The room smelled like essential oils– the ones Peter brought to help Bob breath and to help with pain and anxiety: Eucalyptus, frankincense, myrrh, Inspiration (a blend), myrtle, peppermint. Every nurse who walked in commented on how good it smelled. I had continued the routine of rubbing them on Bob’s chest every 20 minutes or so.
What a tough night. I woke up with a sword in my heart. The pain was intense. The information of the night was very much with me. My mind, over the last two and a half years with GBM ( Stage Four Brain Cancer), was trained very well to look at reality but keep a balance of hope at all times, no matter how bad it was–just to balance the horrible with “this could be OK somehow.” And this is always true anyway. There is no such thing as false hope, and all things are possible with God. This is how we survived and were happy all this time. One of the ways.
So Bob had a lung abscess with blood clots in it. He had pneumonia in both lungs and was only able to use part of one lung. “He must be very tough to have been doing that!” one young doctor had said.
Yes. You have no idea how tough.
He had blood clots in his legs.
He was septic.
Several hospital personnel asked if I had a DNR order. I was pretty sure I understood the ethical reasoning behind this, and that I could sign one in this situation as a Catholic, and why it was probably the right thing to do, but I had requested spiritual counsel anyway and also sent a text to Fr. Wade about it. We had been texting throughout the ordeal. He was praying hard for us and had sent his love for both of us several times, as many people had done.
I was expecting Dr. Erin. I wanted to see her because she knew us and understood us, but I also dreaded seeing her. It would be a relief to talk to her and see her and hear what she had to say–she knows Bob and how tough he is, and she knows we would go down swinging if that is what we had to do–none of these people at the hospital knew that, as kind as they were.
But I also knew that even she would probably say the game was up. I didn’t want to have to hear that. And so my heart was torn to pieces. But somehow I felt calm anyway and I was even smiling at Bob.
“You look hot in that hospital bed, Boy! You’re lookin’ FINE,” I said.
I wasn’t kidding. He looked beautiful. He was so well made, and he still looked totally strong and muscular and his color was actually good. He looked beautiful with his leg sticking out of the sheet and his broad chest and strong arms bare. I don’t know why he never thought he was handsome. He was glorious.
He was feeling better, too, after a night on antibiotics, fluids and morphine. He was talking better and was more alert. He looked at me and rolled his eyes when I expressed my amorous admiration. I said this sort of thing all the time. I couldn’t help it. He was so beautiful to me, and I said it all the time.
He said these types of things to me all the time too, so I don’t know why he couldn’t accept the same thing back. He said what he always said to this: “You crazy, Girl!” I laughed.
We could pull through this and surprise everybody. That’s what I thought.
I was able to give him Holy Communion as well. He was having trouble swallowing so I gave him a tiny piece and I consumed the other piece. He received the Eucharist with his customary humility and devotion that always impressed me so much. We held hands in silent prayer, and he then joined me as well as he could in the Our Father.
Andrea came and brought me coffee. We were discussing the situation when Bob called me to him. He took my hand and gazed at me calmly. “Shawn. I need to go.”
I said, “Where do you want to go? You think you want to go home? Dr. Erin is thinking maybe we could go home and I could take care of you there.” He looked annoyed, and shook his head the way he did when I wasn’t getting what he was trying to say.
He said, “No. I need to go.” I said, “To Jesus?” He said, “Yes. I’m ready to go to Jesus.” We looked at each other. I heard Andrea catch her breath behind me.
“Bob. I love you,” I said. “You do what you need to do. You can go. It’s OK. And I promise I will be OK.” He squeezed my hand and he nodded.
He said, “I love you,” trying hard to convey all he could with his eyes. He said it a few times more, “I love you. I love you, Shawn. I love you.”
Then he closed his eyes and lay back on the pillow, for all the world like Dorothy in her ruby slippers, clicking her heels together to go home.
After a moment his eyes flew open and he looked at me in frustrated surprise, “Why can’t I die?” I laughed. I guess he thought once he had my permission it would just happen. I understood, though. All this fighting for his life had been his love for me. And now that he didn’t have to fight for my sake anymore, he thought he would just disappear. He said, “You said I can’t die!”
