“The storm abates a bit, with the ship still at sea. Time to eat, rest, renew the rigging if necessary, and prepare to continue the voyage.”
So wrote a sailor friend of ours who has spent oceans of time on the water. I think of him as one with the sea because he often speaks of sailing as a metaphor for life. He finds solace in the calm waters and exhilaration in the challenges of unpredictable waters.
Sailor friend writes in response to an email I sent to the circle of family and friends that has surrounded us since the beginning of our voyage in which I tell them good news. Although husband Paul continues to decline, his decline is slow in part because his failing heart is not encumbered by underlying cardiovascular disease.
The experienced nurse practitioner who certifies continuing hospice explains Paul is unlikely to have a heart attack, something he worried would happen at any time. He is relieved and so am I. We gratefully let go of our chronic anxiety around any sensation of chest discomfort.
As the nurse is leaving, she surprises me when she says, “he is nowhere close to dying now” and “… could live as long as another year.”
“Really?” I said in disbelief, then wonderment.
I marveled aloud about Paul’s strong will to stay alive as long as possible. The nurse said that it was part of the reason he will.
For me, it felt like a magic elixir of Paul’s will, good medical care, a good palliative program, the support of excellent hospice staff, family and friends and Paul’s basic underlying good health for most of his life all mixed together by our unending devotion to each other.
Later, I told Paul exactly what she told me. His face lit up with a big smile and he raised both arms above his head and waved them as if he was waving victory flags.
It was then it became real for me too. We felt gratitude for having the gift of more time. We must and do understand we are still in the same boat, but how good it is.
The destination will not change but we know as our sailor friend ended his message “Now it is possible to look around to see and enjoy the wild vistas around you.”
For us, the vistas are once more the chance to experience together the seasons of the year. I look to the shore to which I will return. Paul looks to the horizon. We adjust the rigging and breathe deeply with a different level of tension.
The shore and the horizon
The last seven months and the year before hospice in which we were doing everything we knew possible to extend the length and quality of Paul’s life, I left a different life on the shore.
I look back on that life and do not imagine I will or can look forward to the same life on the shore. Even though I do ordinary things to keep our home and selves going, I do not see this voyage as ordinary in any sense of the word.
I am changing but am much too busy to understand in what way I will be different. I just know I will be different.
Looking toward the horizon is not unusual for Paul. When others see our photos, Paul is the one looking at the vista with his natural meditative quality. I am the one looking at the camera.
We do not, nor does anyone know what is beyond this horizon. But he will wait for me.
The gift of more time
The universe is kind and understanding toward us.
We are not ready and have been given the gift of time. We have every reason to believe it will be quality time because we have health care professionals who guide us on relieving symptoms of physical and emotional pain. We will know when it is no longer possible.
Paul is committed to certain arm and leg exercises to maintain his independence in transfers as long as possible. I am his coach, so he does not go too fast and lose the benefit.
We think of planning outings which is more possible since I have figured out a way to maneuver the wheelchair into the trunk of the car.
Still, we are reluctant to be very far from home for very long. Home is safety and the wheelhouse of our lives and closest to friends who standby to help.
The waters are calm now, the riggings are renewed, and we continue the voyage in relative peace and pain.
Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and is the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.