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The Routine of Dying

It's a very personal and cathartic blog this week as I struggle to make sense of recent events in the life of my family. Our new life journey began about two months ago.

My husband hurt his back digging up pipes and working on the plumbing for our Gulf Shores house. He complained of pain in both his back and abdomen with some slight difficulty climbing steps. To give some context, Mark has always been very active. Every morning, his routine consisted of at least 45 minutes on the Elliptical Machine. Inactivity left him grouchy and out of sorts. I tried to get him to go to the doctor, but he did not. After a week passed and he seemed to experience a lessening of symptoms. However, three weeks later, he picked up a heavy object and the pain returned, more intense than ever. The pain grew daily, so he went to the Emergency Room. A CT of the spine was conducted, and Mark was diagnosed with a fractured L-3 vertebrae.

I mean that sucks, but O.K. the doctor assured us that there was a simple fix.

An outpatient surgical procedure that was called Vertebroplasty. The procedure involved injecting a special cement into a fractured vertebra - with the goal of relieving your spinal pain and restoring mobility. Mark was optimistic that he would be able to resume his very active lifestyle after the procedure.

We were happy to know that the ordeal would soon be over. However, a week before his scheduled appointment with the Orthopedic surgeon, his pain became more intense, causing him to have difficulty walking. This man who could run several miles, became out of breath just crossing the bedroom. I took him to the Emergency Room where they ran some more tests. The doctor returned to inform us that my husband now had multiple fractures that were caused by Bone cancer. And through subsequent tests, we have discovered he is in stage four.

Since that socking night, more tests have been conducted. More scans have been completed. More doctor's have been consulted. Now, we are waiting for all of the results to be compiled into an equation of time. It is so strange that there exists an algorithm that predicts days, weeks, months, years left on this earth.

My husband's emotions have vacillated between:

  1. Stoic and Broken

  2. Hopeful and Hopeless

  3. Independent and Dependent

  4. Demanding and Apologetic

And all the time, I find myself checking my emotions at the door. As he lives pain pill to pain pill, I spend the day fetching, and dispensing medication, (and whatever else he wants or needs) while taking care of business, financial and physical household needs. I feel horrible when he apologizes for being a burden and try to assure him that every day we have together is a great day!

Our lives have fallen into a routine from which there is very little deviation. As we wait for the final prognosis, it's as if life has paused. The world continues to spin around us with little notice. I, however, have noticed little things that have been significant in scope.

People have been kind. Even strangers who see him struggling to walk jump ahead of him, opening doors and offering an arm to help him walk. The inherent kindness of strangers has been amazing.

Then there are the friends who have offered real tangible help. Mark has voiced being humbled and comforting by their demonstration of love.

  1. One friend is keeping the fish alive at our coastal house as we wont be going there any time soon.

  2. Another is taking care of the yard

  3. Yet another is checking and forwarding the mail from the coast to our Birmingham home.

It has been comforting to him that these "little tasks" are taken care of so he can focus on hisself.

I have also observed my daughter (his stepdaughter) taking on some extra time to be with him, comforting him when he needs to talk and running errands when she is off work. The pride and admiration I feel for her grows daily as I see her come into the habit of putting others first, even when it is inconvenient for her.

And all the while, nagging and gnawing in my gut is a tamped down anger, sadness, and grief that I keep hidden away while I am with him. He is afraid of his unknown future, and if my own face also reflected fear, he would lose all hope. So, every morning I put on hope like a Mardi-gras mask and wear it around the house as I fetch. We watch old tv shows and laugh at how even television has changed. If he's feeling up to it, I take him out for an outing; maybe lunch. Our Corgis don't understand why daddy, who usually plays with them, can't pick them up anymore. Our littlest one, remains faithful and sits at his feet.

And when he starts to talk of dying, I let him. I validate the fear and sadness he is feeling. I remind him that we don't have the final answers yet so we don't know our next steps. Then I ask him to stop googling and not to get ahead of himself. That makes him laugh.

Finally, I remind him I will be with him every step of the way. That is our routine. The quiet times, the talking times and the final reminder that I am with him. It seems to help.

Then, when he falls asleep, I go into my room and cry.

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