Playing on Their Father’s Grave

drowning

 

They say grief comes in waves. Yes, grief does come in waves. It comes in giant, smashing waves. And just when you come up for air, you get smashed by another one. And you can’t tell which way is up. And you’re being pulled in every direction. Pushed and dragged at the same time. You can’t breathe. And a sort of panic comes over you as you struggle against the mighty, crushing water. Only to find that as you come up exhausted and shaking from the struggle, that you’re pummeled again. And again. And again.

That night I sat staring at photos of Dean and I together. I could hardly see them though because the tears wouldn’t stop coming. I sobbed so much I coughed and gagged. My stomach muscles strained against the gut wrenching sobs that went on for hours. I made inexplicable sounds. My body shook and writhed. I was completely exhausted and yet continued to cringe and wince and sob with the Agony. Unspeakable Agony that gripped me. The Grief pulled at every muscle, distorting my face. I was caught in the avalanche. I had fallen off the cliff. A tornado had come through. And it was all gone. Utterly ruined. Devastation. There I was. Surrounded by the broken pieces of my broken life. And I was trapped in the torrents of emotions, under siege by the carnage without and the turmoil within.

We started making arrangements for the funeral. I was feeling so many different emotions that it was difficult to distinguish them all. Let alone try to articulate them to anyone. Much less, actually understand them. I was fuming mad at Dean. I had so wanted to sit down with him and talk to him about what he wanted for his funeral. I wanted him to write letters to the boys. I wanted him to talk to the boys. He just couldn’t accept that he was leaving us. That didn’t help me though, I was so angry at him. Dammit Dean. Anxiety and the stomach knots were still compounding. Sickening. Oddly it felt like I couldn’t properly grieve until he was in the ground. Knowing that he was just laying on a table somewhere still gave me a great deal of uncertainty. As though he might just sit up again and come home. The idea haunted me. The life we’d been living was so tormenting. It wasn’t life, it was torture. My worst nightmare is that it would continue, unending.

I booked my tickets back to America only shortly after Dean’s passing. In the days that followed. It wasn’t even a decision I had to make, I knew I had to leave Esperance. As it was, whenever I left the house, I felt that I had no privacy. No room to navigate these emotions freely. I felt I was being watched and talked about. Living in a fishbowl. It’s not that people were being rude and judgmental, well, not all of them. They were genuinely concerned and I’m sure just wanted to know how I was coping. The last thing I wanted was an audience of onlookers with their opinions and suggestions. Well meaning as they may have been. I could not wait to leave.

Tensions still ran high between family members. It was all so raw. We were all in so much pain. We were all so sensitive. And all of us could only see things through our own point of view.

My computer became my bedtime companion. I would fall asleep next to my laptop, listening to music, looking at photos. Wake up next to it. It was warm. It didn’t judge me. It didn’t give me unimpressive backward glances or silent disapproval. It was impartial. And always there. And as such, it was a lifeline for me. And a place that I could communicate with the few people in my life that actually understood to some degree what I was feeling. People that I could be honest with. People that I could swear to. Tell them how angry I was at Dean. Tell them how sexually frustrated I was being married to a man with terminal illness. How judged I felt. How misunderstood. How much I wanted a new life. I could tell them how much I fucking hated fucking cancer. And the fucking hospital. And the fucking drugs. And just fucking all of it. I loved those that didn’t try to fix me. Preach at me. Give me a bible verse. Tell me that I shouldn’t swear so much. They just loved me. They listened. They were empathetic and compassionate. They made me laugh. They laughed at my dark humor. They were there. I knew they were for me. They helped put me at ease. I didn’t have many of these friends, but the ones I had became more precious than the rarest treasure. They kept me going. They kept me alive. They kept me sane.

I put together a garage sale. I sold most of our furniture and belongings for whatever price I could get for it. It felt good. It felt good to be packing and selling and doing something. Like at least I was moving forward in some sort of way with some sort of plan.

Anxiety continued to advance territory.

The day of the funeral came. It was drizzly and cold. It was fitting. Like Esperance itself was weeping for Dean. I wanted to get it over with. To do what had to be done. I was a broken pot trying to hold my shape. I couldn’t fall apart here. Not now. You’re almost there, Cassi. Almost there.

It was a full house and the service was long. We wanted to pay him proper tribute, and that took time. I was happy with how it all came together. I wasn’t at ease though. I can’t explain what it’s like sitting in a room with your husband in a coffin. It’s surreal. I was still falling off that cliff. Still mid air. I felt at any moment he would pop out of the coffin and the nightmare would go on and on and on.

You thought that this would end Cassi, but it won’t. You’ll never move on.

Haunted. These thoughts like bats swooped.

I gave my speech.

