Et in Arcadia, Ego.
What do you say to someone whose spouse is dying? Of course she doesn't want to talk. Why should the wife of a cancer patient need to speak with a cancer widow?
I have this urgent mission to spread the word that we're mortal. But my tools are so primitive. My sharing is on the wrong damn side. There is no gentle message with the word "widow" in it. My very name spotlights the most fearsome, unholy, unhopeful state this wife, this mother, can imagine.
Don't get me wrong. If it were my body invaded by cancer, I'd start over at square one of "Fight, fight, fight." When would I stop? I don't know. But that's not me. And it's not you, either.
But I have worn your shoes. I was the partner, the one holding him up, framing the world for our friends, families, and our own dear child. How could I have explained it to her? She wouldn't have understood. Not any better than the rest of us did, even as we caught glimpses.
I wish I could build you an offramp, or at least draw one for you while you cope with a terminal disease and run, faster now, out of treatment options. I fired doctors. I wagged my fingers at them. Unlike you, we had no heroic measures left to take, but we wouldn't look beyond, couldn't see.
Can any of us look that loss in the face and say, "why, hello, old friend?" Because we've met. Otherwise we wouldn't be scared, except the children, who know what a primal, lizard-brain fear is and not the layers we've stuck on top of it. Layers of cake decoration, of gladiola and ivy.
A book about cake decorating is called, "If you make a mistake, put a rose on it." Are those flowers glorifying the hole or concealing it?
I am motivated to push ugly truth because we are all so grossly unprepared. But how to be any other way when we're in the middle?
All I can do is witness. I never understood this when we studied it in art history. What's written on the grave is not a judgment, not really a prophecy, but an observation. If the dead could speak to those in Eden, or on our green earth, what would they say?
"Et in Arcadia, Ego." It's classical culture, a later civilization's interpretation of the dead Greeks (in Latin, of course). "As you are now, so once was I."
I know, it's easy for me. I'm the one who lived. I hated having to do both at once: to lie about hope. But I had to have something left for the next job: my own and my daughter's survival. I hated the lurk of the dark trees on the opposite bank, far off but facing me.
Maybe easy is not the right word for being where you are now, on the near side of the river. Living must be easier than dying, no? I don't think so. Looking back on it, my job was harder than Gavin's, more complicated.
I wish I could help you ready your heart and soul, just in case, you know, on the off chance that a tiny bit of probability (let's just pretend) indicates that he won't pull through.
Because I so see myself in you. And I want you to be well. I want your heart to be full, and your family to prosper. I know I can't fend off your grief or the gray fog or the fact that (if it happens, or if it doesn't) you'll be changed forever.
But can I just hold your hand?
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