Cherie and Jim arrived first and I was excited to see them. My sister had wanted to come, but she couldn’t leave her husband and he was too ill to travel. I was thankful we’d made it to Florida for Thanksgiving before I was too sick myself. I knew I wouldn’t see her again and I’d said goodbye at that time. There were only a few others left that I needed to see and they’d all be here soon enough.
My birthday was still one week away, but Cherie and Jim wanted to help get the house ready and relieve Jon where they could. When it came to my care, Jon was possessive and he’d refused all discussion of hiring aids. Cherie resigned herself to cleaning the house and Jim ran the errands so Jon didn’t have to. He hovered over me most of the time and I began to chafe under such close supervision.
“Why don’t you go out with Jim for a bit, love? It’ll do you good to get some fresh air” I would prod.
“I’m right where I wanna be, babe” was the consistent reply.
We were all eating dinner one night when an idea finally struck me. I wanted to sort through some photos and old papers I had stored in the attic and if I insisted, Jon would comply. He’d have to go up there and root around in the boxes and cart them all down and it would take him some time. I voiced my desire and he grumbled and protested, but he finally relented and did as I asked.
“Trish, is there anything you’d like us to do? How can we help?” Jim asked after Jon disappeared.
“Get Jon to leave me alone!” I said with a laugh, followed by a dry, hacking cough. “Seriously, I’m really worried about him. I don’t know when he sleeps.”
“I’ve tried to get him to come to the store and Cherie has offered to stay with you at night, but Trish, he won’t budge” Jim replied helplessly.
“I know, I know. I sleep most of the time now, but when I wake up, there he is. He’s always watching me and he looks horrible. He isn’t sleeping hardly at all and I sleep enough for the two of us!” I said as I started to cry which brought on more coughing and a little bit of blood.
“Trish, he’s afraid. He’s afraid if he leaves that you won’t wake up” Cherie said softly.
I stared at her numbly as the words began to sink in. He thought he was keeping me alive by his very presence and in some ways it seemed almost true. There’d been times over the past month when I wanted to die; when the pain got so bad that I couldn’t stand it and I prayed for it to be over. But Jon sat there beside me, holding my hand or holding the basin so I could throw up and he silently begged me to stay. I’d look in his eyes and I’d see the terror behind them and I’d feel guilty. How could I leave him?
Richie and Carla came in the following day and Jim filled them in on the way home from the airport. Richie was concerned, but he wasn’t prepared for how haggard and drawn Jon looked when he saw him. He’d been barely eating and he’d lost too much weight and it showed.
“Jesus, Jon, you like hell” Richie said, taking a sharp breath.
“I’m okay, bro. No need to worry about me” Jon replied unconvincingly.
“Where’s Trish? I wanna see her” Richie demanded.
Jon led him to our bedroom which had become my nearly permanent residence. I smiled weakly when I saw him and he immediately came to my side. I tried to sit up to hug him, but the coughing prevented me and Jon swooped in between us and patted my back as I tried to clear my lungs. Richie looked at Jim and he shook his head while Cherie tried hard to hide her tears. Things seemed to have worsened in the week they were here.
“I need to see Richie alone” I finally croaked, but Jon didn’t think I meant for him to leave too.
“Please, Jon, don’t make me …” I coughed again and Jon turned away with tears in his eyes.
“I’m here, babe” Richie said, taking my hand.
“Richie, there isn’t much time” I rasped, struggling for breath.
“Trish, I didn’t know it was this bad” Richie said, his voice shaking.
I knew he had never expected to find me like this and I was sorry he had so little warning. The doctors had told me I had a bit longer and I’d assumed they were right. I hadn’t anticipated this either, but in a way I was glad. I’d had almost no symptoms for such a long time and I ignored what I noticed until I found the lump. By then it was too far gone and that I regretted. But I didn’t regret that the cancer was moving so quickly now. I wasn’t good at being ill and this was pushing me beyond what little patience I had for being dependent. Jon and I were both suffering and I was the cause.
“Please Richie, take care of Jon. I’m ready to go. I’ve been ready for days, but Jon won’t let go. I need to know…” I paused as the pain shot through my body like a hot knife.
“Trish, it’s okay. Don’t try to talk. Should I get Jon?” Richie asked in alarm but I shook my head.
“It’s nothing new” I assured him as I spat out some blood in a kleenex. “Will you promise to take care of Jon? I need to know that you’ll be here to look after him” I managed to say before the coughing began yet again.
“Trish, of course. What else can I do?” Richie said as his eyes clouded with tears.
“Get me my laptop” I pointed to the shelf and Richie reached over and brought it to me.
I caught my breath while it booted up and I knew that I needed to make my words count. I didn’t have many left as it was becoming too hard to speak for very long. I typed out instructions for Richie on how to access my journal and he watched as I showed him what I had written.
“When I am gone” I whispered, pointing at the computer and he nodded.
“What else, Trish? What else can I do?” he asked, feeling helpless.
“Tell Jon it’s time for the morphine” I smiled.
Richie was visibly shaken when he left our bedroom and he gripped Jon’s arm in the hallway to stop him before he rushed in.
“She said to tell you it’s time for the morphine” he explained in a voice choked with emotion.
Jon startled and looked at Richie with haunted eyes, shaking his head as if to clear it.
“No, she didn’t mean it. The pain will pass, it always does” he replied, unwilling to accept that I’d gotten that bad.
I’d been refusing the morphine for the past week as I knew it would make my mind cloudy. I wanted to stay lucid for as long as I could, but now I was ready. Richie was here and I’d said mostly what I needed to say and I was relieved. Tico and Eva would be here tonight and tomorrow was my birthday. I still had enough time to write my last chapter.
Richie’s temper flared and he shook Jon by the shoulders. How dare he deny me some relief from the pain?
“You stubborn bastard! Give her the morphine, for God’s sake! She’s asking now!” Richie screamed and I heard it.
Jim heard it too and he knew where it was and he pushed Jon out of the way as he rushed into the room. He filled the syringe, his hands shaking, as he pulled back the plunger. Jon tackled him and he dropped the syringe, but it was probably a good thing at that point. Jim had no clue what dose to give and he just might have killed me right then and there.
“Trish, are you sure?” Jon asked me, as he filled another syringe with the correct dosage.
“Yeah baby, I’m sorry. Please…” I answered, knowing how hard this was for him as he knew what it meant.
“Here, baby, here” he said soothingly as he injected the drug. “You need to rest. Tomorrow’s a big day” he cooed.
I smiled and reached for his hand. “Thank you” I said as I closed my eyes and waited for the drug to begin easing the pain.