Bracing for Impact

dark-storm-clouds-tornado

 

One day I went for a drive. Had to get out of the house. Away from everyone. Everyone’s opinions. Judging eyes. Prying thoughts. Unrealistic expectations. Silent demands. I sought solace along the tourist loop. The breathtaking drive Dean had taken me on all those years ago. When he had brought me to this incredible place. I needed to be alone. I needed space. Everything was out of control. A collision course that couldn’t be stopped or fast forwarded. I drove. The sun was shining. Agony gripped. I cried. Cried out to God. Lord. Lord. Oh my Lord. The tears flowed endlessly as I rounded each bend. The islands. The beautiful water. The glorious sky. The place where Dean nearly proposed. My inner turmoil bubbling over. Erupting from the deepest wells of my breaking heart. My heart. Needing hope. So needing something. To cling to. To hang onto. God I need you. Jesus I need you.

And then, everything slowed down.

I looked into the sky. I could see Dean. Standing on a rock. Young. Strong. Healthy. Larger than life. With his long hair. As he had been. He was running. Barefoot. Jumping. Exploring. In this beautiful place. Completely restored. Completely renewed.

And I could see God taking me back to America to be close to my family who I had missed for so long.

He was setting us free. He was setting us all free.

Dean would be freed. Free of the pain and suffering that he contended with for so long. Free to live without limits. Free to do the things he loved. Unbound. Unbridled.

And I would be free. Free to leave Australia. To make a life for myself and the boys. Free of the torment of watching my Beloved suffer. Day after day.

Elation swept over me. Deep joy started to bubble up. I started laughing. God you’re so amazing! Lord you’re so faithful! God, you’re so good! Wow! Lord you are so amazing! I was driving and smiling and overwhelmed. The heavens opened to me. All I could do was laugh and praise God. I was now looking at the islands and the sea and the sky, not with Grief, but Hope. He gave me a glimpse. A glimpse of the awesome things to come.

I could see it all so clearly.

I know where he’s going. I know he’s going to be restored. I know that he’s going to a place infinitely better. With no more pain. NO more pain.

Other people were trying to keep him here. Not me. You have to go Dean. I’m sorry honey. You have to go. Let go. God is going to look after us. I know you want to. I wish you could. But you can’t. You have to let us go. We’re going to be okay. I spoke to him in my heart. Reassuring him in my thoughts.

As the days wore on, the tensions mounted. Tensions between family members. The mounting pressure we were all feeling in our own hearts. Stretched to capacity. Stretched beyond measure. We all had different ways of dealing with our pain. We all had expectations of each other. Expectations that we didn’t realize we had.

I wanted to be understood. I wanted everyone to understand that I’d been watching this happen in slow motion for almost five years. Living with it. Every step. Of the way. I’m weary. I’m at the end of my tether. I need grace. I need love. I need to just be accepted for wherever I’m at. I’ve slept on hospital floors. I’ve wept over this man’s body countless times. I’ve massaged him. Bathed him. Comforted him. Listened to him. Fed him, Cared for him. Everything I’ve had to give, I’ve given to this man. I have lived far away from my family for years. I’ve been grieving. Praying. Seeking. Following. Persevering. And walking. In this desert so long…I can’t remember what it’s like to not be in the desert. It’s all I know. And I’m so tired. I’m just so tired. It was all I could do to just get up in the morning. To just cling to my sanity. A bit like Moses, when his arms were getting tired. My strength was depleted. It was only the Lord that could bring me through now. I’m done.

He was turning yellow. Bright, alien yellow. The whites of his eyes were fluorescent yellow. He was completely bald with no eyelashes or eyebrows. In the last two months he’d aged decades. Maddox asked Dean why he was turning yellow. He couldn’t bring himself to answer. I was desperately hoping that Dean and I would get to sit down with the boys. Tell them what was happening. I tried to be as honest as I could with the boys about what was going on. I wanted to talk to them before Dean passed away. Try to prepare them for what was coming. It became obvious though, Dean’s will to survive and his desire to stay made it impossible for him to accept that he was dying. The idea of leaving us was too painful contemplate. It was a conversation he couldn’t bring himself to have. I would have to have it on my own.

I had spoken to the boys about heaven since they were babies. We had studied what the scripture says, read children’s stories, and had many talks about it. Heaven is a very real place to them. I felt that they would cope with Dean’s death much better, if they knew it was coming.

I took them in one of the back bedrooms of the house and we sat on the floor.

