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  • “I feel guilty about not dying yet.”

    He said it calm, quiet-like. Sitting in his command center at the kitchen counter.

    “What?”

    I’d been engrossed in an internet article – lounging in the window seat of the banquet, savoring the close cozy feeling of the large open kitchen.

    The kitchen had been our project – the one that was supposed to complete a remodel and expansion so we could live together. The one that broke us up when he said he wanted to move back into his house --- alone --- to enjoy it.

    Yeah, that kitchen. The heart of the home. And there we were, years later, living together – he at his renovated same old special spot and me in the addition with the banquet fitted with the perfect density foam and upholstered in fabric chosen to coordinate with the red, orange, gray theme of the room.

    It’s a large, cherry and cozy space with one wall of wide plank redwood, hardwood floors, white box beamed ceiling. Almost all of our home time together is spent in that room. We love it.

    “Yeah, “ he said. “I really do feel ridiculous.” He looked at me across the room. He fiddled with the papers on the counter, adjusted the timer on the toaster oven at his elbow.

    “Oh honey…” I put down my computer. “What do mean?” I had that sinking feeling. The one you get when you know what someone is talking about, but you really, really don’t want to.

    “Well, here I told everyone I was dying.” He snorted. “And now… now…”

    “And now you’ve lived a year.”

    “Right. I feel stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Now everyone has been waiting around for me to die and I haven’t. I think they look at me and think: what? You’re still here? Didn’t we say goodbye to you already?” He sighed. “As if they are irritated that I haven’t died yet. They’re just waiting around.”

    He stopped. Shrugged.

    “Honey…” I said quietly. “No one is waiting around for you to die. We’re all… all… so happy you are doing this well.”

    He shook his head. “And I’m in pain a lot.” He glanced at me quickly.

    We know. He rises late – as always – but it takes him, some days, a very long time to feel ambulatory. Often it is solely through the force of will that he makes it through his daily routines.

    There are days when the list of diminutions – too many and too boring (he would say) to reveal - suck the marrow out of his pride, his sense of himself and his joy in daily life. Other days are better. And those are the days we treasure.

    I call him superman because he keeps going. He really is amazing.

    “They said 6 months to 2 years.” I said. There may have been a bit of a pleading tone in my voice. “You’ve made it year. And your doctor says he’s impressed by how well the chemo has worked. Your results are better than he expected. You could make it the 2 years or longer.”

    He nods. Slowly. Thinking.

    “Yes. I could. But at what level?” He adjusted himself on the bar stool. “When I go in to see the doc next week, to talk about my treatment and get the results of the CAT scan, I intend to ask him if he’s going to abide by the new law.”

    There it was.

    We’d talked about this before. When our little dogs had gotten sick, when they were going downhill, when it wasn’t a quality of life for them, we helped them leave with dignity and love. We said then that related to death and illness, as a society we treat our pets better than we treat people.

    We vowed to honor each others life by respecting the others wishes when and if that time came. We agreed that a person has the right to determine their own death process.

    There was no way we would feel right or have the right to force someone to stay alive under circumstances of pain and illness that did not support the quality of life they wanted.

    I nodded.

    I understood what he was saying and likely would have felt the same way in reversed circumstances. But I do not want him to leave me. Even though I always knew, given our age difference, that the odds were he would die first.

    “Look,” he said, “if I can’t read, if I can’t drive, if I can’t… go to the gym… if I’m in constant pain…. What’s the use just hanging around here waiting for a stroke or the cancer to bring me down? Suffering and waiting to be incapacitated? I will not have you changing my diapers.”

    “Well honey, we’d hire that done.”

    “Right.”

    We shared a look, a smile.

    “OK…” I said. “but… you aren’t there yet. Right?”

    “No.” he said. “Not yet.”
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