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In Another World

The article that follows is an excerpt taken from an upcoming book by Judith Mathews PhD which explores end of life decisions, caregiving and coping with grief.

Two years have lapsed since my spouse's death and each day is harder than the next. "Time will make things easier." It is an easy phrase to say and people mean well, but if you love someone you miss that person on a daily basis.

I am writing this as a wife and a nurse and Andy's struggle with cancer was the hardest challenge I have ever experienced. This journey was the ultimate pinnacle of my entire nursing career. I prayed each day for the patience to care for him in a warm caring manner. I knew I had the love to carry his burden, but I wasn't sure if I would be patient enough to be a supportive agent.

Andy succumbed to cancer five months after his diagnosis of gall bladder/liver cancer. Andy labeled that period of time as a journey in and to another world. He described it as seeing the world through sheer curtains, acting as a robot purposely stepping in a patterned destined path to death. This period of time was the painful mapping of events leading to a peaceful slipping away to another world.

As a nurse, I have cared for many clients and families experiencing the journey to death from chronic or acute cancers, but never have I been so thankful for hospice nurses and the other nurses that cared for Andy, and for the support they offered to me. Hospice did not care for Andy, but listened and gave humane suggestions to keep him comfortable and peaceful.

As a nurse you think that you know everything, and you realize that in this fragile situation, you know very little. I promised Andy that I would take care of him and I never thought that it would be so arduous. The recovery from the hospital stay was drawn out and taxing. The diagnostic testing and the infusion of chemotherapy enervated Andy's energy level. Then one day I came home from work and could not find him. He had decided to go to work; what a sigh of relief and a sense of hope that by some miracle, he would get better.

The trips to chemotherapy were uneventful. He loved the nurses, so small talk and bantering went on coupled with a lot of hoping on Andy's part. Hope is all you have when you are that ill. Andy was so excited to feel better and stronger due to the therapy. Then one day, Andy does not respond to the chemotherapy.

The journey was totally dedicated to Andy. The chemotherapy was stopped due to the tumor enlargement and the weakness returned, so the office visits were terminated. Oxygen was needed so he could walk without discomfort and sleep knowing that his breathing was enhanced. With the advice of hospice, I fed him all his favorite foods. He ate rice pudding, cereal, ice cream shakes, chocolate bars and pretzels.

This time was intense for Andy and me. He could only walk to go to the bathroom and when I mentioned that I was going to buy a walker, he stated, "You are my walker!" He asked to look at family pictures and would say "Goodbye world" and would actually shred them so that they were gone from his memory. He said that the only reason he was fighting was that he didn't want to lose me. The days ran into each other and I saw him devoured before my eyes. Bathing was painful for him, so I tried baby wipes warmed in the microwave. His gums would bleed when his teeth were brushed, so I freshened his mouth with Listerine tabs. I held him, reassured him, and cried with him.

I don't remember people visiting, but I'll never forget my sons assisting Andy in his everyday chores. They were so supportive to me so that I could care for him. The boys left and a couple evenings after that, Andy went into the bathroom and fell, and during that night he died in his sleep. Thank God that he died at home, where he wanted to be and I am so thankful that I had the fortitude, love and patience to grant his wish.

The funeral, the company, the food, the phone calls come and very quickly everyone leaves and the phone calls stop and I am alone. I sink to a despondent state and once again it is hard to see clearly. To this day, there are many times that I feel that I am still in another world. People say to keep busy with classes, friends and activities, but the emptiness is always present.

Andy was my inner core of my being, my soul to confide in, my partner, my friend, and he is gone. He is gone physically, but his spirit restores me everyday. I see his face, I smell his cologne and I feel his body pressed to mine. Andy will always live through me. I feel his warmth through the sun, his touch through the wind and I see him through memories that will be cherished for eternity.

In another world - this is the world I live in by losing someone that was attached to my soul. Does it get better? No, but if that love was engaging, trusting and filled your life with meaning, you will never lose the presence of that human soul. Andy lives in me, around me, and through me. We are one in that mystical other world.


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