I picture my daughter meeting her fiancé’s parents sometime in the distant future. They’ll ask polite questions about her family and she’ll respond with this: “My mother died when I was (blank) years old.”
The only thing I can’t picture in the conversation is what age she will have been when I died. Will she lose me this year at age 14? At 16? Maybe at 20?
It won’t be 20 though, people with Stage IV lung cancer don’t get that long.
Will my son make it through high school, get a driver’s license or find a girl without me there to celebrate and worry? He will, but I wish I could stay for all of it.
My body fails me even though from the outside it appears as it always has, quite complete and whole. But it isn’t.
Everything is being done because I need my life and my life needs me. All the modern cancer fighting technology is waging war with my body and on it. I can handle the intense invasive medical procedures because this marathon is about endurance. The more treatment you can endure, the longer you live to endure more of it. Until you can’t.
The rage keeps me going. I am so angry at my body, which quietly allowed incurable tumors to invade my bones, my lungs, my brain. It came in stealth and only made itself known once it was far too late to catch my life and live it. I sat on the cold hospital table hearing the news. At that moment my life fell from my hands onto the floor by my feet. I couldn’t reach it or pick it up. I just sat beside it and watched it get smaller as it seemed to drain through cracks in the floor.
I don’t cry. If I do, I feel it might cause me to miss something I can’t get back. I hold my life fiercely because I can’t imagine leaving my two young children. They will have to navigate their lives based on what I have taught them and I know I won’t have taught them enough.
Sometimes my mind dips so fully into my outside life, I can actually forget I am dying. I participate in my life as best I can. I work full time, see friends, drive my kids to their sports. I smile and laugh and make it all look so light and breezy that my children can’t see my rot. They know it is there, like a swampy creature, black and smelling of death in the corner of the room. They don’t speak of it, and neither do I.
It sits inside me though. I am aware at the molecular level of every small potential symptom of the final, deadly attack coming. Sometimes I can justify a headache away, and other times I am paralyzed with terror that a bleeding tumor will drop me where I stood just a moment before. I am afraid of this happening in front of my children. My doctor assures me it probably won’t be that sudden. Probably.
And yet sometimes I wish it would be. I can’t face saying goodbye and watching the grief of others. I can’t face my husband’s eyes as he watches me with a palpable ache, because he knows about the rot.
We have talked of all the wonders of our lives together, but now we only speak of the past, not the future, never planning, only remembering. I will hate saying goodbye to the man I loved most in the world, the children I created, my relatives and friends that are like family. There are so many people I love and who cherish me. How could we all be so betrayed by this?
There are no answers, there is only time – just not enough of it.
(This post originally ran on Modern Loss)