Let's Get Started

My wife is dying of metastatic, triple-negative breast cancer. Barring unexpected shifts in the probabilities of life, she will predecease me, fairly soon. A crescendo of psychic pain accompanies this process, the white-hot, searing, level-1 core of pain that is my wife's knowledge of her impending death, and the lesser circles of agony that surround her and burn away at those who love her.

I'm in level 2. In my level, I attempt to abide by The Rule articulated in the Silk Ring Theory:

Dump out. Comfort in.

If only it were that easy. Having built a loving relationship for 30-plus years based on two-way, mutual comforting and dumping, switching it to a one-way street is just not natural for either of us. At this stage, she won't dump out, or let me comfort in, and I dare not dump in or expect comfort out. We are growing isolated from one another, as the disease inexorably drives us to two different destinations.

"It's a truism that metastatic cancer is worse on the carer than on the patient," she said to me last night after berating me for folding the towels wrong (or perhaps stacking them wrong. I'm still not sure). "It is a truism," she continued, "but you have no idea how hard this is for me, and if you did, you would take better care of me and do more for me." (Including never folding or stacking towels without detailed, step-by-step guidance.) This jab hurt my feelings so much that I proceeded to dump in, to engage a painful and fruitless argument.

Now that I have had time to reflect, I can agree definitively that I have no idea what it is like to have my own cells running amuck in my chest and my brain, laying designs on my liver and my heart. My body trying to kill me. No idea how it feels to know that 2020 is beyond my years, and--statistically--2016, too.

Perhaps she's right. If I did know, I would figure out how to provide my wife more comfort by never questioning her judgment and always turning to her for detailed guidance before trying to execute the most basic household helpers' tasks. I would figure out how to undo 30 years of mutual training and build a fresh relationship based on the One Way sign.

But I don't know. I have no idea.

Not me. Not her.