Most things he says don’t make much sense these days. He sleeps a lot―maybe three or four naps each day. He eats little. He’s supposed to drink at least three bottles of Ensure per day but rarely finishes even one. I try not to browbeat him to do so. I keep a spreadsheet on the kitchen counter with a medication schedule. The painkillers are the only ones he really needs at this point. The chemo has produced no good results―only wasted him away; he’s gaunt, grey, barely able to drag himself around. In less than four months this man, this vital, fun-loving, sybaritic motor-head, has devolved into decay. When we speak to each other, I can’t determine whether he understands our words. I wonder if he processes when I tell him I love him.
Friends visit regularly now. Some behave as if this is the last time they’ll see him. His buddies know and I know that it is. For several days he focuses and requests no visitors. We communicate. We blend.
It’s late July so visitations are always on our large front porch. This way, I have little to clean up and hostess duties are not expected. Plus, when he’s had enough and his feeble attempts to rise from his chair to go inside are unsuccessful, he sighs in resignation. People usually get the hint and leave.
On this day, when close family arrive, he is deep into his own stillness, his own fog. His brother sits close to him on the adjacent chair holding his hand.
“Hey, Brother Jim, do you remember the time we went out in your little aluminum fishing boat?”
No acknowledgement. Eyes closed.
Bob tries again. “We were out in the middle of the lake and the motor died?”
No acknowledgement. Head sags.
Bob tries again. “You couldn’t get the motor started and told me to start rowing.”
No acknowledgement. Body flops forward.
“Then we tipped over!”
Suddenly he rallies, sits up straight, looks directly at Bob, “Yeah, ya goddamn fool. You didn’t even know how to row a goddamn boat. You stood up. That’s why we tipped over.”
Silence. Discomfort all around. Then, uninhibited laughter from ten family members.
He’d made sense of an event, a relationship, a point in time. Together we experience a brief respite from sadness and grief.
He quietly slips back into his own normal.
Hospice is coming tomorrow.