The oxygen machine continues to hum along in 7/4 time, clink-clanking on the last two beats.
“Did you give a full syringe of morphine, or…?”
My wife shakes her head, not needing to hear the rest of my question thanks to the weird spousal telepathy that develops over time.
Not the full syringe. Not because my mother-in-law isn’t in pain, but because we hate seeing how the full dosage of pain meds make her look. Slack-jawed, eyes half-open, face skeletal and wan.
In other words, like she’s already dead.
We are selfish. We can tell she is in pain because the tears that squeeze from her broken body out of those yellowing eyes can mean nothing else. But she is too weak to talk, too weak to lift her head or her hand, too weak to even swallow a pill.
We will relent, of course, and give her the full dosage. And more, on the nurse’s recommendation. Because anything is better than seeing her in this pain, even a drugged-out stupor.
The worst part about cancer is that it lingers. It stays well-after the party is over. Everything’s already been ruined, my mother-in-law’s poor body a near lifeless shell of itself, and still the cancer stays, as if mocking us, the bastard.
Cancer eats away at your memories of your loved ones as much as it eats away at their bodies.
Cancer makes you feel guilty. How can I continue like life is normal you’ll think, smiling and laughing when someone I love lay dying in the next room? Shouldn’t I be in mourning?
But no. We only mourn when the battle is truly over, even though we know damn well it’s merelt academic at this point.
And yet, we can’t deny that she looks beautiful in her silent suffering. Transcendent. The cruel paradox of existence is that we really only get close to God the closer we are to our ends. Or souls and our minds are limitless, but they’re caged in these ridiculous bodies.
We’re nothing, really, but temporarily animated corpses.
I put out a call for prayer over the Internet a few days ago. Childish, maybe. Narcissistic, sure. Don’t we have enough friends and family praying for my mother-in-law?
Yes we do. So what was I trying to accomplish?
Honestly, I still pray for a miracle, but right now I’d be happy with an end to her physical pain and suffering. And I know, because I am a naïve believer in the face of a world that tells me to give it up, that even the prayers of strangers matter.
I was convinced she was at the end. But she made it through that night. And then the next. And the next.
But given her affliction, to what end?
Like I said, we are selfish. As long as she still breathes–at home and not hooked up to various machines, thank God!–she’s still with us, no matter her condition.
And being close to her does feel like being close to the divine.
The other night, in a moment of lucidity, my wife heard her say in Greek “Ο δρόμος, ο δρόμος!”
“The road, the road!”
That is what the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is called in Greek culture. She is almost-but-not-quite at paradise.
I’m going to miss her like hell. We all are. But for now we’re happy to try to ease her suffering as she goes towards whatever awaits us on the other side.
I’m sure it’s going to be glorious.
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And we truly do appreciate everybody’s prayers. They mean more than you could ever know.