“Metastatic lung cancer.”
“Four to six weeks.”
“Once the tube goes in, it likely doesn’t come out.”
These words play over in my mind sometimes like a song stuck in my head. Images haunt me of my best friend not aware of his surroundings, of the date, or why he was in the hospital. Of endless sleeping. Not being able to walk. Or eat. Or breathe. The picture seared in my brain of his pulse slowing to a stop, his face fading to white. Of not wanting to let go of his hand…
And then sometimes a flood of memories takes over and I remember the feelings. The feeling of being responsible for medications that could kill if I gave the wrong dose. Being responsible to decide treatment options for new stages of Sean’s cancer without his input. Of running to Walgreens an average of twice a day for prescriptions, over the counter remedies, and any snacks that might hopefully be appealing so Sean would eat something. Making sure there was food and a way to get to treatments and barf bags available. Water bottles. Heat packs. Crackers. Deciding when to go to the ER or not. Advocating for Sean to doctors and nurses and calling the on-call doctors when I didn’t know what to do. The feeling that on top of everything, I didn’t want Sean to feel alone. Staying awake at night at home with him when he was in pain. Staying awake all night at the hospital for him, to read his body language when he could not communicate that he was in pain.
The feeling of relief when he was sedated in the ICU, and I could rest.
I felt so much weight. A massive responsibility that I would absolutely go through again for Sean. But it was so hard. More than I realized at the time. We had the most amazing community and family standing with us and helping in any and every way, and I’m so thankful for that. When you’re in it, there’s no space to think about what’s happening. Now I have all the space, and all the feelings and images I brushed over return to my mind. I find myself frequently thinking, “I can’t believe that just happened.”
And then I remember how amazing Sean was, through everything. There was a moment when I was sitting with Sean in the ICU, holding his hand and awkwardly talking to him while he slept, wondering if he could really hear me or if they just tell people that. I watched the vein in his neck pulsate, and realized that with every beat of his heart and breath that he had, with all his strength Sean was for other people, and for God. He was so purposed to encourage everyone around him and to point people to the God that carried Sean through his life and his experience being sick. I so admire that drive and purpose he had. Who Sean was, especially in the last year of his life, encourages me now moving forward in mine. I miss him in a way that aches and leaves me short of breath, and at the same time brings me joy to know him and to have walked next to him and even to have spent so much time with him the last year. Sean was vibrant and loving and wanted the best for people, even on his worst days.
I am encouraged to be open and continue to love people, even on my worst days. And underneath all the painful and overwhelming memories that resurface, there is still the beauty of Sean’s life and of knowing him. Of his courage and gentleness in the hardest season of his life. Of God’s love for him and the way he subtly encouraged both Sean and me, through songs or people or circumstances. I have days that are really difficult and just… painful. Yesterday was that. I’m pretty sure those days will frequent my life for a while. But today, I am encouraged because I have a space to say (or type) out loud, which is helpful. I am encouraged because I know a God that loves immensely and is always knowing what I need. I am encouraged because I was married to a man that had incredible courage and strength and love for people.
And because I have an opportunity to exhibit those same qualities. So as I continue forward in a deep sea of vivid memories, I will remember the beauty underneath. And though I may be shaking under the weight of the past year, and the images and feelings that surface, I am thankful. And today, I am encouraged.