Having had two rounds of chemotherapy, my wife is now beginning what she calls Plan C. She says. “I’ll continue treating for as long as they have letters in the alphabet or I’m too tired to go on.” It has now been two years since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
She prefers to think of it as a journey rather than a battle. If it’s a battle, “I’m the battlefield not one of the combatants,” she declared. She faces each setback with grit and determination while acknowledging they do take a lot out of her. Each ride on the cancer train is getting shorter; the atmosphere is getting more somber; the destination more remote.
Thank God! The crew on the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center line remains as loving as ever. What a marvelous service to humanity, offering sympathy, support, comfort, and hope to passengers and their families. With Pope Francis bringing his message of love and compassion to the United States, I can think of no profession that delivers those virtues more than those in health care. In a country that places such emphasis on a pedestrian vision of “success,” there can be no higher calling than offering the gift of love to those in need.
After 53 years of marriage, I try to prepare myself for a time when my wife will no longer be here. Knowing she was home or would be coming home always provided great comfort. We did not have to be talking or even be in the same room for me to feel her presence. She was here and everything was all right. There was nothing we couldn’t handle together. I was never truly alone and the house was never vacant.
With her gone, for the first time in my life I will be lonely. My children will keep me fed and entertained but when I go home, it won’t be the same. I must face the reality that she will not be back and cope with how much I depended upon her. It will take time, but there is no alternative. Millions have gone through it before.
The end of life need not be a tragedy. It may not be welcome, but it is inevitable, and as such, it is something we can prepare for. Belief in a hereafter offers the hope of reunion, justice with mercy, joy, peace and eternal love. Belief in oblivion offers just that – nothingness. It makes no distinctions. There is no truth, no accountability, and no grief. It is a final refuge for those who have been evil. Oblivion is their reward.
My wife has made me a better person. She is the heart of our family. I admire and draw strength from her. When the time comes, I will carry on in her absence and in some small way try to fill the void she leaves. We are not a perfect match and never came close to being soul mates. However, we do complement each other: her strengths are my weaknesses.
It was almost 60 years ago when I first noticed her, a pretty girl in gray Bermuda shorts and a white blouse walking with an air of confidence and self-assurance that impressed me. We met two years later on a blind date; she was in nursing school and I was at BC. My earlier impression was accurate; she had a take-charge personality to which I was more than happy to defer. A wise move, as it turned out.
The train continues through a dark forest. It labors up a steep grade and round a waterfall that spills down a rocky slope. A mist arises and obscures the tracks as we proceed. At this point there are no fixed destinations. Sad families disembark from time to time along the way. We cling to the hope that our turn can be postponed. The horizon has shrunk; time is now measured in weeks and months. What hope remains is sustained by prayer and the support of friends and family and the knowledge of a life well lived.
Fortunately, the atmosphere on the train does not reflect the dismal terrain. The lights are bright, and the crew members are warm and efficient as they care for the passengers. Their devotion both comforts and inspires all aboard. Love often flourishes where there is pain and sorrow and is sadly absent in what today is considered the “pursuit of happiness.”
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.