Dean Mack,

You changed my life. Before you… there was just me…I thought I had my plans, my path I had set before me. Then suddenly you were there; this amazing handsome rugged Australian man… full of life, laughter, and love. You had a way with people that’s hard to describe, you could win anyone over with your jesting, teasing, and charm. I could not pretend that you had no effect on me, because, truthfully, your eyes saw into the depths of my heart. And although I was young, and fickle, and against the advice of others… you took a chance on me… you reached for my hand and made me your wife. You challenged me, encouraged me, lead me, taught me … taught me patience, kindness, friendship, and compromise… taught me how to listen without judgement, how to love without fear, and live without worry. You taught me how to enjoy moments, make memories, and seize the day. You taught me faithfulness, loyalty, and strength. You are the strongest and most loving person I’ve ever known. I am so sorry, my love, that you suffered so much. I am so sorry that you had to leave the boys and I before you wanted to. Thank you for fighting so hard to stay here with us, as the doctor said, it is the ultimate act of love. I am so happy that you are free now. Healed. Restored. I’m going to miss you, your voice, your laugh, … you’ve been my everything for so long…

Until we meet again… Cass

There is a reason that grief comes in waves. If you experience the whole lot at once, it will kill you. Simply. If I were to feel all of the emotion of losing Dean on that day, they could have dug a hole for me as well.

I was relieved when the funeral service ended and they put the coffin into the hearse. I knew this day would come. God had been preparing me for this day for a long time. My dad, Ginny, the boys and I all went together in the car that followed behind. We drove in her shadow. As she carried my love to his early resting place. As she had been so eager to do for so long.

Maddox said, “Mommy, is God going to give us a new daddy?”

Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him. I couldn’t answer. I hope one day my love, I hope one day.

We pulled into the cemetery. People were streaming in. Black jackets, boots, umbrellas, lots of familiar faces. The day was as dreary and bitterly cold as ever. We drove all the way in, following behind the hearse. God help me do this. This is where it ends. And something else begins.

It was odd burying Dean. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had lost him so long before that day. I had been grieving the man I had married, the fun, outgoing, healthy man I once knew, for a long time. Felt like he’d been gone for years. So the funeral…felt late.

They rested Dean’s coffin on wood planks above the fresh hole that had been dug for him. There was a large mound of sand next to it. There must have been some prayers or something said, I can’t remember. I just remember when the pole bearers started lowering him into the ground. Their faces strained by the agony of the mortal goodbye. Knowing that you’ll never see your loved one on this earth again. The dam of uncertainty that held my tears was nearly ready to give way. After Dean was lowered into the ground and they started putting handfuls of sand over the top of him, the dam could no longer contend with the pressure. Deep, heaving sobs surfaced. My dear friend, Cindy, hugged me as the reality sunk in. He’s gone, it’s over. He’s really gone. It’s really over. He’s not coming back. It’s done. Dean. My Dean. My lover. My husband. The father of my children. That body that I know so well. It’s lying lifeless in a hole. In a grave. My husband is in a grave. Oh my Lord. Dean is in a grave. He’s gone. He’s gone.  The claw of Anguish dug its nails in deeper and deeper.

People started to line up. They hugged me. One at a time. Offering their condolences. Is this what people do at funerals? I hadn’t been to very many. So much love from so many people. All with such sincerity. I could tell that they felt for me. It truly brought me comfort.

Praise God for the innocence of children. The boys were playing with their two cousins on the mound of sand next to the hole for Dean’s grave. My stomach kept doing flips looking at them. Afraid that one of them might fall in. They were just being children. They weren’t yoked with the burden of expectation. They didn’t know that you aren’t supposed to “play” at a graveside. You aren’t supposed to have “fun” and be “happy.” It gave me hope though. These children are playing on their father’s grave, there must be hope for our future.

Maddox came over to me, “Mommy, daddy’s not down there.” He pointed at the coffin in the hole. “He’s up there.” He pointed to the sky.

Praise the Lord. My son knows. He knows where his dad is. His daddy is in heaven. Not gone. Not lost. Just in another place. Another realm. A far better place. Far away from sickness and hospital walls. Where Invisible Beasts are not permitted. 

“That’s right, my love. That’s right.” I squeezed him. I have to keep going for my boys. They are my reason. My reason to keep going. For them. I’m all they have now. Oh Dean. How am I going to do this? Why did you leave me? Why did you have to go?

The mind tries to comprehend death, but it cannot. Our minds are not programmed to be able to understand it. We were never meant to endure it. This is Dean’s hometown? He was born here? He was here before? How is he gone now? How can he be gone?

I had known that he would be going for so long. I had seen it coming a long way off. And in the end, I ushered it in. I knew it was time. I knew it had to happen. But now that he was gone, I was left with all the questions.

God…why? 

