Monday will mark 5 calendar months since the morning Sam died. But the dying process took weeks - how much more cruelly a human body could be punished by itself, I cannot fathom. I was reminded of the last portion of Sam's life by a post my brother made in his blog. Tell you the truth, I'd blocked that day out (for obvious reasons). And when I read that, the breathtaking horror of that specific moment came flooding back, and it knocked me flat.
It had been a rough fight. Sam had chosen to go 100% chemo - to be as aggressive as she possibly could. For more than two years, doctors pumped her full of chemicals meant to kill tissue, not strengthen the patient. She was young and strong when the battle began, and although the cancer certainly destroyed her liver, the chemo took a heavy toll. I don't know why they didn't remove her port when they decided to quit chemo. It eventually became infected, and caused a trip to the hospital for a surgery from which she never recovered. It wasn't the surgery itself, but a cumulative effect. The constant barrage of poking and prodding and sticking and medicines. Healthcare is invasive. And often, the cure is worse than the disease.
I don't fully blame chemo for killing Samantha. Chemo prolonged her life for a year or more - while she was still strong enough to take it. But after a time, you reach a point of diminishing returns. We went to a naturopath who works with Swedish, and he put her on some immunity boosting supplements and a dietary plan to help take the load off her liver, but it was too late. After that last surgery to remove her infected port, she declined again... about 2 weeks after she rallied so hard (and I really believed she might come back - I was pulling for that miracle), she kissed the kids goodnight for the last time.
Kayleigh went to a sleepover at a friend's house, Tyler retired to his bedroom downstairs. I stayed with Sam in the family room where her hospice bed had been situated for the past three weeks. Candles were lit, soft music played. After a stampede of family and friends over the last few weeks, it was eerie to be alone together - just like the night of our first kiss in my dad's driveway 20 years before. I sat with her until 11PM, then collapsed on the sofa next to her.
At 2AM, I sat bolt upright. She was breathing in halted gasps - the last stage of "active" dying. I sat next to her and held her. I kept telling her how much I loved her, how much everyone loved her. I told her I wished she wouldn't go, but I understood if she had something important to accomplish elsewhere. She kept repeating "love... love..." I would have given anything to bring her back from that precipice. I kept fantasizing that any second she'd open her eyes and breathe a full, calm breath of air, and she'd look at me and smile, and be completely healed, like this was another childbirth, not dying of cancer. I'd been warned about the "death rattle", when the airway gets saliva in it and causes a chilling sound. But Sam was classy, and instinctively cleared her throat with each breath. No rattle.
I sat there holding her for 3 hours. Every breath she took was agony for me - never knowing if THAT one was the LAST one. Finally, at 5AM on the nose, she took one last breath, exhaled. Funny thing was, I could tell no more breaths would come. Up to that point, she'd had spaces of thirty seconds or more between breaths. But the moment she let that last lungful of air out, I knew she was gone. Her body remained warm for some time, but her spark was gone. I just kept holding her and crying, because I knew what this meant.
Samantha's passing represented the death of an era. Not just the end of a loving marriage and another point for cancer. Not just another two kids who would have to grow up without their mom. But the end of everything she and I had experienced together for 20 years, from our teens, through our twenties and into our thirties. From getting yelled at for making out in drama class, to road trips with our SCA pirate clan, to an interstate move, careers, children, home... all of that shared history is no longer shared. It becomes my own memory archive, or the memories of my children, friends, family members. And those memories are made painful by virtue of the fact that the one person I chose to make such memories with is now gone.
I hadn't even had a chance to sort through these feelings when my father was told his cancer had metastasized to his brain. He had one brain surgery, then another... for me, it was torture having to see him in the hospital, being carved on, poked and prodded - all the stuff I'd just gone through with Sam. Then he developed a blood clot and infection in his brain from the surgeries. For the week following his third brain surgery, my poor stepmom practically lived at the hospital. And I knew what she was going through. I visited him pretty frequently that week, despite how much I fucking HATE hospitals. But when I got the call from the doctor that he'd gone into respiratory distress and they were trying to revive him, I knew it was over. And I couldn't go see him afterward. Not with the intubation tube in his throat and all the hospital gear all over him. I'd had enough. Enough. No more hospitals, cancer, pain and agony - no more DEATH, please. At least for a long time.
I felt I wanted to re-post this pic, for a lot of personal reasons. I love you Dad... I love you Sam... I miss you both, more than I can ever put to words.