It was New Year’s Day, 2018. I was with a couple of friends and their husbands. Our kids ran all over the house, happy to be with each other. Shawn was at home, finally, but we had decided that he’d spend the afternoon sleeping and I’d take the kids out of the house. It was freezing, and they were stir-crazy.
I didn’t want to leave him, but there was still some part of me that thought we had a really long road ahead of us. If that was the case, we needed to make sure to keep the kids’ routine steady, and that meant getting them out of the house to see their friends on New Year’s Day.
I tried to make normal conversation with my friends, but my memory of the day was how impossible it was. Shawn had just come home from the hospital the day before and our entire house was littered with medical supplies and devices. I had tried to make him something he could eat that morning, but he couldn’t stomach it. So when I was sitting around with my friends talking about the upcoming year (or whatever it was that we were talking about) I could only think about how Shawn had looked when I left him. It wasn’t good.
Everyone there had asked about Shawn when I arrived, and I said he was doing okay. “Glad to be home,” I told them. But it wasn’t the whole story. I had watched him inject himself with drugs that day, and struggle to take a shower. He wouldn’t let me help him, even though I kept asking him. “I can do it all by myself, really,” he told me. Even days before his death, he was protecting me.
I never gave him his daily shot. Not once. Not even the day before he died when he could barely walk. I never bathed him. I didn’t empty the drains he had after surgery, and I didn’t clean his wounds. He wouldn’t let me. He soldiered on through it all each day, dealing with his own medical issues with a level of mental fortitude I was impressed with even though I’d known him – and loved him – for 15 years at that point.
“You don’t need to watch,” he’d say when he was giving himself a shot each day. I wasn’t that thin-skinned, and I could have done it. But he wouldn’t let me. I admired his toughness. It was with him until the very end.
And yet, it was the morning of New Year’s Day when I saw a softness in his eyes. He wasn’t giving up, that was clear, but he was allowing sleep to come to him more easily and he was letting the exhaustion creep over his body in a way that I hadn’t seen yet. I’m not sure how to totally describe it, but it was as though his mind and his body were in a battle, and for the first time, I could see his body winning.
The image of him sitting in our living room recliner stuck with me as I chatted that day with my friends. At some point, there was a lull in the conversation and out of nowhere, I said, “I think he’s dying.”
Everyone looked at me. It was the first time I’d said it out loud. I had worried that he might die, and Shawn had made me do some planning in case he did die. But I hadn’t said those words out loud yet. I’m still not sure why I did it then.
I struggled to continue. I can’t even remember what my friends’ faces looked like, but I’m sure those looks were not good. “It just feels like he’s dying,” I said again. “I’m not sure why, it just feels like that.”
They were loving, and even encouraging. But in that moment, it was like I was realizing something I hadn’t let myself really know yet.
Shawn was dying. Really, truly dying.