Marv purged the pantry today. He’s been our grocery shopper and dinner maker for 46 of our 55 years. I think he doesn’t want me to find outdated cans when I take over his role.
This week has been one in which we are planning for my future. His is secure; we just don’t know the exact day and time. Mine is indefinite, and Marv is methodically going through the motions of teaching me what I need to know to carry on. He’s tutored me on taxes, giving me two spreadsheet pages of what I need to collect, and I took three pages of notes. He’s given me the names of the people at the auto dealer should I run into problems. He’s requested referrals from our daughter and SIL for a plumber, an electrician, a tax accountant, and an estate lawyer. He wants to see if he can get a new hot water heater before he goes, because, “Ours is leaking some, and I don’t want you to have to deal with that.” He’s cleaning out his desk drawers, shredding papers I will never need, and transferring the files I will need from his desk to mine.
Our week was full, including the nine hours we met for Marv’s interviews to get his story down in his own words—a one-hour introductory session on what to expect and two four-hour sessions of Marv digging into his past and reliving through passion and tears how he came to be the man he is today. He sat on a straight metal chair, by his request, and I sat nearby on a soft couch, watching. Even with breaks and snacks, the sessions were intense. And exhilarating. Worn out, we had no words driving home.
On another day, we had our formal “options” appointment with the oncologist. We’d not met him before—we’d talked with both the nurse practitioner and a nurse from his office while we were on the road to Phoenix the week of January 29. Both had stressed to us that the doctor wanted us to know that Marv’s cancer was aggressive and, if we weren’t coming back to Sioux Falls until March—four weeks away, we must see a doctor in Phoenix. Marv had told them, “That’s not going to happen.” He was going to deal with this cancer on his own terms.
So, since we’d come home earlier than planned, here we were on February 21st. Entering the waiting room, I spotted a Monet waterlily print, a favorite of mine. I bought one when we converted a sun room to a family room in 1999, just when Marv’s first cancer was diagnosed. An omen?
Our daughter met us there. When the doctor came into the exam room, he introduced himself and then asked her and me how we were related to Marv. I’d been to the doctor that morning for a severe cough, so I was wearing one of those pleated aqua masks that showed only my eyes and windblown hair. I mumbled, “I’m his wife.” Without pause, our daughter said, “I’m his girlfriend.” I said, “I share.” And so was our introduction to the oncologist.
I took a photo of the slice of PET scan on the computer screen, memorizing the location of the offending stark white areas whose errant travels will take Marv’s life.
The oncologist did his thing—explained that chemo was the only option and involved several sessions a week—and the upshot was that at most it would buy Marv only a few months. Without chemo, he had weeks, maybe months. The first test alerting us that something was awry was on January 4 when he was hospitalized overnight for chest pain, so it had already been seven weeks, for sure. Either way he’d have pain, and even if he chose chemo, the cancer would return. Marv reaffirmed his wish to have quality of life over quantity and repeated a variation of his now oft-repeated words, “I’ve lived a good life. I’m ready to go home. I’ve been blessed. I’m at peace. Now what do we do to get a hospice referral?”
Afterwards, we had lunch with our daughter at the cancer institute, only I couldn’t eat. A smoothie sufficed. This was my fourth trip since 1999 to an oncologist with Marv, so there was no shock value anymore, but an all-encompassing numbness.
On another day, our daughter dropped over after school with our grandkids. It was our grandson’s seventh birthday; our granddaughter is eight. She’d talked with them about things they might want to ask Grandpa. They know he has cancer and is going to die and be with Jesus. Our grandson whirled into the living room, munching on his favorite snack from Grandpa—beef jerky, and sang loudly with a big smile on his face, “Grandma’s going to be a WIDOW.” His sister followed up, “Grandma’s going to live in one of those places where they take care of old people.” They proceeded to the playroom singing what our grandson calls “a holy song.” One they must sing quietly, with reverence.
My daughter and I looked at each other as if “Where did those ideas come from?” and had to chuckle. The innocence. The purity. The trust that Jesus will care for us no matter the circumstances.
In between times, Marv and I hug, cry, joke, and watch for changes. He tells me to start looking around for a guy who can cook. This morning we took what he termed as his “last” trip to his favorite store—Menards. He stocked up on oatmeal, peanut butter, tuna fish, and chocolates to donate to the needy basket at church, chocolates “because those people deserve to have more than just the staples.” It was snowing heavily, and as I waited in the foyer for him to bring my Beetle around to pick me up (his SUV hasn’t arrived yet from Phoenix), I took in the moment of his rounding the bend and smiled in gratitude. Soon, I will have to get the car myself.
I’ve been very spoiled.
I cry as I read this to him, my 500th blog post. Who could have predicted this is how I’d celebrate that accomplishment? Writing like I’ve done since my retirement from teaching nursing in 2000 was made possible with Marv’s support. Now, we are sitting across from each other in our living room, he in his narrow-seated brown leather recliner, me on my beige ribbed-velour couch. He says, quietly, “You’ll do fine.”
I remember words I read this morning in a write-up on the death of Billy Graham: “Remember you never go home alone, Christ is always with you.”
And we look ahead to next week–several appointments yet, our grandson’s birthday party, and then, God willing, maybe some travel together before God calls Marv home.