The Elephant In the Room
Tonight we had The Talk. About life. About love. And finally, about death.
We’ve been dancing around the elephant in the room for weeks now, stumbling over it every now and again, but mostly letting it sleep. Neither of us wanted to wake the beast for fear it would destroy us; we merely watched it breathe and wished it would find someplace else to live.
It started with a joke about jury duty, of all things. We were watching something on TV about the Trayvon Martin case, and Will made a casual remark about being glad he hadn’t had to serve on that jury. He gets called on a regular basis for some reason, and sometimes even gets to decide a case; but tonight he said, “Well, I’ve got a great excuse for not doing jury duty next time—I’m dying!”
To which I replied, “Well, I’ve got a free ticket out of jury duty too. Nobody would want ME on a jury because I’m mentally ill!”
The tone was light, even sarcastic, but within seconds I realized that we had just leaped over the two biggest hurdles we’ve ever faced: To date, I had NEVER used the term “mentally ill” to describe myself. And Will had not yet admitted to anyone that he is, in fact, dying.
But he said it again, and again, as we talked. We held each other tight, and we just talked and cried, talked some more, cried some more…….then turned to face what we know must be faced.
He’s not going to do the chemotherapy. He wants to be comfortable, and he wants to keep his dignity intact. He told me he’d been having second thoughts about the chemo because of his mother, who had lymphoma and died a miserable, lingering death after spending her last few months losing her hair, her teeth, and most of her meals. He didn’t want to die that way, he said; it had been awful watching her waste away and stagger through what remained of her life like a zombie…….like a living corpse. “She looked like she died before she died,” he recalled.
More talking. More crying. More holding onto each other like a pair of desperately frightened children.
It was the best talk we’ve had in our thirty-three years together.
Now our course is set. Now we know how this process needs to happen. And now we have the chance to complete the circle of life unimpeded by secret fears and false bravado. There will be no more “I’m gonna fight this thing” or “I’m not giving up”. However, this is NOT a surrender; it’s simply realizing that the battle was over before it began, and accepting the inevitable with grace.
I can’t bear to see him suffer. As I’ve said several times, I’d rather have three good months with him than six bad ones; sadly, I’m no longer sure we have more than a few weeks. But the length of time isn’t at issue here—quality of life is. And as much as it breaks my heart, I’d rather say good-bye sooner if it means he can go gently into that good night with words of undying love falling gently on his ear, and most of all, peace in his soul.