July 21, 2009 is a day I'll never forget though I can barely remember most of it. I awoke from sleeping on the fold-out bed in my husband's room at Embracing Hospice in Cumming, GA.
I had made the hardest decision of my life. A kind young doctor had told me he could do nothing else for Barry, but we could go back to Emory for more chemo. My husband's heart was failing from the one chemo treatment he'd received at Emory before being dismissed. Weakness left him barely able to speak. The unrelenting pain in his left leg where the lymphoma had returned was like a raging lion tearing the life out of an antelope, bite after bite.
"No," I told the doctor. "If he can't get well, I don't want him to suffer anymore. The chemo is a poison that slowly kills his body while fighting the cancer."
No one would tell me, yes, he is dying anyway. They only said we can still try more chemo.
I had been told that at Hospice he would receive the pain relief he could not seem to get anywhere else.
We had come there on Saturday afternoon, late. On Monday morning I demanded the doctor give Barry the IV drip that would let him sleep until his body gave out. I was assured that he would not be in pain anymore.
I don't know where the strength came from to sit by him every hour watching him suffer and then watch him die. That is the part I will always remember. Those last minutes.
I have now lived through the last of the firsts. There was my first birthday without him, Thanksgiving without him, Christmas, and Easter, his birthday. Then Memorial Day came. That was the anniversary of our move to the mountains, to this place we love so much. June 14 was our wedding anniversary. Fourth of July was the anniversary of our first date. And July 21, the anniversary of our goodbye.
I'm told by those who have endured this journey that the first year with all the "first anniversaries" is the hardest and that one day these will just be like any day in my life.
I accomplished a great deal this year. I decided I was going to live and live the best I can from now on. My health is my priority, my writing and work are next. But I've also made a new commitment to enjoy life, to laugh, to dance, to travel, to make play dates with my friends. I'll invite them to lunch with me ( at a restaurant of course. I don't want to cook) I am looking into interesting places to go that aren't too expensive. I want to surround myself with people I enjoy and people I love.
This week I babysat a puppy. She made me laugh. I remembered how little things used to make me happy and make me smile.
Like George in my story The Trillium, found in Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, I will look for happiness in little things. Like Tipper who writes on TheBlind Pig and the Acorn, I want to explore more, learn more and relish my experiences.
All those firsts are behind me now. I am a different person from the one I was a year ago. Old friends will have to understand if I don't enjoy the things I once did. I am moving on in my new life as the half of a couple, but the living half who has to learn what she can do and what she wants now, and who is learning, every day, to be grateful.