(Post) Cancer (Caregiver) Feelings: Hope
This is not going to be a happy, uplifting, or fun thing to read. This is not part of the ongoing story of our love. The next chapter of that will be out next week, once I can make myself write it. Before I can do that, though, I need to write about this, like leeching some poison from my blood or letting off enough steam before the pressure builds too much. I just want you to know what you’re getting into. This is very likely to be a dark and disheartening look at grief and loss.
I wrote once before about my feelings on this cancer journey. I wrote it in May, 2 months before she would be placed on oxygen and we were given the news about how much time we had left together. These Cancer Feelings posts were a very big part of Julienne’s blog. She wrote well and beautifully about her emotions throughout her treatment. I’ll link them below if you’d like to visit them. They are worth it.
I didn’t plan on doing another one of these, but here we are. I’m going to talk about something that was important to us both.
Julienne’s favorite poem is “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
She painted very little in her life, but Julienne did a painting inspired by this poem. She also created another blog, one she didn’t get a chance to do much with, called The Thing With Feathers. It meant so much to her because, throughout our journey, Hope is what kept us going. We never lost hope, even though what we hoped for changed radically over time. We hoped that, after her surgery and chemo, that she would be cancer-free for a long time. We hoped that we would be able to have a child. When those possibilities left us, we hoped for a Hail Mary chance for a cure. Then we hoped for a couple more years together. Then some good months. Finally, we just hoped for another good day. At the very end, I just hoped that she’d be able to rest comfortably.
Now, I don’t have much in the way of hope. I hope for exactly one thing. That when I die, and I’m buried next to her, I somehow and in some way find her again. That’s the only thing I hope for, the only thing in my life that I look forward to. Neither of us believe in the concept of heaven or hell, but we believe in magic and energy, and so our hope is that whatever is left of us can be rejoined in some way.
I guess I do have hope in one other thing, that I can finish our love story in a way that does our life together justice, and can demonstrate how incredible and magnificent Julienne is and give her a measure of immortality. I guess that helps keep me going.
It’s hard, though, as I’ve mentioned while writing it. Reading our old text messages, to remind me of events and concerns, of jokes and meaningful moments, is a very double-edged sword. When I’m going through them, reading how much we pined for each other when we were separated, reading all the banter and sheer love and groan-worthy puns, I feel like I’m back there in those moments. I hear her voice in my head when I read her messages, from wry to heartfelt to jokey to stressed. I feel the emotions I expressed to her all over again, the heart-racing excitement and intense longing. It takes me back to a place and time long past, the pre-cancer Us, full of light and hope and excitement for our future.
When I stop, reality comes crashing in. I’ll never get another text from her. I’ll never hold her hand again. I’ll never wait at an airport to pick her up for a long-awaited weekend together. I’ll never hold her as she sleeps. A lot of times my subconscious seems to forget that she’s gone. As I drive home from work, as I get about halfway there, I feel a wave of excitement and an almost physical sensation of the hug I’ll give and get when I arrive. For a split second it’s real, that uplifting feeling of knowing I’ll be seeing her soon, and then I remember. And I cry.
Walking through the door in the evening was always the best part of my workday. Now, it’s one of the hardest parts of every day, almost as hard as leaving in the first place. I call out to her and let her know that I’m home. I go into our bedroom and I subconsciously hope that when I turn the corner she’ll be there, smiling at me, hands reaching for me to gather me in and welcome me home. I know she isn’t and never will be, but apparently the little Bird isn’t ready for me to let go of the possibility. Then I break down and hold her pillow and I sob into it.
I cry a lot.
I don’t hope for happiness in the future. I don’t hope to find love again. I don’t hope that the world will stop its collective madness and acceleration towards extinction. I don’t hope for good days or good times. I don’t hope to be remembered. For the most part, the Bird inside is quiet, its sweet song swallowed by the Gale that is the full force of my grief, my loneliness, my longing, my despair. I only hear it when I’m standing at her site, or especially when I get into bed. On my nightstand is her handwritten burial instructions. At the end of them she left a note to me. The very last part is the last thing I see before I turn out the light.
I’m ready. But I still have our puppies to take care of and a story to write. But then I hope
that you’re there, somewhere, waiting. And I hope that I find you.
I love you.