The Pain of a Thousand Knives

boy-cryign

 

One day I walked outside. Dean was in the shed, on his crutches, having a look at something. He looked up at me. Eyes like the most brilliant blue sky you’d ever seen. They shone at me. And he smiled at me with the sweetest, boyish grin. My heart sank deeper into the abyss of pain it was in. You’ve been such a monster to live with. You’ve been so mean. And now, right at the end, you’re an angel. Why do you have to go? You’re leaving me. How am I going to say goodbye to you? Oh babe…

The idea of him leaving was easier when he was being angry and impossible. But this…

“Penny for your thoughts?” He said to me. Eyes like beacons, illuminating my heart.

I motioned to the car so that we could speak in private. We never got any time alone. We were always surrounded by people.

I got in the drivers seat. He shuffled into the passenger seat, leaving the crutches up against the outside of the car. It’s time to be honest. The words gnawed at my throat.

He looked at me with such sincerity and love. “Honey, I’m praying for a miracle. Will you believe for that with me?”

I wanted to say yes. To enter this place where the Invisible Beast is defeated forever and we live happily ever after. But I couldn’t. What I knew in my heart was that I had to say goodbye. And I couldn’t understand it. And I didn’t want to. But it was the only thing I knew.

I paused. “Sweetie, we’ve been praying for a miracle for 4 and a half years. I’m sorry, but I really feel like the Lord is going to take you home.” My voice broke and tears fell. “I’m going to have to say goodbye to you and somehow carry on with the boys.” My heart’s vice grip cranked tighter.

He listened carefully. Nodded. His expression was understanding. Calm.

“I have peace about what you said.”

I grabbed his hand. We looked into each other’s eyes. With love. With pain. With longing. Feeling powerful and powerless at the same time. He was the boat, going off into the horizon. I could still see him now, but these were fleeting glimpses. Stolen moments, Haunted by the knowledge of eminent absence making them evaporate more quickly. Like the last sands in the hour glass that seem to run through with a quickening pace.

“I’m going to miss you so much…” I said as I squeezed his hand against my mouth. I could see understanding in his eyes. Thank you Jesus. Thank you that I can actually say what I think and feel. 

“Against all the odds, we stayed married. Most couples can’t survive what we’ve been through. That’s a miracle.” We laughed at how true that was and we both felt a strong victory in being able to navigate such troubled waters and make it to the end holding hands.

We lingered in the car a little longer. I was hesitant to get out. These moments alone were so few and far between. By the time we got out, I felt relief sweep over me. He knows I love him. He knows I don’t want him to go. But he knows that I know he’s leaving. Thank you God. 

Things were unravelling faster and faster. The boys and I moved out to the farm house. The place I had once loved. Hugged by paddocks and gravel. Traversed by cows, dogs, birds, and kangaroos. Lined with horizon in all directions. Dean stayed at his parents. I don’t remember why this happened. It’s a blur. I wanted it to be the four of us. I wanted it to be Dean and I and the boys at the farm together those last days. Maybe I didn’t communicate it well enough. Maybe I should have fought harder for that. It was frustrating for everyone. We were watching a family member die. We took our frustration out on each other. I suppose that’s normal. We all had so many thoughts, emotions, and opinions. I don’t think we knew how to verbalize them or work them through together. Dean’s family had theirs. I had mine. Thank God my parents were there. I needed them more than ever. We just kept trying to see the days through. Putting one foot in front of the other. Doing meals. Day to day life…waiting. Waiting for Dean to die. That’s really what we were waiting for.

One night he had quite a temperature. His liver was not functioning at all now. He was sweating and obviously very unwell. The doctor came to visit and said that Dean was trying to fight something off. He asked us if we wanted antibiotics or something to give to him. I was so frustrated. Here we are waiting for the Lord to take Dean home and people are still trying to keep him alive. STOP. STOP IT. 

“No. Don’t give him any medicine.” What don’t these people understand? WE HAVE TO LET HIM GO! Why would you want to keep someone alive in that state? To me, it seemed selfish. This isn’t life, it’s not even Dean. He isn’t even himself. He was already on that many different medications that he wasn’t himself. There’s a time to be born and a time to die. This was Dean’s time. I was becoming increasingly annoyed with anyone who was trying to interfere with that process.

The next day Dean was up and perky. Oh my Lord, will this never end? 

My anxiety issues were intensifying. I could hardly eat. I was so overwrought with it that I was nauseous all the time. My long walks by the ocean brought me some consolation. Talking to God. Away from everything. Everyone. They were stolen moments out of the pressure cooker. I sought relief in the breeze. The salt air. My rhythmic steps. Crying. Numbness. Breathing. Walking. Trying. To. Keep. Going.