I said, “No. I said you can go, Bobbi. I love you. It’s true I don’t want you to go but I love God more. ‘God is it,’ the way you say.
But just like me, you have to do God’s will and not your own. You have to wait until Jesus comes to get you. You’ll go when he decides.”
Bob said, “OK.”
I was crying now. I said, “Bob, please pray for me about this.” He gazed at me, nodding sagely.” “I have been, Baby. I will.”
I had to make a conscious effort not to grieve already. I couldn’t do that. I had to be there for Bob, and I had to be with him in the moment for myself. I would have the rest of my life to grieve. But I could only look at him and touch him and kiss him now, and I didn’t know for how long.
So I couldn’t think about the past–I had to send all those thoughts about how big, hairy, laughing, great-hearted, wonderful inky Bob had tenderly come into my life and changed everything–had become the sun in my sky. So the past was out. I couldn’t think about how I would feel later–no, I could not go there. I was only too familiar with that anyway. That leads to another thing I could not think about—Blaze’s death, and all of that trauma.
I had to remain dead center in the present moment for Bob’s sake, for my sanity, and for the sake of our love that we might truly live it out as it was meant to be lived out.
I am very grateful, beyond what I could possibly say for the great graces of that day, which were so obviously given to me. I could not have done that, I could not have responded to Bob that way, I could not have sacrificed like that. I could not have expanded my own heart like that, unless it was pure grace and a total wondrous gift. I know this.
It happened in a moment.
I reflected how I had prayed that Bob would enter the Church and be able to receive the Sacraments. I told God I would give my life for that. I was not worried about Bob’s soul at all. I trusted God with that beautiful, glorious soul of Bob that God loved more than I ever could. I thought the state of his soul was wonderful. So I was not worried about that.
I just wanted him to have that gift so very much. I knew what it could do. I wanted it for him, and I wanted it for God too.
I thought about what I had said then, “Father, I would give my life for that.”
This is what every spouse does. In the Catholic ideal of marriage that is what marriage is–the gift of self for the sanctification, the salvation of the other. Bob had done this for me too–he gave his life for me every day. And now he had given me the opportunity to accept widowhood voluntarily–out of love for him and love for God. His basically asking me if he could go–this was his love for me. I knew this. I kissed him over and over for it.
We did not have that much time alone that day. There was a lot to do, and lots of medical people–the continuum of hospital life–that parade of people with their different jobs.
The nurses loved Bob. Everyone always did. He loved them too, and would pat them as a thanks for all they did when they did something. Memorably, Paula from the Cancer Center showed up like a joyous angel. She cried a little bit, but my impression was mostly joy. I gave her a few moments with Bob, getting out of the way so she could talk to him and anyway there were people talking to me. Lots of people. So I didn’t hear all she said. I know she asked his prayers when he got to Heaven. I saw him listening to her and nodding.
His mother, Ann, had gotten to my house early in the morning. I knew she would come by after she got Roise off to school. When she got there, I got her to sit down.
I said, “Ann, he’s ready to go.” She looked at me for a few seconds. I saw the changes in her face; the struggle, the sadness, the resolve. Love was bigger. It only took her about seven seconds.
She went over to his side and took his hand. He said, “Mom. I can’t. I can’t change.” She said, “I love you. And you’re a good boy. And you’ve always been a good boy. And you can go if you need to go. That’s your decision.” He said, “When? When can I go?” She said, “We don’t know.”
I told her what I had said. I revised it a little, “That’s between Bob and God now.” She said she could buy that. He said, “I love you.” She said, “I love you too.” I think she said she was proud of him.
I will always remember my text message from Amy. It just said,”Oh Shawn.”
Dr. Erin came in at some point. It’s hard to remember the order of the day’s events. She looked like she hadn’t slept well, and like she had been crying. I wanted her to know right away she wasn’t going to have to break anything to me or get me into acceptance. I told her what Bob and I had said to each other.