“Boys, we’re going through a hard time right now, aren’t we?”

They nodded.

The lump in my throat felt like a melon. I tried to keep my voice from quivering. “Daddy’s been sick for a really long time, huh? You know how his eyes are yellow now?” Oh God, help me do this. “Well, daddy is even more sick than before and he’s going to go to heaven very soon.”

Maddox burst out crying, “I don’t want daddy to go to heaven!” He crawled in my lap. Asher was more reserved. He had more of a delayed and complicated reaction. Much like myself. I understood that. He was processing. I hugged them both as my tears brimmed over. I was satisfied knowing that at least now they could brace themselves for what was coming. I had prepared them as best I could.

More than I Could Bear

drowning

 

But it wasn’t a week. It was three and a half weeks. The longest. Most agonizing. Dreadful. Unbearable three and a half weeks of my life. Every moment was hanging at the edge of a cliff face. So high I couldn’t see the bottom. Where my feet were not standing on the ground. But dangling. Toes barely scraping the dirt beneath me. And any moment, whatever it was that was holding me up, was going to let me go. And all that awaited me, was a big, terrifying fall. And a whole lot of pain- if I survived. I nearly went insane. And I was going into that last stretch of agony, as a woman battered. Bruised. At the end of her rope. Emotionally bankrupt. Physically distraught. Spiritually crumbling.

The first week went better than I thought. We actually laughed some. We tried to enjoy each other. Knowing this was goodbye. To end on a high. We got Dean outside as much as we could. We managed to coax him into a wheelchair and would walk him out to the foreshore.

“So many memories.” I heard him say under his breath. You could see them dance in his eyes as he gazed on the Esperance horizon. The backdrop of his childhood. Looking back on the many adventures. The stories he had once told me of. Fishing for squid at the jetty. Surfing in the bay. Practical jokes and pranks with his mates. The camping. Worship nights. The crazy motorbike stunts. His eyes lost in the bliss of savoring their aroma and aftertaste.

The second week, things turned.

To cope with the crushing emotional burden that i felt as physical pain, I walked. I walked for hours. Along the beach, by myself. I would walk. And walk. And walk. Thinking, not thinking. Trying to process. Trying to plan. Trying to look ahead. Trying to get a glimpse of what my future held. Something to grab hold of. Something to hope for. I would try to imagine myself happy. The boys and I living in a cozy home somewhere. With a new life. A new home. A promised land…awaiting me somewhere. Far away from hospitals and poison. From silent illnesses that crush your family members and steal them away.

At night I would crawl into bed next to Dean again. We would say our “I love you”s again. And pray that the torment would end. That he would be gone in the morning…

But I would wake up and he would still be warm, and it was so disappointing. The idea of another day of torture. For all of us.

The incontinence came. Most mornings I would wake up in a pool of Dean’s urine. He was so stubborn. About almost everything. In some ways it was admirable. In others, deplorable. He was so unsteady on his feet. We wanted him to relent to getting a wheel chair for getting around the house as well as the long walks. He would hear none of it. So we had to deal with his falls, which were frightening and traumatizing for all of us.

During the day I spent little bits of time with Dean, but it was becoming more than I could bear. Most of the time he was out of it. His thinking clouded by the fog of toxins in his blood. He would say bizarre things. Lost in a haze. Mostly unaware of what was going on around him.

And then, out of nowhere, perfect clarity. He would look into my eyes. A frozen moment in time. Where we each saw each other. Felt each other. Knowing we were being torn apart. Knowing there was nothing we could do.

My life hung in the balance. I kept seeing the doll house. Hanging by that thread. The fibers, unraveling. Getting thinner. And thinner. That little house. My life. Was going to smash. Utterly. Its eminent doom haunting me. It would be reduced to a million shards.

At. Any. Moment.

They were giving him drugs to keep him alive. To prop up his failing systems. And what was offered to me to keep me going? Dean could not keep going on his own, yet somehow, I was supposed to? What dark elixir could strengthen my failing heart? My failing systems? The process was being dragged out far longer than it should have been. And to what gain?

