For the past few days I have found myself obsessed with how Stacey was feeling as she died. She told me long ago that she had made peace with the idea of dying. I imagine she didn't have much choice but to make peace with it.
I remember speaking with her at Royal Columbian Hospital in early April and being the one to tell her that she was out of treatment options to follow up her surgery. Her neurosurgeons agreed that any further surgery would be too traumatic to her system and she couldn't go back on chemotherapy or be treated with radiation. Her last battery of radiation treatments ended in October of 2007 and given that the effects of radiation treatments are cumulative they would have to wait at least ten years to try again. It was also determined that the tumor grew at the end of last year's chemotherapy regimen; a sign that the cancer was becoming resistant to it.
I will never forget the look on her face when I shared this with her. I told her all this and she began to cry. I had only heard Stacey cry about her disease once before in eleven years of being with her. That was when she had been undergoing her radiation treatments for two months and her hair began to fall out in clumps in her hands while she showered. She cried silently that afternoon sitting in her hospital bed.
I told her: "I'm sorry, Stacey. The thought of you dying from this scares me, too. We've been through too much and I love you too much to lose you like this.".
She replied: "I'm not afraid to die, Todd. I'm just not ready yet.".
The hospice nurse that called me early in the morning on May 16th told me that they heard a commotion in Stacey's room at about 1:00AM. When they arrived in her room they found her on the floor. She couldn't remember why she was out of bed and likely couldn't remember how she would have been able to get herself up as the muscles in the left side of her body no longer responded to the impulses from her brain. She apologized to the nursing staff for failing to call them for help if she needed to get up and promised it wouldn't happen again. The nurses made sure she wasn't hurt by her fall and got her back into her bed.
Minutes later Stacey's lungs began to fail and she was put on oxygen. She died ten minutes later.
Stacey had always told me that she wasn't afraid of dying and I believe her. She would never have told me such a thing if she didn't believe it herself.
But as her lungs began to fail she was still conscious; still lucid. She had to have known what was happening and that she was dying among strangers. I keep feeling like she died afraid and feeling alone despite her efforts to be strong.
Our last moments together were honest, heartfelt and magical. We were afforded a chance to say everything we ever wanted to say to each other. Even if we had said these things a thousand times before we had been afforded one last moment to remind ourselves of how much we meant to one another. I wouldn't trade that memory for any other, and the fact that it was our very last exchange made it even more precious.
That said, I do wish that I had been there; even if it was just to hold her hand and talk with her while she passed. Even if it made me feel completely helpless and afraid it would have been worth it to let her know that I was there and that, if it was her time to go, that she was dying in the arms of her adoring husband instead of leaving this life gasping for air while surrounded by well-meaning strangers.
I know she knew how much I loved her and that even if I wasn't there that she was never truly without me.
But I still should have been there to hold her.
I love you, Stacey. And I will never stop wishing you'd come home.