Friday, March 3, 2017

Breathing in, breathing out

Three years ago, very early in the morning (or maybe it was late the night before) Kevin began to have trouble breathing. We sat together on our bed. I gave him medication and we practiced slow, deep breathing. Breathing in, breathing out. After several hours with a hospice nurse we decided to go to the hospital as a preventative measure. As we slowly walked down the stairs together I remember banishing the thought that this was the last time he would be in our bedroom.

I was right. When we got to the hospital we found he had a blood clot in his left lung. This wasn't really surprising, cancer can make the blood kind of sticky and more prone to clotting, but it was very bad news. We got him installed in an ICU room and he was given a bi-pap mask, a more intense version of the c-pap you might have at home. He soon fell asleep as air was forced in and out of his lungs. Breathing in, breathing out.

Our oncologist asked if she could talk to me and it was there, in that little room next to his ICU room with four chairs in an L-shape, that I heard for the first time that she told me that he didn't have long. She explained that pulmonary embolisms were very serious. It was possible he wouldn't survive the night and I should call his kids if they wanted to come.

I don't remember if I wept. I'm sure I wanted to. I'm equally sure that I took several deep breaths so I could calm myself and think.

I went back into his room and held his hand, listening to the mask that helped him breathe. I don't know if I slept that night. I remember the rhythm of the machine. I remember watching his chest as he slept deeply for perhaps the first time in weeks. I remember matching the pace of my breath with his. Breathing in, breathing out.

Early the next morning I called his kids. We didn't know we had only 25 days left.

These memories are so sharp and fresh, yet they have a patina as well. Time is beginning to leave its mark on my memory. This is both a blessing and a curse. I want to remember him as immediately as if he had only just walked out of the room, but I know the only way I can survive is if I let time soften them. Sometimes it is in remembering the details that I find the connection and the wound again. Other times it is much easier, the memories are the bright, healthy ones, but not today.

March is a hard month. January 18 to March 28 are the brutal season for me, the dates that mark diagnosis to death, and now I'm really in the thick of it. Some people tell me to not focus on it, but honestly I don't know how. This was perhaps the defining time in my life and, while it hurts to remember,  it also helps remind me that Kevin was such a gift, that I am so lucky. I swim through the memories, thinking of his hands, his laugh, his shock that he was so ill, his joy in me and those he loved. I remember the rhythm of his chest, rising and falling, in that hospital room, as we lay side-by-side in our own home, and in the first night we spent together. Breathing in, breathing out.

These memories make my life now, living in the Twilight Zone, that much richer. When the sorry threatens to drown me I come to the surface and I take a deep breath. Sometimes those breaths are ragged with tears, other times the air fills my lungs and I breathe for us both.

Please don't worry. I am okay. It is appropriate and right that I feel sad, that I miss him. Kevin was the love of my life (and yes, my new love is too, but that's another conversation. I am in another life now, I am another me) so I will always miss him. Sometimes, like now, the wound is as fresh as if it were yesterday. This hurts. And I am still grateful for the pain, because it pales beside the love even as it is a reflection of it.

In each moment that we are here and breathing, I hope you are well and loved and doing the best you can. Be kind. May kindness grace you. And may each breath sustain you through stormy seas and smooth.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. This may be one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read--by you, by anyone.


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