I needed a plan. I wanted to pack boxes. Organize air tickets. One day very soon, Dean would be no longer on this Earth. And somehow I was going to have to carry on. With my boys. For my boys. Somehow I was going to have to stand next to my boys and bury the body of their father. My lover. My best friend. And then keep going on this journey. Alone. So alone. No one understood how I felt. What I was going through. The focus was all on Dean. Trying to keep him alive. Believing that he would somehow keep living. Why would anyone want him to keep living? His body was bruised and broken and crushed from top to bottom. He was living in excruciating pain. He couldn’t do any of the things that he loved to do. And the boys and I were trapped. Forced to watch. In slow helpless agony. I couldn’t watch it anymore. My boys couldn’t live under the shadow of death anymore. It had to end. It was going to drive me insane. People looked at me as if I had given up on him. As if I’d deserted him. As if I’d hardened my heart and no longer cared about him. How could they know? How could they know what I felt? Thought? My desperate struggle to keep my head above the rising tide of grief. The excruciating sorrow that threatened to swallow me whole.

 

 

The Fall

leaf

 

They sent us home. Home to Esperance. To give Dean whatever comfort and joy we could in the last days and weeks. They said he would likely slip into a coma in a week or so.

Something amazing happened to Dean in those last weeks. It started before we left the hospital. He’d been so angry. So belligerent. So hard to live with. And then, a sudden change. He was come over with this incredible sweetness. A gentle kindness. An almost angelic disposition. You could be in the same room as him, looking at the same thing, but the look in his eyes was magic. Other worldly. He was on another plane. Seeing things differently. With childlike joy and appreciation. One of the cleaners at the hospital came in. A middle aged asian woman who wore a fake frangipani clip in her hair. Dean looked at her as though she were the most magical thing he had ever seen. And he told her so. Others. The people he spoke to. Encountered. He impacted them all. Telling them about Jesus. Inspiring them to fulfill their destiny. As though Heaven had opened over him, ready to receive him. And he already shone with its luster.

We stayed with Dean’s parents. Our things in boxes in their garage. I kept having that feeling in my chest. The one you get when you go down a big drop in a roller coaster. Your heart skips a beat. Pause. Then BOOM. Heart goes THUMP. Then, a rush of adrenaline. I was holding onto Jesus so tightly, but the walls were closing in. The ground was shaking. I was at the edge of a cliff. Any moment, I was going over.

The first night we were back in Esperance, Dean and I went to bed together. He wrapped his arms around me,

“I love you.” He said, as though it may be the last time I ever hear him say it.

“I love you, too.” I said with the same tone. We squeezed together tightly.

Hopefully I’ll wake up and he’ll be cold. Wait, what? How can I want that? But I do… It’s going to happen there’s nothing I can do. What kind of wife wants her husband to die? But I don’t want him to die, I want him to live, I want him to live, but he’s going to die, he’s going to die. My heart squeezed with Anguish and tormenting thoughts. Guilt and unrelenting sorrow. Tears poured out of my eyes. When will I ever stop crying? Will my tears ever dry? I don’t want to be sad anymore. I’m so tired of being sad. 

In the middle of the night I heard Dean get up to go to the toilet. He clamored around getting his crutches and made his way down the hallway. I was listening for him to make sure that he got there and back okay.

CRASH.

Oh no.

I jumped out of bed and raced down the hall into the toilet where I found him on the floor. He was laying on the floor in his boxers. His tall gaunt frame barely fitting into the water closet. He was still holding onto his crutches lay on either side of him. He’d fallen backwards. His legs were bent and sprawled out on either side of the toilet. His head and shoulders were up against the back wall. His breathing was very labored.

Oh my Lord.

I got down on the ground. The light was fluorescent and obnoxious. The tiles were frigid. His breathing was so loud and labored. He looked at me with eyes that were falling in slow motion. He was gasping. He took a few deep breaths and then exhaled and completely slumped over.

Lifeless.

Still.

Oh my Lord. This is it. I’m saying good bye to my love.

All I could think to do was hold him. So I wrapped my arms around him. Held him tightly.

Suddenly, his eyes flew open and he took another loud, heaving gasp. He gave a few breaths and then. Completely slumped over again.

This is it, oh my Lord, this is it.

I sat there holding him, trying to be of some comfort. Holding his head. Kissing his face. I was somewhat awkwardly bent over him. Trying to give him affection. But it kept going. Minute after minute. In what felt like eons. Slumping over. No breathing. Giant gasps. Eyes wide.

Okay, maybe this isn’t it.

