My wife, Leeann, will likely be dead by the time you read this.
I can hear her labored breaths as I write these words from her hospice room. She’s been sleeping for two days now and hasn’t eaten in a week. The morphine keeps the pain on a leash as the life slowly drains from her body.
Three months ago, she was a vibrant young woman who had a plan for everything. She had just taken the leap of faith to start her own business advising doctors on medical-plan enrollments and best practices on insurance claims management. The business was thriving when the pain in her side sent her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer a few days later.
“Futile” was how her oncologist described further treatment. Signing the paperwork for her hospice admission was the worst day of my life. Her brain mangled by cancer and painkillers, she had accused me of trying to kill her the previous week and called the police to our home.
In no mental state to sign anything, I had to sign all the papers. It was like signing a death warrant. At least it felt that way until 3 a.m. the next day, when I heard her screaming as the nurses tried to administer more pain medication. Perhaps hospice was the right place, I thought, as her screams echoed through the intensive care unit. At least the pain would end but then, so did the hope for recovery. And she knew it.
We have been here at hospice for 10 days now. Leeann in a morphine-induced twilight sleep state while I try not to let my sons see me cry.
She returned to us one afternoon last week. Her eyes lighting up and talking a little. A little arm twisting and her doctor allowed me to sit her in a wheelchair and visit the patio with our sons and some friends.
“If this is the last thing I see, I will be happy,” she whispered to me as she gazed at the view of the large lake.
She’s been mostly incoherent ever since.
The only wisdom I have to offer from this experience is advice from others. My dad told me everyone has their part to play at a time like this. And they have. My two sons, Patrick and Liam, have both given me strength in their own ways. My family in Ireland has been the invisible hand on my shoulder steadying my nerves.
My mother-in-law Maryann, my wife’s aunt and uncle, Rick and Kim, and Leeann’s friend Ida have stood with us throughout. Several friends even started a website to raise money for my youngest son’s college education after medical bills all but wiped out our savings. Others, including several at this newspaper, have also offered prayers and tremendous generosity throughout.
I’ve learned my dad was right. Everyone has their part to play. He witnessed his own daughter, my youngest sister Sinead, die after a three-year battle with brain cancer.
I’ve learned life can turn on a dime. That there are enormously loving people around me, but I have to learn to ask for help, which goes against my grain.
I’ve learned nurses and hospice workers are underpaid and that it’s morally obscene that a person’s level of care when faced with a life-threatening disease should be determined by an insurance company.
I’ve also learned my wife is facing her final days with more dignity and courage than I have. When she finally realized the cancer wasn’t leaving, all she cared about was our son Patrick attending college.
And I learned she deserved a better man than I. But that was something I already knew deep inside.
Kevin Brady is a contributing writer to The Observer News Publications.
The website for his son’s college fund can be found on Go Fund Me at www.tinyurl.com/observer-brady.