I started to write a piece about Growing Old with Grace (not a woman’s name), but then I recalled that last summer I posted the piece below. Kim’s pain and fatigue continue to deepen, as does her grace, most days, in dealing with her condition. I’m (temporarily) at a loss for new words, so here’s what I wrote in July 2020:
Forgive me, please, for my ongoing focus on mortality. While I, of course, remain immortal, Kim has been experiencing increasing levels of pain and fatigue, even, on her worst days, “I don’t want to live any more” pain. And this past week, an occasional feeling of tightness and pain in her chest. It’s been a year since she had her mild heart “incident,” and she says this is even milder. The pain and fatigue suggest her body’s response to the possible return/growth of her cancer. We’ll find out more when we learn the results of next week’s various scans and tests.
We’ve discussed our mortality. For the last several months we have been very cautiously practicing social distancing because Kim’s cancer treatment leads to, among other things, a compromised immune system, so we have family members tested before they visit us. But Kim has speculated, might it be better to die from Covid-19 than to die of her cancer? Death is death, of course, but the process of dying would be different with the two assaults, right? And then a few evenings ago, with some chest pain, Kim said that maybe a heart attack would be the best way of all to go – quickly, like a snap of the fingers.
Maybe. Dying in our sleep has some appeal, true, though the Greeks preferred dying heroically in battle, followed by living on in fame (provided, of course, someone is there to notice and celebrate your heroism). But next to a heroic death, maybe a peaceful passing in sleep.
Provided, of course, that everything has been taken care of. I told Kim that she really shouldn’t die just yet. Yes, we have taken care of our wills, etc., and sent endgame instructions to Kim’s kids. But we have planted some trees that are not yet big enough, and Kim has not yet taught me how to cook (she says I should marry someone who cooks) or clean (ditto) – though she has been trying. There’s laundry to be done. Sunrises to be witnessed and photographed. Baby ducks. The Great-crested Flycatchers need to return to be photographed. Kim is not one to quit until things are taken care of. And there a lot of people who would want to say good-bye in person, social distancing be damned, and dying suddenly would deprive them of that honor. Now is not a good time.
Yes, being dead is tough on the person who ends up dead, largely because of all the pleasures of life that will no longer be experienced. But it can be even tougher on loved ones who confront and then live with the emptiness left when the beloved departs. As W.H. Auden put it, writing about the death of his beloved:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
This is what I have to look forward to? Best if we stay here, together, for a while longer. I can’t tell if Kim’s pain and fatigue have improved after her “I don’t want to live any more” moment; she does not like to talk about how she is feeling, and she spends several hours per day doing gardening and/or housework. Yesterday she overdid it in the heat, and I found myself googling “heat stroke.”
After we learn the results of next week’s various tests will we know more about how we stand with mortality. Meanwhile, Kim continues to live, day by day and week by week, with grace, a wonderful word, don’t you think? Hemingway’s definition of courage, or guts, as “grace under pressure” seems to apply to my wife.
We have more tests, scans and medical appointments coming up this month. Today we see our doctor to find out if there is more to be done about her pain and, what she says is worse, the fatigue that prevents her from doing all she wants and needs to do – what she compares to wearing sandbags or being a marionette whose strings get cut mid-afternoon. I am confident that Kim will come through with her usual grace – her delight in life’s daily pleasures, her appreciation of friends and family, her good will toward the universe (most of it), and her unfailing courage.