I got up and ran to get Ginny to help. She came in and we managed to get the crutches out. Between the two of us, we gently pulled him out of the toilet and into the hallway. Dean was on his stomach at this point. He was just to big and heavy for us to try to carry. Even 30 pounds underweight. He kept giving his heaving, labored gasps. We helped him slide along the hallway as he did an army crawl. Moving only a few inches with each pull as he was only using his arms. My eyes filled with tears. Awful. My darling to come to this. My love. Oh my love. Unable to walk. Hardly breathing. Yet his determination shining forth. With each heave across the floor. Each drag. I heard his raspy voice saying,

“God is good. God is good.” Gasp, “God is good.”

It took close to half an hour to get him down the short hallway and back into bed.

I tried to mentally prepare myself for a week of this torture.

Jesus.  

The Man in the White Coat

white-coat

 

Dean’s liver counts were getting exponentially worse everyday. It was failing. They told us he would most likely slip into a coma in a week or so.

They sent the palliative care doctors in to see us. An older man walked in. He had stark white hair and wore a white coat. He was composed. His demeanor was gentle and his face was kind. His eyes, wise. A middle aged man was with him as well as some younger people who were students or something. Ginny was sitting next to me on the bed. Karen was in a chair next to the recliner Dean was in.

The man looked at Dean,

“Now is the time, Dean. This coming week is important. Think about the legacy you want to leave behind. Write the letters you want to write. Make the calls you want to make.”

Dean had turned his head the other way and was looking out the window. Tuning out what the man was saying. I was silently pleading.

Dean! I’m begging you please listen! You don’t have much time! Listen to the man! I started sobbing. Because he wasn’t. He didn’t want to have that conversation.

Dean turned to the man and said something about being healed and getting a miracle. The man gave a thoughtful expression.

“I’ve seen many people through the door to the other side. I have never been through that door. I have seen many people of faith go through that door. People who were waiting for miracles. People who thought God would heal them.” His tone was sensitive. He was trying to open Dean’s eyes.

I continued to weep loudly. Dean. Please listen, Dean. 

The old man looked up at me and then walked over . He stood beside the bed. And looked into my face. I tried to dry my face and compose myself a bit so that I could hear what he wanted to say to me.

“I’m getting this funny feeling.” He said to me with a peculiar expression and paused.

“I don’t usually get this feeling.” Hesitation. “My wife’s first husband died of a brain tumor. He was 35. She was left with two sons. They have grown into strong, successful men. You have boys. They are young. You will keep the memory of their father alive. And they are going to do well.”

I was crying soft sobs, hanging on to every word. I felt like God Himself was speaking to me.

“Come here.” He said. I got up from the bed and stood in front of him. He embraced me. And spoke,

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

I sobbed into his soft white coat. I felt his compassion for me. His arms held me tightly. It felt like the Lord Himself. He knew. He knew what I was going to have to do. And so did I. His words were preparing me. He was imparting strength into my spirit.

He looked back at Dean, “You need to speak with your wife. Tell her that you release her to fall in love and get married again. Cassi, whether you plan to stay in Australia or go back to the States, you should talk about that too. We’ll leave you to do that now.”

And everyone left the room.

We were alone.

Finally. Finally we could talk. We could have the conversation that we have been avoiding for so long. I longed for it. I longed for the honesty. To say the words that gnawed away at my throat.

I sat beside Dean on the bed. We were both quiet for a few minutes.

After a while, Dean spoke, “If you want to move back to the States… if that’s where you think that you and the boys will find happiness, then you should do that. And, of course, if you meet someone, I release you to get married.”

Thank you God that we are having this conversation. 

“But is it just me, or am I going to be around a lot longer than everybody thinks I am?” He gave me that boyish grin.

My heart melted. Oh honey, I wish that were true. Can’t you see that you aren’t staying here honey? You’re going. You have to go and I have to stay. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. You can’t stay, I’m so sorry my love. I wanted to find the courage to say the words aloud. But I could not.

The hospital chaplain came in. I had grown quite fond of this one over the last number of weeks. She took me aside so that we could talk. And I poured my heart out to her. They gave Dean a week to live. And I felt relief. A huge sweep of relief. And I felt so awful for being relieved. As though I wanted him to die. But I didn’t. I just wanted it to all be over. The suffering. The almost dying and not dying. The pain. The struggle. The awful uncertainty. The yelling. The watching it happen. The living in the shadow of death.

“People can only take so much uncertainty.” She said to me with kind strength and knowing eyes. “At some point you have to know one way or the other so that you can move forward.” She was one of the few that understood me. That understood my love for Dean, but my inability to go on.

I hugged her and cried into her hair. And I held onto her.

A moment of refuge in the great storm.