum in St. Michael's. Rod naps in the berth across from me, worn out from an afternoon of boat-making demonstrations and museum displays of oystering on the Chesapeake Bay. Never will he admit to exhaustion or discomfort: raised by colonial parents in South Africa and educated in British-style prep schools, he will straighten his back and push back the discomfort. Only the skin drawn ever more tightly across a face already too thin or the cords tightening along his neck betray the enormous effort.

Gently I take his arm and suggest we return to the boat; if he resists, afraid of inconveniencing our friends, then I plead my own tired constitution, giving him a way out.

Rod sleeps heavily, even though it is only 4.00 in the afternoon, his body grabbing futilely at rest to stave off the cancer. As for me, I wanted nothing more than to sleep when I first learned of Rod's diagnosis, a way to escape what I couldn't accept. I slept, I cried, and I stared numbly into a future without Rod, facing the realization that I will be widowed in my fifties and therefore in all likelihood without him for decades to come. The trips we imagined, the grandchildren we envisioned, the pleasures we anticipated will not happen.

I want to nap like Rod, and I want to lose myself in long, unbroken stretches of sleep, twelve or even fifteen hours, glutting myself on the luxury of unconsciousness. I am lucky, though if I get six hours. This is the price I pay for living when my husband is dying: my body, still healthy and functioning, refuses sleep, that harbinger of death, that "mock death," as many have called it. It wants activity, stimulation, food, hard work, reminders of the life I am condemned to live without Rod.

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