This I Believe

Dennis - Castro Valley, California
Entered on November 16, 2006
Age Group: 65+

I believe in LIFE.

My wife was a street kid from Brooklyn who was 4 feet 11 inches tall and fearless. She had a quick wit and intelligence unique to her personality. She had a photographic memory, and no one and nothing could intimidate her. I, on the other hand, was a suburban kid from the San Fernando Valley with a quiet disposition who would “put things off until tomorrow” if I could. By the age of 25, I had quit high school, completed 4 years in the Navy and been divorced twice. She was 27 and had been divorced once, but we had become best friends and figured we had enough experience to try it again. After all, practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? We married on Valentine’s day 1965 and set up house keeping in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Things happened in our marriage we would both regret, but underneath it all there was a fundamental love, strength and respect that was ours We celebrated our 39th anniversary in 2004. By now, our son had a family of his own and we enjoyed two beautiful grandchildren. I retired in 2000 and we figured on another 25 years to get it “completely right”. I was 60 and she was 62.

Late in 2003, my wife began to complain about “a silvery waterfall” dancing in front of her face. Occasionally she’d bump into a door jam or fall. Finally, a visit to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of “ocular migraines”. As she continued to complain about these visual anomalies, she called the doctor and this time insisted on an MRI. “There’s something wrong in my brain,” she said.” On October 11, 2004, within hours after the MRI and 14 months after the initial diagnosis of ocular migraines, the doctor called. She urged us to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and keep an appointment the following day. At that appointment, the doctor told us that my wife she had cancerous lesions on her brain and evidence of Cancer in her lungs, liver and spine. This time, the doctor said, she had the diagnosis right. When we pushed for a prognosis, the doctor was non-committal and shuttled us off to an Oncologist.

The story of her illness isn’t unique. Over the following year, she underwent brain radiation and then chemotherapy. I was focused on her care and she was convinced that a positive mental attitude was 80% of the cure. “I’ll beat this thing,” she would say, and in 2005, we celebrated our 40th anniversary at home with our family and friends.

During the following months, I saw my wife change dramatically. She went from walking by herself to using a walker and then needing a wheel chair. As her illness progressed, she could no longer make it to the bathroom, and then she could no longer make it to the potty by her bed. Even tough the radiation seemed to have affected her mental capacity, she never lost her sense of humor or will to keep going. While she was no longer able to eat or drink by herself, and I fed her and gave her sips of water, she did enjoy some long-term memory and recognized our son and grandchildren. She especially enjoyed old western movies on TV.

Finally, in August of 2005, after the 3rd time in the hospital, Hospice became involved in her care. While someone visited us every day, I was caregiving 24/7, and in late September, she stopped eating and drinking and then became non-verbal. I would hold her hand and talk with her, and even though her eyes were open, she seemed to be comatose, but I felt she could hear and understand me. Finally, on October 10th, exactly one year after her diagnosis, and on our granddaughter’s 11th birthday, my wife took her last breath and passed away at 1:30 a.m. She was 68 years old.

As I look back on that year, I feel privileged I was there to give care to my wife. I felt then, as I do now, that taking care of her was the finest thing I had ever accomplished in life. While I wished she was well, I never wished I was someplace else or to be done with this thing. It was the first time, ever, that I knew what it was like to give myself over to another person unconditionally.

Last month was the first anniversary of her passing. I think about our lives together, and of course, her death. I think about the days and nights I spend without her. I think that, while I meet other people and especially women, that there is only one true and lasting love in one’s life. But it is life, none-the-less, and if there is anything I now believe more than ever —