Monday, March 30, 2009

Living with Dying: Emotionally Crazy

Originally posted on MySpace,
Views (127) · Edit Mar 30, 2009

Last week was an odd one for us. At least emotionally. Let me start with some background.

Harriett is a very private person. As long as we have been friends, as long as we have shared a home, there are thousands of things I don’t really know about her. I think she probably knows just about everything that can be known about me, but she keeps her ghosts well guarded. And that privacy can be taken right into everyday living. She rarely shares her feelings or her fears with me. When she does it’s such a shock that I break down as much as she does and that doesn’t make for such a supportive friend.

Last week was a “doctor’s appointment” week. Forgive me if this is repetitive, but the oncologist only sees Harriett because Harriett has asked to continue seeing her. Since Harriett is in hospice care, she doesn’t receive any more curative treatments. If she were to have a heart attack right in front of me, my instructions are to call the hospice workers, not 911. I am pretty sure Harriett doesn’t really understand all that, but she feels better to get the check up every couple of weeks and the doctor is kind enough to accommodate her. So every couple of weeks I wrestle her out of the house and into the car, to & from and into & out of the doctor office, back home, into the house and into her chair. It physically exhausts her.

Harriett and Mark have an antagonistic relationship. She LOVES to give him shit. Really. LOVES IT! When he’s out of earshot she gloats over it. So he gives her shit right back, tempered with some sort of gruff gentleness, if that can be said. I try to stay out of their “stuff” and leave them to the relationship they’ve created. If I do say something to either of them, it seems to give them fuel for their own opinions, so keeping my mouth shut and watching in amusement is more or less my position.

Last week started off pretty normal. The daily routine was the same and Harriett didn’t have much to say or contribute to much. Her aide and nurse made their visits, which is always good. They are so upbeat and chatty, it really gives Harriett a boost when they come. Thursday we went to the doctor and got a reasonably clean bill of health. Nothing much has changed… Harriett weighs 100 pounds with her gym suit, boots, and heavy coat on. She looks good compared to when she was on chemo. She’s got a bit more energy. I thought it all went well.

She mentioned something to me on the way home about the nurse calling her a “fighter.” I thought, “well, that’s good, because you are!” What I didn’t realize is that Harriett had added her own twist to it. Her interpretation was that they were saying they were surprised she wasn’t dead, that it’s amazing how much she’s still fighting. That hadn’t even occurred to me at the time. I have my own issues with “words of encouragement” meaning something different to me from what was intended, so I wish now I would have realized then what she was telling me.

Later that evening Mark was asking her about the appointment and she started in on him. At some point I asked, “Okay, Harriett, can I laugh at him now?” To this she fell apart and replied that we think she likes sitting in that chair all day and don’t we know she’d rather be dead than not be able to do anything for herself. She went on like that, crying and yelling at us and all I could do was sit in silence and cry myself. It appeared that the dam had cracked. She went on about how we all treat her like she’s dying and how much she hates it. In the course of this was when it became clear to us what “being a fighter” meant to her. Then she became upset with herself for breaking down and making us uncomfortable. She asked the question that comes up occasionally, “why don’t you just put me in the street?”

Ultimately Mark and I were both glad that it had happened. She holds everything inside and sooner or later she has to let it out. Again, I don’t think she understands that. She kept saying that she must need a stronger anti-depressant. No, being on an anti-depressant doesn’t mean “happy all the time.” It means being able to manage your despair with some sort of sanity and even then, there are times when you need to break down and let it out. That time was WAY overdue!

What happens after the cork has blown of the bottle? Everything comes back to some sort of equilibrium and we march on a little bit happier. That’s the up side. But “happy” to Harriett means chatty and I am not a chatty person to those I live in close proximity to on a daily basis. And I can deal much better with the physical aspects of terminal illness than I can emotional aspects. I won’t say give me the poopy mess any day… I really don’t like that either. But at least I can clean that up and light a few candles and spray the air and it’s done. But the genie bottle of emotions isn’t ever going to go away. It sits there quietly until something jars the cork and then boom! It’s sort of like that time bomb game in which you pass around the bomb and hope it doesn’t go ka-pow in your hands. But this is sort of like playing the game solo. Ka-Pow. It’s going to be a little while but I know it’s coming again.

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