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?

* * * I'd be honored to hear your response in a comment or through other connection (Facebook, Twitter, Formspring, at right) * * *


annie said...

Hope is a fine line to walk. I am glad that I never had it. His death was easier for me because I knew there were no miracles, no rabbits.

I don't think we do anyone favors by ignoring the obvious. From my pov, it's better to call things by their right names. There is power in names. You can command that which you can rightly name.

efrvsnt said...

I cannot say for certain, but I think if my spouse were riddled with cancer, yes, the fact that you are widowed would frighten me, but the fact that you UNDERSTAND would be more compelling.

I think that I would tell myself, well, it happened to her, but it isn't going to happen to me. My spouse won't die, but this person knows at least what it's like to love somebody who is so ill. See, I would still comfort myself with the fantasy. Fantasies are powerful things.

Anonymous said...

It's tough - I know a woman whose husband is about to die of the same thing that Elias died of.

Similar to what Annie said, while back I told this woman - I can't say anything wonderful to take it away or make it better, and you may not want to talk to me since my story ended up how you don't want yours to, but I understand what you are going through and if you ever want to talk, I'm here."

I think she found it helpful as there was no one in her immediate circle who really understood what she was going through. Still, not easy for her, I'm sure.


Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Annie, as you know, we think a lot alike on this.

Efrvsnt, That was how I felt about the woman who reached out to me when Gavin was sick. I was scared by her loss, but I was awed to be in the presence of someone who had SURVIVED even though her story had ended differently than I hoped mine would – than I was sure mine would. I thought, she’s looked straight at this thing that I’m avoiding, and even though it hit her in the head, she’s still standing. Not prophecy, but witness. She wasn’t an omen, she was a real Mom. But I suppose if I want to accomplish this goal I should be called “terminal wife” instead of “fresh widow.” Marketing, right?

C – You’ve got it. And there’s no way it’s easy. People will respond back when they are ready, if not to me, then to someone else. At least I’ve extended a hand. (Well, I’ve been a little pushy with my hand, but same difference).

You know, it took all the strength I had (which wasn’t much) to sit down with Marie (the woman who reached out to me when Gavin was very ill). But I felt ebullient afterward – it was freeing to know she was on the same earth with me, that I wasn’t alone, and even if the WORST happened a human could still mother and laugh -- eventually -- as Marie was doing.

Slash Coleman said...

It took me a while to figure out why exactly God had chosen me to be a defacto spokesperson on male bereavement.

I took a lot of my early rejections personally until I learned that my role isn't as a "first responder."

I'm supposed to come into someone's life after a loss at year number two or three. There are others who come in to hold the hand after the immediate loss and another at year one, but for some reason I'm not that person.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Slash, good observation, we have to know our strengths and how they fit with others' needs. Clearly here it's MY need speaking first.

Thanks for visiting!


Johno said...

What up Supa? I have written and rewritten my comment to this post. But it stirs me on a lot of levels and I find that all I can say is - good and honest post. I wanted to be eloquent but as I am rarely eloquent anyway, I will leave it at that.


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