She said the ER people thought we must have already talked about it because we seemed so calm and peaceful.
Well, we kind of did discuss it and we kind of didn’t. This last one was the definitive talk.
She went over to Bob and said, “Hello, my honey badger soul mate!” He nodded. She took his hand, “I love you. I love you and we’re going to take care of you, OK?”
By then I had already decided we would go with the Hospice Andrea was with and she had gotten permission to be our nurse. “Can I still be his doctor?” she asked Andrea. Andrea said absolutely, she was sure that could be arranged. “I have done that once before.” They started talking medical stuff like what morphine Bob would need, and some drops for secretions and liquid for anxiety.
She asked me if we wanted to go home now, if we wanted to stop the fluids and antibiotics or not. I told her for now I thought the fluids and meds were keeping him more comfortable and alert so he could connect with people better, and that was important right now. Eventually it was decided that we would keep him on everything for now and keep him in the hospital one more night, just to get an idea how this was progressing–but in all things we would take our lead from Bob.
She said if he kept showing impatience to go, then we should let him, since in the end the medication etc. would just prolong his agony. She had to go to California for her grandmother’s funeral, but she would be at our house when she got back. She would ask the hospital personnel to lay off the parade so we could have more quiet, and time alone.
I told her, “You know Bob loves you very much.” She said she knew he did. I told her that he used to worry about her, that she should not do this job too long–he thought it would burn her out eventually, and he was concerned about her emotional well-being. She said, “If all my patients were as special as Bob I couldn’t do this job anymore.” She rubbed my back a little.
“Don’t get me wrong, everybody is special, but you know what I mean. Bob is special special. Very special to me.” I understood. I was grateful for it all the way through. I said, “Thank you for loving us. It has made all the difference.” “You’re welcome.”
Monsignor John, who had married my first husband and me, came in to advise me about the DNR. He said the same thing as Fr. Wade had, that the efforts at resuscitation would not be helpful to Bob, but probably harmful, and would not bring him back to a healthy state but only prolong his painful one unnecessarily, and also on top of that cause him pain and stress physically and emotionally.
So the position of the teaching authority of the Church in this situation would be, as I thought, that signing a DNR was morally fine and even desirable.
That straightened out, Monsignor John gave both of us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I was very happy that he had done this. I hugged him. He said he would notify our parish that he had given us that. He had already talked to Deacon Dave about us. He asked who our oncologist was. I told him Dr. Erin, and he said, “Beautiful woman, beautiful woman, just wonderful.” He went on about how loving and strong she was. I will always be grateful for her and her love and strength and spunk.
Lots of people came to see Bob. He was so tired but he seemed to understand people needed to see him and he did his best. Sometimes he could wake up for them and sometimes he could barely open his eyes. Sometimes he slept through their visits. I remember Mel and Lily came, members of their family came. People from the Eagle came and sent things in like nice drinks (Kelly), or flowers or cards or little flowery crosses JoAnne had cut out for me to hang up for Bob. Bob would tell people he loved them. He did his best. I understood this too. I wanted to be alone with him, but I was also glad people were showing their love and respect for Bob. I was glad of Jocie bringing me food, and being a strong, steady presence at my side, and for my brother-in-law, Richard, who took on some of the “running interference” to ease our stress.
In the evening there were a lot of people at once. They all got to talking at once, and of course Bob couldn’t really be part of that. I was mostly just observing, myself.
In the middle of all these conversations I saw Bob raise his hands in prayer and look up. He began in the traditional Catholic way and did his best with the sign of the Cross: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Bless us O Lord…”
I thought he was saying the Catholic meal blessing he had said at every meal for us for years, but he went on. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear all he said. Nobody else saw him do this. But I saw it. And I thought it was beautiful. I smiled.
I had proposed a family meeting after people cleared out. I thought first just Mark and Jamie since I had not told them the new status of things, and it was heavy stuff so I wanted them alone. Then I thought we should get them to bring the kids up there and we would tell the kids the situation.
