Saturday, February 11, 2017

Growing Old(er) Together

A friend of mine - I consider them a friend though I have never met them except through Facebook exchanges - and his/her partner are going through a very, very difficult time. The partner has health issues which certainly impact their quality of life and, though I don't know details, they may not have much time left together.

Though it may seem a bit awkward, to protect identities I will use h/h/their as shorthand for him/her. Actually, the gender of each or the nature of the partnership is not important. This is a situation that could be about a parent, a child, a spouse, a dear friend, a colleague. This is about them, and us, and maybe you.

Most of us, some more than others, have fears about illness and death, moreso as we grow older. Even when life is frustrating and painful, we kinda want to hang on to it. We usually hope, even expect, the present challenge will pass, and things will get more or less "normal" again (whatever normal is supposed to be).

It was only a year ago that Donna-Lane was going through surgery and chemotherapy and radiotherapy in her second battle with breast cancer. Most days it seems a rather distant memory, as she came through it and seems nearly 100% her active, look-to-the-future self. She's currently working on three different novels, writes blogs, carries on an effervescent social life in the two places we live, and we've been traveling again with at times too much frequency.

I did not experience the pain that she did. At times she was so weak she could not walk the 30 feet to the bathroom without assistance. But "her cancer" often felt very much like "our cancer" because she needed me both for physical and moral support. I did both our "shares" of the cooking and shopping and cleaning and laundry for several months, not because I'm any kind of a saint but simply because those are things she needed me to do so she could focus on regaining her health and strength. (I had not been in her life during her first bout with cancer, and I sometimes expressed that I wished I had, so she obliged me by going through it again.)

Any one who has cancer, I suspect, harbors the persistent fear that it will return. Even those of us who have never had cancer, or a heart problem or other major health issue, do our best to suppress such thoughts. I know D-L wonders almost every time she gets a twitch or feels nauseous, or even when she doesn't, that the cancer will return, maybe somewhere else in her body this time. The fear is both irrational and rational, but it's real to the person with the fear.

From time to time we talk about what might happen should one of us die. We both will, of course. We just don't know when. Or which one of us will go first. We talk about places we'd like our ashes to be scattered. About where we might live when the other is gone. About legal residence, which is more an issue for me than for her. About who and how to contact in the immediate aftermath. About carrying on about causes we care about. About meeting someone else after awhile. About life insurance and inheritances. Practical stuff. Functional discussions but without the emotion.

We don't talk much about the sheer emptiness that such an eventuality will bring to one of us. And to our loved ones. We don't talk about the mental anguish of someone slipping away from you and you can't do a damn thing about it. Worst, you can do precious little for their inner terror.

There were three times during D-L's cancer adventure when I thought I might well lose her. Each time she passed out, and as I frantically did whatever I could think of to try to revive her it flashed through my mind that this might be it. There was no time to dwell on such thoughts; the priority was bringing her back from the brink, getting the professionals to her as quickly as possible, focusing on the expectation that she would pull through again, doing whatever was necessary to help her do so.

One of these times she won't recover. Or it will be me in crisis. I think we both wish when the time comes it could be relatively quick and relatively painless. But then, for the other, it will be relatively frightening. And relatively numbing. For a long time. For forever.

I wish I could give my friend a hug. H/h partner too. There's nothing I can say or do that will change their circumstances. Or the outcome. Or the pain and frustration. It would probably make me feel better more than them. Maybe them a wee, wee bit.

We're already old, though Donna-Lane and I have only been together a few very full years. We want to grow older together. Much older. With as few health issues as possible. Doesn't everyone? Our friends are much too young to be experiencing such agony.

The partner who inspired this post is now with the angels.

1 comment:

  1. It was so hard to lose the person I planned to grow old with. And you are right it is numbing for a long time. But you are wrong in one place, a hug is so important. It helps a lot more than a wee wee bit.