Bridie looked tired but her face flickered toward a smile when I greeted her in the waiting room. “Come tell me all about it” I said as I invited her into the interview room. She explained the series of treatments and their immediate effects. The treatment went as expected. Despite causing fatigue and some burning and irritation on the skin of her lower abdomen, the radiation succeeded in shrinking her tumor by at least half. Bridie was happy to tell me that according to her oncologist, this treatment bought her at least another three months. And that was a conservative estimate. Bridie’s gamble had paid off.
“I’m tired a lot Hattie but now the pain is not so bad as it was. I can pick up Lynne and carry her around. I can sit on the floor and play with the boys. The nausea is over and now I can eat a lot better. After being able to be with my kids, the best thing is that Doug and I can make love again”. She looked embarrassed to have blurted this out but I could tell it was important to her.
“I guess I hadn’t thought of that.” I added casually. And I hadn’t. “I’m glad everything feels like it’s getting back to normal”.
“Well, it is and it isn’t.” Her smile faded. “Doug is over the moon but I’m afraid he isn’t seeing this as a reprieve as much as he might see it as a cure.” She looked down at her hands while twisting her rings. “He won’t talk at all about …” I let her sit with her thoughts without interrupting. After a few moments, I noticed tears rimming her eyes. I leaned forward and handed her the miniature box of hospital tissues.
“Thanks” she sniffed. “It was a reprieve alright. The whole topic has disappeared and I haven’t thought about it since the treatments started. Well, that’s not true. I think about it all the time but I haven’t mentioned it…by it I mean me dying.”
“I understand, Bridie. It’s like the cancer is going away. It makes sense that the focus changes. Tell me what it is you are thinking about all the time.”
“I’m angry sometimes and I can’t stop thinking about why this is happening to me. I am watching my words all the time because I don’t want to be mad and have people remember that about me. But I am pretty damn mad!” Her tone changed and I could hear her anger and frustration. “Then, sometimes I am just so sad I can’t take it.” Her frame deflated. She dabbed her eyes and blew her nose into the scratchy institutional tissue. “I’m cried out.”
“Have you and Doug…”
She sensed where I was going and interrupted “No. We haven’t talked in two weeks. Not since we saw the oncologist right before the last treatment.”
“Hmmm. Where do you want to go with this?” I didn’t want to be the one to bring her down.
“That’s something I wanted to talk about today. Hattie, I know I’m going to die. I realize I can expect three more months but the outcome is the same. I kinda like it not being in the air all the time at home, well not in everybody’s air.” A brief strangled grunt resembled a chuckle. I want to talk with you about the specifics. Here’s what has been burning my brain…” Bridie sat back in the chair and carefully and laid out the details of her developing plan. I leaned forward, with my elbows on my knees, giving her my full attention.
“I want to die in hospital. I don’t want to die at home. I don’t think that’s fair to the kids. They have to live there afterwards. I don’t want to die in pain but I want to be careful about the amount of medicine they give me so I can stay alert. I haven’t made up my mind if I want the boys there at the final moment, again I worry about their memories of me. I want to have my affairs, such as they are, in order. I have certain messages for the kids and I have started writing them a series of cards; birthday cards, graduation cards…” Bridie’s sob brought a pause in her obviously rehearsed disclosure. “I figure Doug will remarry.” She raised an open hand toward me to ward off any kind of redirection or consolation, probably in response to my dropped jaw. “I want him to. The kids need a whole family. I want him to wait a decent amount of time though.” A smile creased her sad face. “But I want the kids to stay tight with my family and know them well. I want a lot of flowers at my funeral….and by the way, Reverend St. Croix has agreed to do the service. It will be at the community centre near our home. I think I want my organs donated but I’m not sure if the radiation…or whatever…” she peeped up to look at my in this pause…I don’t know if my organs will be good for anyone else. I will talk to Doug about finding out; anyway, my driver’s license is clear that they can go to someone else. And, I want to be cremated, in my pajamas.”
When I finally composed myself, I said gently “Pajamas?”
“Yes. I want to be comfortable for all eternity.” Bridie nodded silently.
“Good idea”. Was all I could manage, biting the inside of my lower lip. “So, have you written all this down? You know Doug will need to be included in these plans.”
“I know” Bridie shook her head back and forth as she exhaled in a long sigh. “I just can’t talk to him right now. I will do this work for us both right now, then … then when reality returns, we will talk about it.” Her voice was determined. “Hattie, I want, no I need to do this on my own right now. It means so much to me to have this interlude of calm at home. I have to manage this my way right now. I don’t know if this is normal or not, or advisable or not; I just know this is right for me”.
“Then it is the right thing to do”. This was my only fair reply.