I don’t usually flat out dread fall, but this year is different. This year, fall is my first time through with the harbinger of Bruce’s death. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, the dark miles began in September, 2018, .
There was a day, though, when I understood viscerally that something major was shifting in our lives. September 9, 2018, a sunny, warm Sunday. Friday, our big tuxedo cat, wasn’t eating. His collar was getting loose. He had a vet appointment the next week, something Bruce and I dreaded. Was Friday winding down with illness?
I don’t take a lot of pictures, but that day it was urgent to document who we were, at that point in time, as a family. I got a beautiful shot of Friday sitting in my office chair, some indifferent pictures of the other kids and, as a last-minute impulse, snapped a so-so shot of Bruce making breakfast. He loved making a big breakfast for us on Sundays and I could rely on his willingness to make me his excellent banana pancakes.
The flowers in the garden- -sunflowers and zinnias, mostly- -were on the wane, as were the vegetables. Predictably, we were overrun with zucchini. That afternoon, we attended a concert at Whitman College, the excellent Volta Piano Trio. We usually skipped wine on Sunday, but the late afternoon was so welcoming and warm, with just a tinge of melancholy. So instead of skipping, we moved our patio chairs onto the lawn and sipped, the declining sun warming our backs. It was a bittersweet, perfect day.
We soon learned that Friday was in renal failure, very common to older kitties and something we’d been through with Arial many years before. Instead of bemoaning this diagnosis and expecting the worst, we looked at each other and said “We can do this.” Home subcutaneous hydration was a skill we possessed and Friday started to rebound in a couple of weeks.
Good news. We didn’t think overly much about the stomach pains Bruce had started to experience at about the same time. Reviving a sick pet was stressful for us both and, naturally, affected our physical health, too.
The pains came more frequently and severely. Bruce met with his doctor. An endoscopy was arranged and in late October an ulcer was diagnosed. Such a relief! I’d been having anniversary anxiety, as this was the time of year I’d learned my dad had cancer of the esophagus, back in the early 1990s. Bruce started treatment for the ulcer, bemoaning the fact that he’d have to steer clear of festive food and drink during the holidays.
You really didn’t know?
Lily, my inner fourteen-year-old, asks this question soberly and seriously. No, I really didn’t know. Unhappy moments of history repeat themselves less often than we fear they will and I’d embraced this truth with the ulcer diagnosis. We made it past the graveside service of a friend, where Bruce sang “Going Home” and “I Believe” a cappella, beautifully and with perfect control. Past a writer’s conference. Past my birthday. It was nearly Thanksgiving and his symptoms hadn’t cleared. There was a CT scan late in November.
The next day, the doctor told us it was time to get Bruce’s affairs in order. There was something seriously wrong with his pancreas and liver. We hoped we still had some time. Once we’d had a chance to absorb what was happening, Bruce hopefully extrapolated that maybe he could have his pancreas removed. We were at the dining table, seated across from each other, clasping each other’s hands, falling into each other’s eyes.
“I’d become diabetic immediately,” he said, “but maybe I can get another five years.”
“I’d love to have another five years with you.” I can still feel the tears in my throat when I said this.
There wasn’t anything they could do?
No, Lily, there wasn’t. Dark miles and darker miles unrolled every day. The details of what happened are probably in the blog “About Bruce,” posted December 28, 2018, but I don’t want to go there right now. Long story short, it was twelve days from the full diagnosis- -Stage Four Pancreas Cancer and cancer in his liver and kidneys as well- -until he died, at home, shortly before midnight, December 23.
I’m so sorry. I mean, I knew about this already, but I’m so sorry.
Anything I can do?
It’s likely that everyone reading this has experienced the loss of a loved one. You know already that grief is, at best, a spiral, not a straight line. There is a beginning but not an end. It becomes a part of us, and that’s okay. Grief is a mirror of love.
But, you know, I’d like to help.
For now, Lily, just keep talking to me like you do every day, and call me on my excuses to put off the enjoyable things in life. It might seem a trifle to you, but it was major when you nudged me to get a huge chocolate chip cookie after I had my flu shot yesterday. To make it through the dark miles, the dark memories, I need your light.