Nothing Could Have Prepared Me For This

It has been like this every night now. I sit next to her as she struggles and moans, trying to fall asleep through it all. I was never prepared to see her like this and truth be told, I don’t think I could have been. I mean, how’d I get prepared for the long waits, this feeling in my stomach, and uselessness of my trembling hands (I feel like they’re useless though some would disagree)?

She asks me to rub her head. Her mother never did that as she grew up through the Florida years. And I feel like I have no choice but to obey. I don’t want her to die. I need her to live, that is, I need her in order for me to live. So I do it, I rub her head, while she makes a chore of breathing. Her eyes close eventually but my right hand still moves. Sometimes I think what if this is the last moment and my heart races. I don’t want to think about it, I want to leave this place, I want to sleep. I want to be strong but it’s so hard and finding someone who truly understands how I feel is even harder! How can I be relieved of this burden, this cross? I want to be free I go on thinking.

Her eyes are still closed; they’ve been for a few minutes. Her body twitches and tries to spread itself out over the entire bed – perhaps it’s trying to relax. I can feel my own exhaustion washing over me, it’s coming in waves. But I have to stay awake for her. She might wake up and need something – she might need me. I wonder who needs who more.

Every one of her spasms makes my blood rush. I’ve become so twitchy myself. My own doctor says I’m stressed and I believe him. I guess this is how I deal. I’m glad, however, that I’m even trying to deal. Yes, I’m still here by her side and that’s something I can be proud of. A smile causes my lips to curl. As I smile, I look down on her, she just twitched. I move my hand to wipe some of the wiry hair that’s finally growing back on her head. I must have woken her up; her eyes are now opened and she’s saying she needs to use the toilet. This process is extensive. It involves getting her to sit up, helping her to stand, bringing her to the portable toilet 2 feet away. These days, this all takes at least five minutes – I remember when it used to take her 20 seconds. She sits on the chair made of plastic and releases her bowels, that is, what’s left of them now. That part takes a few minutes, but then she sits awhile longer to catch her breath. What have I learned from all of this? Infinite patience and a never ending gentleness, I suppose. I can’t just drag the tissue when I’m cleaning her, that’d be cruel.

I’m almost done cleaning her up. It’s time she trembled back to bed. It’s not that she’s too frail to walk (not as yet at least), her body is still strong enough to move; it’s just that her mind isn’t fully convinced it can.

I set her back down after I picked her up, realizing that I need to adjust my body properly for her lifting. Perched in the corner, she starts crying. She starts begging me not to leave her – to stay with her. I want to beg her to do the same. But no! Instead, I reassure her with all my might, as if I am reciting a prayer to my own personal Jesus who’s standing in the room: I hold her hand and tell her she is going to be okay, but I’m lying, I know am – she knows it too. Life has changed. It will never be okay, even at best. I start to cry where no one else can see – on the inside. I’m ready to lay her back down. I bring her to the bed, I lean her back and I lift her legs and put them down on the soft mattress.

I sit back down; I turn my head towards her. She’s 100 pounds lighter. I start to reflect on the term “cancer eating cells” and I decide that it should be taken more literally than I had first thought. My thoughts start becoming heavy again; I change my position in my bedside chair. It’s not really a bedside chair, but I’ve made it one. I took it from the hall room and they left it here. I suppose they’ve become accustomed to seeing me. I try to relax to no avail because I’m still seeing her; her arm is swollen, adding to her deformed distinction.

While I look at her body, she begins to cry again. It’s her only relief from pain, I suppose – the pills don’t seem to work anymore. I feel so useless; I can’t do anything for her except pump out the lymph nodes that have expanded in her arm. So, I do just that. I stand and reach behind her shoulder and rub out the newly formed balls, which retain ounces of fluid that prevent blood from flowing around her body properly. I see and feel them; the nodes, the cysts, the tumors, the veins, the breaking skin. I bend too close and catch a whiff of the one thing that breaks me down: her dying breast. The bandage needs to be changed. It’s soaked up too much of the decaying flesh and has soaked into her shirt. I go get new supplies and then I remove her shirt as slowly as possible, and place it to the side. She can no longer bring herself to be ashamed of her naked flesh. She never should have to begin with. I question society as I try to be as gentle as possible when removing the tape around the bandage covering her breast. Once removed, I lift the gauze pad and sterilize the wound. There are so many wounds, she feels so much pain. I think it has become more than physical. Torment such as this must grip her very soul.

I’m starting to find it hard to look, but I have to. I’m now staring at one of her breasts again, the same decomposed one which has shrunk from a size DDD to negative A. More than that, the cancer has spread to her chest, stomach, liver, head, and bones – her entire body. I pity her. I can almost feel her pain – my mirror neurons work overtime when I look at my reduced mother. It kills me.

I’m almost done changing her bandage and she has started crying again, but something’s different. There’s a hint of gratefulness in her eyes and wailing. Perhaps, knowing that she has me as a daughter is making her feel something other than pain. I think she knows I’d never l eave. I’m done putting on the bandage; I replace her shirt over her abdomen. She leans back and tells me “thank you”. I sit next to her and watch her chest straining to rise and fall. Nothing can prepare you for this. She’s not dead yet, but I mourn her loss. I experience it daily. We both fall asleep, mother in her bed, me in my chair with my hand holding her arm. My touch is the only thing that makes her feel safe she has told me. Touching her is the only thing that makes me feel safe.

As regards mortality, we’re all in each other’s company – we’ll all die. And it’s sad to know that so many of us spend so much of our precious little time here is in misery. Suffering is a natural part of life, I suppose – to exist is to feel pain. Furthermore, life does not come with a manual or map, and the road can be dark and treacherous sometimes. And for good or evil, life will continue to move forward and nothing can truly prepare you for it – it is a confusing reality to be lived as opposed to a mystery that can be solved… There is a place, however, where this reality can make sense and that place can only be reached through love. The few moments we spend loving and feeling loved are perhaps the only taste we’ll have of forever. It would be wise to seek out those moments – those times when we transcend our own mortality; it is perhaps the only way to revolt against death and obscurity.


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