Last night, I experienced one of the most incredible moments of grief since my son’s death June 9, 2015 from pancreatic cancer. I was inconsolable as an ocean of tears rushed down my face and my thoughts were not really thoughts at all, just a mind full of grief which no words could convey as my husband listened silently, knowing there was nothing he could say except that, “…it’s okay to cry…” And, cry, I did.
Since arriving home May 22nd, my body was filled with stress of not knowing whether Mikey had died during the night. I wondered how much worse his pain had increased, of which he never, never ever complained. He suffered in silence, and believe me, the torture his body endured was something I cannot imagine.
Yes, he had Stage IV pancreatic cancer which was diagnosed too late – they all are. Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. There is, at least not yet, no early detection for it and even if there were, I do not know what treatment might give the patient years instead of weeks or months. In my son’s case, at the time of diagnosis, the cancer had metastasized to his liver. A short while later, days, it was discovered that it was also in the abdominal lining (ascitis) and his lung and his bowel. The doctors said that he “might” have three to six months left. Mikey was game to do whatever they prescribed, to give him a few months of quality time with his young family.
The complications of the ascites were incredible, it was a vicious cycle of fluid accumulating in his abdomen, causing bloating and inability to eat. When they began draining him, he became dehydrated and the home nurse would come to re-hydrate him and then the next day, drain him. The largest quantity of fluid they drained in a twenty-four hour was seven liters. SEVEN LITERS!
Mikey had already lost an incredible amount of weight by the time I arrived to be with he and his little family. When I saw him at the hospital, he was skin and bones, I thought, “He looks like an advanced AIDS patient.” I do not know how he pressed on for two more months, two more weeks and two more days.
What I saw during my stay, was my baby, my son, sitting at the kitchen table, trying to eat, trying to eat a bowl of Rice Krispies. He managed two spoonfuls and moments later, retreated to his bedroom where he vomited in the master bathroom. He spent more time kneeling over the toilet than anywhere else.
The bones in his spine were protruding. I was afraid to hug his frail body. Mikey had never been overweight, he was six foot tall and on the healthy, thin side. Now, he was starving to death. He could not keep food down, the pain medicine disallowed him to have bowel movements, or was it the growth in his bowels not allowing anything to pass? On the other hand, what was there to pass since he could not even keep water down?
I watched my son look at his four year old daughter and how I held back my tears, I do not know. I wondered how tortured his mind must be, knowing that he would not have the chance to raise her. Did he wonder if she would remember him? Most likely, his two year old son would not remember him. I, on the other hand, will never forget him.
Mikey is in my every thought, every breath, every heartbeat, every tear, every daydream. A part of my heart has been torn out by the roots, like a tree ripped from the bosom of the earth during a tornado, the earth’s wound would heal in time through the help of bull dozers and graders. For my heart, even though scar tissue may form over time, it will bleed for the rest of my life.
I kept busy from the break of day until evening, keeping busy kept me sane. Or so I thought. I think subconsciously I also wanted to honor my son by “doing” things. Mikey was always busy, always “doing.” My busyness helped at the start. There was so much to do at home after being gone two months. I had a dog who was incontinent who stunk up the house (my husband loss his sense of smell) and I had carpets to clean. Meanwhile, my other dog had severe lesions on his legs which I had been treating since August of 2014 – cleaning, applying antibiotic ointment and bandaging sometime twice daily. I made projects for myself, sometimes big projects.
On June 5th, as I bandaged Buddy’s leg, I broke down and cried and told my husband that I must take Buddy to the Vet, we cannot continue like this, there were tendons hanging from one of his open lesions. (My husband has issues with death and no matter what, did not want Buddy to be euthanized. I, on the other hand, do not believe in extended suffering if there is no cure. I believe in euthanization.) So, off I went to the Vet with Buddy and I came home alone.
Four days later, I got the call from one of my other sons, hesitantly informing me of Mikey’s death. I had been waiting for that call. I did not fall to the floor and wail. I knew it was coming soon. All I could say was that I was glad that he was finally out of his excruciating pain. I couldn’t believe it was my voice saying that. I heard myself say, “I’m glad he is out of pain…” And I was glad that the pain was over for Mikey. My pain, a different pain, will be with me for the rest of my life, like a shadow person walking along side me, one who I will try to learn to live with since it will never go away.
– – – – – I have avoided writing about this experience. I thought that I needed to get my thoughts organized first and then I learned that in my case, there is no such thing as organizing grief, there is no such thing as making sense of my son’s death. I have also learned that keeping busy was also a way to avoid facing the ugliness of my new reality and the wound in my heart.
I had saved every text message, every email shared between myself and my other sons during my stay at Mikey’s home. I thought that when I was “ready” to write about this, I would refer back to the dailiness and write in some congruent fashion about that time. I know now, that that approach is not the right one for me. I just need to write. I need to re-learn how to live in this new place of loss.
None of losing a child makes sense and my writing may follow suit and be incongruent and senseless, but, that is the only way back for me. I have to write.