09 March 2011

Snapshot

I was gloating a little bit inside when the gate agent invited families with small children or anyone else who needed a little more time to board to go ahead and get on the plane. I was unencumbered, kid-free, able to loiter around the gate area, admire the desert hills through the plate-glass walls, soak up warm, soothing air that blew through the open doors. I saw the gaunt man in the wheelchair get pushed through the doors onto the tarmac, and I felt a pang of sadness, even pity, as I quickly looked away and resumed my daydreams.

I don't think I noticed that gaunt man and the companion who had been pushing his wheelchair—a woman who at a glance appeared to be at least fifteen years his junior—right across the aisle from me as I settled into my seat. I fished my book (that smug, overachieving fourth book in as many days!) out of my bag before shoving it under the seat with my foot. The cloudless sky, the cactus-speckled landscape, the heat through the window, the glow of vacation, the anticipation of heading home, the headiness of sanctioned self-absorption, such are the things that were on my mind.

Sometime during the ascent into that bright blue sky, though, I caught the hint of a gesture out of the corner of my eye. I brought into focus the caress of a hand across a bony back, then the look on her face a mix of compassion, fear, and knowledge of something still present yet already lost. He was dying, I'm sure of it, of cancer or some other ravage, his body mostly gone. He had a different, equally familiar look on his face, the look of one who knew this was his last vacation, of determination to make it appropriately great, to enjoy it despite it all, but an acknowledgment that mind can only triumph over matter for so long. He slouched forward over his tray table, eating one of the very same protein bars John used to eat, without gusto, just the way John ate them. He was probably no older than she after all, just that much nearer to death. Her hand was still on his back.

Did she feel the way I did when I was on that vacation? Did she feel resentful of the caretaking? Guilty about having moments of sheer joyful fun when her spouse couldn't? Tired of pretending that it was all OK? Unbearably sad that her life as she knew it was literally crumbling before her, the progressive decay visible to the naked eye? Did they talk of funeral arrangements over dinner? Did she just want it all to be over, to move on to the inevitable if painful catharsis of Next?

Because I took that vacation, and that's what I felt. Those are the things I did. I took that vacation four years ago, and most of the time, I forget that I even had those feelings, did those things. But it took only that one caress to bring it all right back.

It's not a vacation, that vacation. Under certain circumstances, it's better than no vacation. But when four years later, you take a real vacation you realize just how deeply you can deceive yourself when you have no other choice. It truly did feel like a vacation at the time, but I can see now that it was not. It was the best we could do, and I have no regrets. There's just not much best in death.

24 comments:

Amber said...

I hope you know what a brilliant writer you are. I'm truly envious.

elderflowerpressee said...

This is wonderful writing, Snick - you sum up so much with such eloquence, concision and precision. And such knowledgeable compassion.

Rachele said...

Those moments that catch you by surprise, suddenly bringing everything all back... just heart wrenching. so eloquent, Stacey.

OTRgirl said...

Is it weird to say that this was/is a beautiful post?

Such a true assessment of that emotional whirlpool.

Vee said...

De-lurking to say Wow, I agree beautiful writing.
I felt like you were watching my husband and I on our last holiday together.

I am glad you had a lovely trip.

Abigail said...

Captures the beauty and fleetingness of so much. Thank you. And, I'm sorry you knew how she felt.

django's mommy said...

You're amazing.

Emily said...

What you are really good at doing through your writing, snick, is making me identify with the feelings you describe even though I have never been in a similar situation. Somehow you bring out the commonality in us all - amazing.

Krys72599 said...

That was, without a doubt, one of my favorite posts. It brings back the feelings with such strength and clarity, and even though they hurt, the love shines through, too.
Thanks for this one. It's a keeper.

CV said...

Really moved by this post. I'm praying for that woman and her husband, just as I did for you and John 4 years ago.

Well written.

Anonymous said...

Oh sweetie...I'm so sorry for what you've had to go through, and also glad that you are in a better place now, able to enjoy a "real" vacation.

nuvs said...

That was melancholically, but beautifully, written, Stacey.

Dr. Smak said...

What a familiar and bittersweet sentiment. Funny how it can all come back so quickly.

Such a poignant post.

kathleen999 said...

Brought tears to my eyes.

Katherine said...

I follow your blog because you so often put into beautifully eloquent words my exact feelings. I too lost my husband to pancreatic cancer, 5 years ago next week, and am a mother to a boy and a girl, though my children are now teens. This line, "you realize just how deeply you can deceive yourself when you have no other choice" hit home to me. It almost brought me to my knees. And it did bring me to tears. Because I have realized EXACTLY that.

carolyn said...

This post brought me to my knees in a way that hasn't happened in weeks, months maybe. The dog had to come over and console me while I was reading it and suddenly sobbing and gasping. My eyes hurt now...

When my husband Jeff was dying, we had a CNA from hospice who assumed the man I was taking care of was my father. My husband was considerably older than me. But not that much older.
The way you write brings it all rushing right back.
Thank you (?). Only someone who has been there could do that so powerfully.
And the thing is, it isn't even over when it's over for us. (If it can ever truly be over for us, that is.)
It keeps on happening, to the next family and the next family and the next.

Anonymous said...

Yes, so sad but beautifully and honestly written.
gmg

Grace said...

Oh, this broke my heart in a different way. We were just in Hawaii -- just the two of us, no kids -- while my partner was on a chemo break. Unless one knew, there was no "evidence" of cancer...we hiked, zip-lined, snorkeled, etc. But it could be the last vacation we'll take together. I treasured every moment.

Anonymous said...

What a poignant post. It's been a really long time since any post from the various blogs that I routinely follow has moved me so much. I hope to never have to take a vacation as you describe it, but kudos to you and to everyone else in this world that does.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the other side... I have cancer, and knowing my husband is having these kinds of feelings is absolutely heartbreaking for me. And I'm sure it's true. We all want this cancer to go away. But I don't want to go away. Life would certainly be easier for him if I were no longer here. He's 31. I'm a few years older. It's tragic and awful, and we just had what could be our last vacation, which didn't feel like a vacation at all.
I'm not sure of the point of my comment, other than that I read you from a different perspective. But you write wonderfully.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

We took one of those vacations too. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

So sad, but beautifully put. Where did you go on vacation? Just you? Would love to hear it.

kathy a. said...

oh, as everyone said, you are a wonderful writer. but there is a kind of pain and loss even before the worst, and when you see it in someone else, that has to be a shock. [and also a connection, you have been there.]

xoxo

Anonymous said...

As someone said, I hope you know what a great writer you are.