In the evenings I would drown my sorrowful heart in a scalding hot bath. When it’s hot enough it gives you an adrenaline rush that ushers in a sense of calm. The beat of my heart would soften and steady. I would almost feel a sense of peace. And I could try to pretend. Pretend like my life wasn’t about to shatter into a thousand pieces.

The nurse came in for her routine morning visit. It was June 16, 2010. She took me aside into the kitchen. She spoke to me quietly.

“Cassi, Dean is living without a liver. There’s no reason he should be alive right now. You have to tell him to go. You have to tell him that it’s okay. You have to tell him that you and the boys are going to be alright.” She looked at me with serious and concerned eyes. She was forward. And I loved her for it.

Dean was laying down on the hospital bed we had brought into the living room. He was unconscious. I crawled into the narrow bed next to him and laid my hand across his chest. I looked at his profile. Listened to him breath. Tried to just enjoy being by his side. I couldn’t escape though. The sickening and anxious feelings coursed through my body like thick poison. My heart, my stomach, my throat, my head; all swarmed with uncertainty and lament. God help me. I rested my head on the pillow next to his, with my mouth nearly touching his ear.

I whispered, trying not to weep. “You have to go darling. It’s okay. You can let go. The boys and I are going to be alright. We’re going to be fine sweetie. It’s time. It’s time to go now. I love you.”

He didn’t give any outward indication that he had heard me, but I knew that my words would somehow get through.

The next morning I woke up with unbearable Anxiety. It was inside of me, relentlessly shaking my core.

Dean was laying down in the living room in his hospital bed. He came into consciousness. My parents went into him. He was trying to speak. He hadn’t been able to eat or drink for a number of days, his mouth was too dry to get any words out. He kept trying and trying. My parents were straining to listen and understand. “It’s okay Dean. We are going to take care of Cassi and the boys. Don’t worry Dean. They’re going to be okay.” They sat with him and reassured him. I was so grateful they were there. So grateful they had the grace to bear it.

I was wrought with Anxiety. I could hardly stand. I couldn’t even go into the same room as Dean. The avalanche. The cliff. The thread. It was all so eminent. My body could hardly stand the emotional strain. Death like a bulldog barking on my front steps. Jumping. Scratching. Ferocious. Banging. Refusing to leave. Refusing to leave without Dean. The quakes. The trembles. They were intensifying. If I stood still too long the gravity of all the turmoil would pull me by the ankles down into an abyss of death and darkness and defeat.

Later that day my parents and I went out for a bite to eat. It was about five o’clock. My phone rang. It was my mother in law. “You’d better come home.” She said. I looked at my parents. Was he gone?

We silently drove back to the house. I went into the living room. There were quite a few people there. A dozen or so. Dean’s parents, brother, sister, auntie, and some other close family and friends. My Dean was there. Laying lifeless on the bed. Yellow. Bald. Still. Gone.

He’s gone.

The thread broke. I could see in slow motion as my doll house hit the floor. My life. Intercepted abruptly by concrete. Concrete in the form of an Invisible Beast. Bursting into an array of glass, wood, flooring, siding. Exploding outward. The glass confetti flying in all directions. It would have been beautiful if it didn’t represent the complete destruction of my life as I knew it. A house. A life. Reduced to splinters. Shards. Dust.

And then relief. Praise the Lord. He’s taken Dean home. I know where he is. I know he’s not in pain. I know he is restored. A sweep of simultaneous relief and indescribable loss swept over me. The burden lifted. I knelt beside him and slow tears streamed down my cheeks. Is he really gone? Is this real? Is it really over? Everyone was standing or kneeling around, grieving in their own way. I knew this day would come. I had known for a long time. It was finally here. The tie had been severed. I had done what I was called to do. I had a sense of accomplishment.

It is done. My love. Oh my love. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it had to be this way. I’m sorry you didn’t get to stay. I’m sorry for all the pain. I’m sorry for all of the terrible suffering. My love. Be free. Be happy. I miss you. 

The avalanche inside me was dropping huge sheets of ice. A ferocious thunder of snow. Coming for me.

The boys. The boys got dropped off and I ushered them into the living room. I wish I had asked everyone to leave. I didn’t think to do it at the time.

“Boys,” I tried to keep my voice strong and steady, “it’s time to say goodbye to daddy.” Asher looked stoic and unfeeling. I knew that he would process it later, in his own time. Maddox broke down crying, “I don’t want daddy to die!” He cuddled his dad and kissed his cheek. Asher awkwardly came over and gave a guarded, “Goodbye dad.” Watching my boys say goodbye to their dad, and at such a tender age (4 and 5), was the pain of a thousand knives. Navigating my own emotions and grief felt like a task beyond me, how was I going to watch them go through this loss and help them navigate it?

God, my god. How I need you.

Alone.

At the age of 27, a widow.

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

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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.