There is a moment when the sun is heading for the horizon. The sun’s rays seem to burst in every direction or the sun looks like a huge ball slowly descending into a vast emptiness. It is clear that in a very short time, the ability to see it will be gone. Moment by moment, the sinking continues and as you stare at this glorious array, it disappears from view.
You are aware that this setting is on the verge of completion, but there is very little to indicate the length of time that it takes to occur. So, you stand very still and you watch intently and in the process of trying to catch the very moment of “Sunset”, time stands still.
That is how it feels right now. Many things are happening, but it seems that time is standing still and only the losses are signs that the moment is upon us.
In the past 72 hours, my husband has gone from being able to perform the basics of life, i.e. personal hygiene, feed himself, clothe himself and decide what he wants to have for entertainment to loosing control of his legs and this afternoon, he can only stay in bed…
He mentioned on Monday that his ability to balance himself as he walks was becoming a little troubling. Tuesday morning, he was up before I was and was in the kitchen getting ice out of the freezer when I heard a heart sinking thud. He had fallen.
I went running into the kitchen to find him on the kitchen floor. His knees had given way and he was unable to stand so he fell on his knees and pushed himself onto the floor. As I tried to assess his injuries, he said that he was beginning to feel his legs again. I helped him up into a kitchen chair and pushed him to the table so that he could steady himself.
I was trying to stay calm so I fixed the coffee and asked if he thought that he might enjoy a cup. As he sat there drinking the coffee, he began to cry. We embraced each other and cried the tears that we tried so hard to hide from each other…I told him that we were a team and that we would face this new challenge together, just like always…I told him that I would call the hospice nurses and see if we could get a walker. I suggested that this might steady him and give him something to help with his balance. I thought that the walker was the ticket and we waited for the hospice nurse to deliver it to us.
In the mean time, we walked to the recliner in the living room. In a house this size, it isn’t a great distance from room to room. He managed this walk without difficulty, but he chose to stay in the recliner or to rest in bed most of the day.
About 4:30 P.M., the nurse delivered the walker and I thought that we had a better chance of not repeating the mornings adventure.
My son had come early in the morning and was with us most of the day. Around 5 P.M., my husband wanted to go to the bathroom. He said that it was the perfect time to take the new walker for a “spin”.
As I helped him from the bed to his feet, he grasped the walker like a “pro” and as we were trying to navigate the bedroom doorway, his legs gave away again. This time, I was behind him and laid him down as gently as I could, but this wedged me and my husband between the doorway and the bed. Neither of us could move enough to help ourselves.
Thankfully, my grandson was on the front porch playing on the computer. I began yelling for my grandson to go get his father so as to help us. Seven year olds are great at yelling and he was able to get his dad into the house in short order.
My son literally picked up my husband from off of the floor and placed him in the recliner. This is my son who has the traumatic brain injury. Who fights his own battle for quality of life. This is my Marine, my warrior child who has said, “My misfortune shall be my Fortune.” I am amazed by him.
I watched as he lovingly cared for his step father. From the outset of this journey, both my son and daughter in law have been with us every step of the way.
My son has always been a support. After my husband’s surgery, my son gently performed basic nursing care. (The Marine Corp teaches all of its members basic emergency medicine for battle injuries) He has a wonderful bedside manner because he has a wonderful caring heart.
As my son and I lifted my husband into the bathroom, it was becoming clear that my ability to care for my husband alone was becoming an impossibility. When my husband goes down on the floor, he has to have some ability to control his extremities or I am unable to manage.
My son and I got my husband back to bed and I immediately called the hospice nurse for a bedside commode. I thought that I could manage my husband the few feet from the bed to the recliner if we didn’t have to walk the length of the house to the bathroom.
The rest of the evening went well. My husband was so very tired from the events of the day that he went to sleep around 9:30 P.M. and I stayed awake until 2:30 AM, Wednesday morning, keeping watch over him.
At around 5:30 A.M, I awoke to find him sitting on the bed. He wanted to use the beside commode. I said that I was coming and to wait for me.
The next few minutes were like a nightmare that seems to never end. As I approached him, he seemed to loose consciousness and he fell forward. He didn’t put his hands up to break his fall and his face scooted along the carpet leaving a rug burn that was bleeding. His neck and body was pushed up against the wall.
I am sorry to say, but I burst into tears. I tried to rearrange him so as to relieve the obvious pressure on his head and neck. He was unresponsive to me. My first thoughts were that he had died. But, I was wrong.
I was able to reach the phone to call for help. My son was here in about 20 minutes. By the time my son was able to get here, my husband had regained consciousness and control of his legs. Together, we were able to get him up to the beside commode. There we waited for my son.
My training told me that this was a neurological kind of episode or a cardiac interruption of blood flow to the brain. No matter, either one is directly tied to the disease process of cancer.
Those in the healthcare field call this the dying phase. It is when the body is deterioating at a rate that the disease controls. There is nothing that can gauge its progress and the goal is to makes everything as comfortable as possible.
The rest of the day Wednesday went well with my son’s help. His strength, in every way, is invaluable to us. His physical strength is so necessary right now. My son has stayed with us at the expense of his wife and children for the past few nights. No matter what I say, he is not willing to leave us.
Somewhere in the memories of my mother’s cancer battle, I knew these days would come. I know that I was frightened of them from the first when the doctor said the word, “Cancer”. It was this part of the journey that I dreaded.
I knew this part of the journey would be rocky and very difficult in every way. This part of the path challenges the physical stamina, the mind, and it slowly breaks the heart. But, no matter what I thought I knew about the days that approach this horizon, the reality is that they are so much more difficult than what I remember.
This morning, I went to Road’s site, “The Price of Love”. He has a song posted there that is so true of our present situation and of our walk towards this sunset. Right now, this song has captured the place that we find ourselves on this long journey….It is called, “Everybody Hurts”.
Yes, It hurts right now. It hurts in places that I didn’t know existed. And I know that this part of the journey requires a dogged determination for putting one step in front of the other. It must be walked no matter the fatigue, the heart ache or the fear.
These is no stopping the advance toward the setting sun. I must echo my son in living my misfortune. And, somehow, it must become my fortune, my treasure of great riches that must sustain me for the rest of my life. These are the last of the precious days to live and to love him.
I have a few more steps to take with him and I will find a way to walk them. And as the song say, “Hold on.” That is what I am doing. I am holding on until that time that there is nothing left to hold…until those last rays of this sunset journey are gone…