As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started reading a guide to mindfulness – living in the moment. Well, for now I have stopped reading it. There have been too many moments in which I do not want to live. Seeing Kim in so much pain, despite all the meds, after her six-hour spinal surgery is a moment – a long series of moments – that I regret having lived in, though I’m grateful for having lived through them.
Living in future moments sometimes helps. I try to fast-forward to when Kim’s pain level is down below 5 from last night’s 9. I fast-forward to when Kim is back home and I am able to demonstrate my dormant caretaking skills. And I think about our future together, kayaking on the lake or simply enjoying a pain-free and cancer-free morning hug. The future is better than the present.
Living in the future does not always work. Sitting with Genne’ in the well-named Waiting Room for 10 hours, we fearfully imagined the immediate future. Surgery always has risks, and major surgery means major risks. Possible paralysis loomed. Kim and I have discussed what to do with her ashes, how to divide up her estate, etc. It took a not-always-successful act of will to wrench our thoughts away from that future into whatever distraction we could find in a book or cell phone. Genne’ even responded to work-related phone calls as her mom’s back was being cut open, her spine rebuilt and reinforced, the cancer removed.
As I write this Kim is starting to feel better. She looks like herself, and amazingly, she took a brief walk in the hall. Her pain slips in and out of control, and when it’s bad it’s a spear through my heart. My Amherst friend, Jerry Shimp, wrote of his wife’s illness, “I would never consider leukemia a good thing, but it has caused me to be more aware of my life's blessings, like friends who stay in closer touch and each day having its own gifts. We don't know how many more days we have at age 75.” Kim’s illness has caused me to feel closer to friends and family, especially Genne’, who has guided her mother (and me) through pre- and post-op, and closer to Kim. There is a kind of joy in living in this awareness of love – a blessing indeed, though at a terrible cost.