Friday, June 5, 2015

I didn't need this lesson

Amongst the bereaved, especially the newly bereaved, there is occasionally a tendency toward grief Olympics, and I suppose it's not impossible to understand.  When you're going through the worst thing you've ever been through, and feeling the worst you've ever felt, you might be forgiven for feeling pretty sure that it's the worst ANYONE has EVER felt.  Among the widowed set, there was often a debate about who had it worse:  those who'd lost their loves suddenly without warning, or those who'd lost their loves after a long illness.  

A died suddenly, but my situation was so unusual that unless others were also hiding details (out of self-preservation instinct) on the widow bulletin board, I was probably alone in my particular situation that made being widowed hard for me, specifically.  But I figured out pretty early on that no one gets a break when it comes to death.  It sucks if they die suddenly.  It sucks when they die slowly.  Unless your spouse is an abusive monster, their death just sucks.  And I wish to dog I had a word besides "sucks" that could encompass the vast, painful reality of this kind of suckage.  Much like today, when I went to look for a "Fuck Cancer" image and decided that "fuck" was inadequate to my feelings of the moment.  Usually, it's a useful word for me, but today, it just isn't enough.

Because life has seen fit to give me experiential confirmation that there is no grace, no comfort, in watching someone you love die slowly.  In this case, it's B, one of my best friends in the world.  She is going to die from metastatic lung cancer, and I fear it will be before the year is out, because it's been terribly aggressive, and getting more so.  3 weeks ago, the only ill effects she felt were right after treatment, side effects from the brain swelling after radiation or from the chemo drugs.  Now, she's in pain pretty much all the time.  I found out today that they fear pathologic fracture in her femur and don't want her to walk on it.  She went from cane, to crutches, to walker, to electic scooter in the last 3 days.  She gave her notice at work today, and it seems unlikely she'll go back, because she can't do her job because of the pain, and can't take her pain meds if she wants to be clear-headed enough to do her job.  And as she is the major income earner in her household, that's going to hurt on top of everything else they're worrying about.

I got another call a couple hours later, and they said that she is not as at-risk for a fracture as they feared initially, and will radiate all the bone tumors.  This is not with any hope that they can stop the cancer; it's just palliative care and should lessen the pain considerably.  A small favor in an ocean of terrible.

This is where we're at, after months of questionable (at least to my mind) treatment plans and, worse, delays due to incompetence and inefficiency on the part of the medical staff that are supposed to help her and the hell that is dealing with insurance approval, and while there are no guarantees that aggressive treatment early on would have saved her life, I don't think there's one person who's traveled this journey with her, including her, that doesn't wonder WTF they were thinking, because it might have.  When you have a lung tumor and mets to the brain already at diagnosis, time is not on your side.  But evidently, those involved in oncology in this town weren't feeling any need to rush.  Why cancer and mental health patients don't get pushed to the front of the line automatically is beyond me.

Given that she was stage 4 at diagnosis, I suppose this time we've had since the fall is somewhat miraculous in itself, but now it's getting bad.  Really bad.  Canceled get-togethers because she is both in pain and exhausted.  Hard talks with her spouse regarding a future they never imagined but have to navigate nonetheless.  There is so much to hate in all this, I don't even know where to begin.  Because I am sad and angry for her, sad and angry for them, and sad and angry for me, because I'm going to lose my dear friend and there's fuck-all I can do about it.

That is the worst part.  It's a slow-motion car crash unfolding over months, and all you can do is watch and wait for the final impact.  Chocolate and flowers and encouraging cards and cracking wise, all my specialties, become increasingly useless in the face of this horrible inevitability.  I don't know what comes next, or how fast it'll come.  Maybe none of us do.

And I find I've been ridiculously blasé about death when I've said I'm not afraid to die.  What I really mean is, I'm not afraid to be dead.  Either it'll be cool on the other side, or there will be nothing but oblivion, and in either case, I'm fine.  Dying, however, is a whole other thing, and it's terrifying.  It's terrifying for ME, as I stand by my friend, and I'm not looking it straight in its too-close eye.  When I say, "I'm going to die," this is merely an existential truth that acknowledges my, and everyone else's, mortality.  But for B to acknowledge she's going to die must be scary as hell, because it's going to happen sooner than she, and everyone else who loves her, wants it to.  How much will it hurt before she goes?  How bad will it get?  Will she be able to make the exit she wants to?  How will her wife cope without her?  How do you say goodbye when you don't want to, when you're not ready to, when you'll never be ready to?

And how do I, who know the pain that's coming for her wife, also a close friend of mine, help?  I have always said I would never wish widowhood on my worst enemy.  I certainly would spare my friends, and I don't want to share this with her.  We are close enough; we don't need this horror to bind us.  I would that this cup had passed them both by until they were very old.  I would wish that for anyone.  But there's nothing I can do but be there later and say, "I know."  

Frankly, that's a shitty and altogether inadequate option.

I feel helpless, sorry for myself for my impending loss, and then annoyed at myself for focusing on how this affects ME when my friend is equally helpless, despite accepting all treatment possible, and is looking at losing her life sooner rather than later.  It's a muddle of emotions, it's a mess, and there is no silver lining in this.  We just wait and hate that it's happening.


  1. I am so, so sorry for all of it -- for your friends' suffering, for your pain in witnessing and being a part of it, and that it happens at all. "I'm so sorry" is about as effective as "Fuck cancer" or "Death sucks"...but it's all I have.

    And very true -- I'd never necessarily thought about it too lengthily, but you hit it on the head. I'm not afraid to be dead...but the suffering before it? I've always thought that, if I were diagnosed with an awful cancer and treatment didn't end it, I'd want to make full use of Oregon's death with dignity laws. Better to choose the end before it was really, really awful and to spare Anna -- but who's to say what I would really choose? Dying is awful, no matter how it happens.

    Sending you much love and endless hugs. xoxo

  2. Thank you. I'll take the "sorry." It's all we have, and this is nothing if not sorrowful. She's only in her 50s. And I know it's totally unreasonable, but it's entirely unfair that I have to lose another friend. I always figured it'd be J, who is genuinely elderly and in ill health, so I could lose her anytime as well. It's too much.