I asked on the telephone today if I could come for a visit.  “It would be difficult” was the response.  I wanted to ask, “Difficult for whom, and in what way?” but my politeness kept me from asking. This after talking about each of the kids visiting separately to give him time one-on-one with them.  The metastatic cancer from the kidney to the lungs has spread; breathing is difficult and he is on oxygen 16 hours a day; getting upstairs to go to bed or the computer is an ordeal.  Next Friday he meets with the oncologist to determine what and whether further treatment is warranted, and in the meantime, he has been handed over to palliative care.

It is unbearable, despite all hurtful things that have been said and done over the last two decades to hear the shortness of breath and clearly weakened state over the telephone, to learn that eating is difficult and food in any case is tasteless, to be told about the destructive effects the steroids are having on his muscles.  This was my one-and-only, tall, strong, an Olympic-scale swimmer, athlete.  A divorce from which I have still not recovered.  Father of our children.

The sense of loss and grieving is constant, underlying the quotidian small acts of laundry, reading student work, feeling anxious over writing deadlines and entering the classroom again.  At times it seems what else could possibly matter.  There is nothing I can do except be there when called upon and stay out of the way, having been blamed for causing the stress that caused this cancer, too. There will never be an opportunity to talk things through, to resolve contrary readings of the same situation, to find some peace, to be acknowledged or thanked or apologized to or forgiven.  All bets are off, now.  Xmas 2010 made it very clear that he holds me responsible for all that went wrong.

As life retreats from those I love, I find myself dying with them. Aging parents on the one hand, and an estranged lover/ex-husband on the other.  I struggle to find the words to name the futility of saying goodbye over and over again in multiple ways–first the emotional distance, then the physical distance, and now looming ahead, an unbridgeable distance.  Once divorced, one has no rights–no right to be there, and no public right to feel devastated over the illness and impending loss of someone precious, because it is quite possibly inappropriate:  one has been sacked from the relationship, after all! In any case, in a situation like this, rights don’t matter.  What matters is that Nicholas is very ill, dying, and I can’t bear to see him go.  I couldn’t bear the divorce, raising the children alone, his marrying his third wife, and now this.  Really, Shelley, better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all?

As our eldest, who turned 25 yesterday once said to me:  we kids wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t fallen in love with Daddy.

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