It’s been nearly two weeks now since It happened. It feels like it was so long ago and yet like it was yesterday. Two distinct pains fight for my attention. The sharpest pain comes from the memory of the last two weeks of Maggie’s life, watching her suffer through miserable circumstances. More specifically, the last two days drive burning stakes through my heart. It takes but a brief reflection on those days – the look in her eyes, the wordless touches, the weakening of her body, the helplessness I felt, the way her body shook with each breath – those memories yank tears from my eyes. The other pain, that of her absence, is less sharp but I feel it will be with me much, much longer. But that pain is familiar in many ways because for at least the last year, a little bit at time, I have been practicing losing her.
The last couple of days caring for Maggie were so incredibly difficult to experience that I have no real words to describe them yet. I haven’t even tried to tell the story. I can’t. I don’t have it in me. Thinking back on the brief moments that we shared scalds my heart with white hot sorrow. Worse are the moments where I was there and she was not. The deep, deep soul-sadness that takes hold of me when I think of those times is absolutely the worst sadness I’ve ever felt in my life. To love someone so deeply and to watch them slowly melt away, suffering in pain and panic, is just beyond words. As callous and selfish as this may seem, I’m glad that’s over. I just could not have gone much farther down that path. I am looking forward to the memory of the intensity of this pain fading as time passes.
It’s funny how pain seems to work as a memory. I don’t really feel the pain any more since that which was causing the pain (Maggie suffering) is no longer an issue. Maggie isn’t suffering any more, thus, the cause of my acute pain has disappeared. Yet, when I reflect back on what happened, I remember how the pain felt and, wow, that just kicks me right in the feelers. Hard!
Think about a splinter or deep cut you’ve had. When the big log of wood was sticking out of your finger, it hurt like hell. When you pulled it out, it still hurt like hell. But eventually, the wound healed and the pain disappeared. Thinking back, you remember it hurting like hell. But, and here’s where it gets funny, do you remember the pain? Or do you actually just remember that you felt pain but not the pain itself? There’s a big difference there. Can you actually remember the pain that was caused by that splinter inside your finger? Or is it just that you remember that you were feeling a lot of pain? Well, I remember I was feeling a lot of pain and that memory still burns tremendously. But it’s fading.
The other pain, the pain of her absence, is more worrisome. That pain is direct and real. The cause of that pain is still very clearly a problem; she’s still not here. I can’t make that pain go away by pulling out the splinter. That splinter is here to stay. Damn.
Oddly enough, the pain of her absence is something I’ve been learning to accept for some time. A long time ago I wrote about how hard it was to have her disappear under the cloud of chemo treatments for days on end. It was a heartbreaking process to watch. Even on the best days, she wasn’t like she was before. Her new 100% was more like 75%. At least I had up to 75% of her for a solid two years. For that I’ll always be grateful.
Then, in October or so, we really took a hit when we got that pain pump. Despite (or rather, because of) the critically important work it was doing, it knocked her down another 20% or more. She disagreed with me (shocker, right?) but it was evident in subtle ways. A husband knows. Sadly, she was leaving me slowly. We both had to adapt. It hurt my heart. Badly.
The pain I feel now of her absence is all too familiar. The pain of remembering how she suffered will dull as time passes because she’s not suffering any more. But I worry that the pain of her absence, despite how long I’ve had to adapt to it, will not be gone any time soon. It’s now here with me to stay.