Bob was really tired when the commotion died down. He was sitting propped up in the hospital bed in a diaper and no sheet on him. We had had a break in the party and he had been hot so I had uncovered him. He suddenly noticed Jamie was in the room and he was embarrassed about being in the diaper in front of her. He made faces at Mark like “Hey, man!” jerking his head toward Jamie. Mark didn’t understand at first and Bob started tugging at the pillow behind his head. Mark said, “You want me to fix your pillow?” Bob shook his head and eventually got the pillow out from under his head and put it in his lap for modesty. We laughed. Oh, so that was it.
I broke the news to Mark and Jamie that Bob was ready to go. Jamie cried. She said she had believed the whole time that he would be OK. Bob looked at her with concern. Mark went over and put his hand on Bob’s chest and said tearfully “You’re my brother!” Bob made a face at him that was really funny. It said, “You’re not my brother, you freak!” Mark understood and laughed at him, patting him and kissing his cheek. Bob smiled and nodded. Mark put his head on Bob’s chest and Bob patted him. He held Jamie’s hand too. Loving words were exchanged all around. Simple things. “I love you.” How can you do justice to these simple words at a time like that, and all they contain? You can’t.
It was decided that Jamie and I would take Roise down to the chapel and tell her, and Mark would tell Maire. Maire had been terribly worried about me and I saw the relief in her face when she saw that I looked OK.
We took Roise down to the chapel. She sat at the piano and we told her. She caught her breath. “But I thought he was gonna be OK!” She looked like a little kid to me, so vulnerable and scared and sad.
Then she said, “Is Grandma Cita still going to come see us?” And then she said, “I feel bad! Like I feel like I should be sadder than I am!” and she started crying. We explained to her that it was OK to feel whatever she really felt, and that she could only take so much, so her brain protected her from too much at once.
With everyone together, I told the kids that we would be bringing Bob home. Roise was scared about this. Maire looked worried too. I said that we would be bringing stuff home to take care of him with, and that Andrea would be our nurse and it would just be like a hospital at our house for a while. I said they could stay with Jamie if they got scared or weirded out, just to come and go as they felt like they needed to. They looked relieved.
Maire went over and told Bob she loved him and she gave him her necklace. He nodded, squeezed her hand, told her he loved her too. Roise went over and cried, he patted her and she got in the bed with him and he hugged her. She said, “I love you, Bo Bo.” He said, “I love you too. It will be OK.”
That night, with his pain more under control, I was able to sleep next to Bob on the bed and hold him. He put his good arm over me and held me too. I scratched his chest and we talked about everything. He touched my cheek, “Beautiful.”
I remember saying, at a dreamy moment, “You can build us a house there.” He smiled and nodded in the dark. I said, “Scripture says in God there is no time and that a thousand years are like a day. So maybe it will be to you like I’m right behind you. Maybe you won’t even have to miss me.” He squeezed my hand.
I thanked him for loving me, for fighting for me, for being so brave and so amazing, for being a beautiful husband every day, and for all he did for me. “It’s easy. I love you, Baby. I love you.”
We were intruded upon only every few hours for breathing treatments, etc. But we spent most of the night in heart to heart bliss.
“I love this,” I said. “I love being next to you. I love listening to your heart.” As I always have, I synchronized my breathing with his. We have always liked to do that. He could not change his breathing to mine now–he had to breath however he could. But I breathed with him. I put my leg over his.
We loved in stillness and silence and union of hearts. It was a happy night. It really was. The Scripture says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Maybe that is what happened.
April 11 from Facebook
Dear Friends, Bob has been in the hospital for a couple of days with a lung absess and he is septic. He has told me he is ready to go to Jesus now and I told him he could go, it’s OK. (He just wanted to make sure it was OK with me). We are transitioning to Hospice Care. We have unbelievable friends and family and the grace of God is so evident that all this pain is overwhelmingly laced with beauty because of the truth of LOVE. And everything is love. I know you are worried. So far I am OK. I am concentrating my mind and heart on the present moment so I can be there for Bob and not spoil this precious, holy time. Selah. God is here. (17 Likes)