A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

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JUNE 25, 2010 12:02AM

A Lament

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January 2001



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.".


April 2010


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.

May 2010

I love you, Stacey.  And I will never stop wishing you'd come home.

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stacey, death, cancer, love, regret

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I know the feeling. My husband died nearly 11 years ago, at home, in his hospital bed in the living room with me on the couch nearby. Except I was asleep. I woke up, probably as he was taking his last breaths. I saw him moving his arms and told myself he was OK, just a little restless. We both knew he would die soon. He'd decided to stop his dialysis because it wasn't working any more. And he had a massive infection which was making the journey go even faster. But I didn't think it would happen quite that soon. But it did. When I finally woke up for real, he was gone. That hurts me more than anything else about his illness or the mess I had to deal with afterward. So I know how you feel. It hurts. Rated. D
@Yarn Over: I have met so many lovely people with similar tales of losing their husband or wife lately that it leaves me feeling very torn. I am so glad that there are so many wonderful people who know exactly what I am going through. On the other hand, I am so sad that there are so many wonderful people who know exactly what I am going through.

Stacey lived with brain cancer since November, 1997. I am thankful for the many years I got to enjoy with her. But she was still only 41 years old when she passed away. I am only 36.

I know that, luck and health willing, my life is only about half over, if that. It feels like my life is over. I feel like we were cheated.

I am so sorry for your loss.
Thanks for sharing something deeply personal ... and difficult ... those (like me) who haven't been there but will most certainly find themselves in similar situations with a parent, spouse, or friends, now have a baseline experience (yours) to draw from ... to hopefully do as well as one can do when this life/death event with a loved one occurs

I am very sorry for your loss. I don't know if there is any way to not have some regrets when someone so precious to you dies. I am glad that you had a loving last exchange. It was too soon to lose her, of that there can be no doubt. Your post is a valuable one.
What an incredibly beautiful post, thank you for writing this, I'm touched by the love you two had for each other....and if you're willing to listen to a total stranger who knows, please let go of the pain of not being there at the last ---take three breaths: large, long, slow inhalations, sloooooww, loong, exhalations that go on longer than you want, and send these thoughts, and the tension, and this moment's sadness (sadness comes in waves for years, this breathing method helps each time) with those breaths. Repeat when necessary, and be gentle on yourself.
Your beloved was wrapped in the Love you gave her the whole time.
I am very sure that this was a very difficult illness to live through and to experience such an untimely end was a terrible ending. You have my sincerest sympathy. R
How lovely it is to see Stacey on the front cover. How it warms me to read of your love for a precious soul taken too soon. I'll never comprehend the hurt you now feel. I love you.
Uncle Chuck
What a wonderful tribute! R
Can't say that I enjoy the memories that this brought back but I suppose that means it was well written. I hope that your obsession fades and you are left with only the sweet memories.
Thanks for your post. I'm sorry for your loss.

Whan my dear father was as home in his very last stages of life, I was across the country and called my Mom to check in with her. He died while she was in another room on the phone with me. I have always felt badly about that, that she wasn't there holding his hand.

I shared this with a friend who is a hospice worker and she told me this often happens...people choose to let go of life at a moment when they are alone or not directly attended by loved ones. Maybe it is just easier?

So, I don't know if that has any sort of validity or if it is must hospice psychobabble but it made me feel a little better about my dad.

Again, I'm sorry for your loss.
I apologize for the errors in that post. Corrections:

Whan my dear father was at home in his very last stages of life, I was across the country and called my Mom to check in with her. He died while she was in another room on the phone with me. I have always felt badly about that, that she wasn't there holding his hand.

I shared this with a friend who is a hospice worker and she told me this often happens...people choose to let go of life at a moment when they are alone or not directly attended by loved ones. Maybe it is just easier?

So, I don't know if that has any sort of validity or if it is just hospice psychobabble but it made me feel a little better about my dad.

Best wishes.
Yes I often wonder if people in hospice are relieved to be dying with strangers or missing their loved ones? We'll never know.

My husband sat with his mother in hospice and like Yarnover, fell asleep holding her hand. She died while he slept. I think they like to go that way.
@All: Thank you so very much for all of your kind words. I don't know what to say.
I have also observed the same thing. Perhaps it is too difficult to let go when surrounded by loved ones---too much grief and obligation-- and solitude or strangers gives the body permission to surrender.
I doubt that this a conscious decision-- merely a body's psychosomatic response.

Regardless, Tod, I am sorry for your loss.
I don't have the half of the guts this young woman had, I can only hope she is in a better place with no pain or anguish over her symptoms. I wish her peace and all those that loved her.
Wonderful post and fascinating and heart wrenching comments. Stacey knew and felt she was loved -- so many never do or never get to see as she must have. Best to you..
Rated It is a remarkable love story. So, sorry for your loss.
As a nurse for many years, it is common for someone to die when the family has gone to take a nap, a shower, or get something to eat. It is so hard for those left, but it may just be too hard to die in front of those you love most. We are left with the pain, I hope this thought helps a little. She was clearly well loved.
I am so sorry. I sense that people feel they are ready for the end, but when the end comes, how can anyone be ready? My mother stopped eating on a Monday. She had been having stokes and seizures, undiagnosed, for 10 months. We were with her constantly. By Thursday, she had lost the color in her hands. My sister, a nurse, said Mom was not letting go. We had all told her it was okay, that we would be okay, that we loved her. My sister said, maybe Mom wants to be alone. I replied, "Well, that would certainly be like her." We were in a hospice house and decided to ask the nurse what she might know about people wanting to be alone to die.

The nurse said she only had one story. There had been a lady in residence for two weeks and she was never left alone. There were never any less than 4 family members, often a half dozen or more. They stayed around the clock, and it had been like this for weeks. Then one day, the family members stepped out the front door for a short meeting of about 15 minutes. The lady died when they were out. My sister and I looked at each other. The only thing we hadn't offered Mom was privacy.

It was midnight. We decided to go home. We told the nurse to call us if anything happened. We got home about 12:30 a.m. About 1:10 a.m., the nurse called me to say Mom was gone. My sister and I headed back to the hospice house to say our goodbyes to Mom. We're hoping that it wasn't that she ran out of strength to keep up her fight to stay alive, but that she was waiting for the moment her children would be spared. That was Mom. If she was well, and could have it all on her terms, this is how she would have done it.

You'll never know for sure, but please know your wife might have wanted to spare you the final moments of helplessness. I would have been the last choice she had, her last gesture of thoughtfulness and consideration for you.
I'm sorry for your loss, and I absolutely understand that feeling you have. I vacillate between feeling as if all that needed to be said and done had been, and wishing I'd seen those last breaths, too.

You see, I was not with either of my parents when they passed. My father was completely "gone" even before he died--Alzheimer's. There was very little we could've shared. But I watched my mother's slow but not at all painful decline over the last days, and learned that death, her way, was nothing like what I expected. She had made her choice. She was ready. She hated to leave us, but the actual "act" of dying did not scare her. Somehow...because we'd talked and sat together dealing with all of the strange things that happen as the body shuts down, we were both prepared. She was serene, secure...I've never seen her more beautiful, either. That may sound strange, but her face, which had never had many wrinkles, became smoother, her skin, sick as she was, glowed. So when I got the call late the night she died...I sighed, but I didn't sob. The pain was over. I would miss her. And I wished I had been beside her there. But she was surrounded by people who adored and had cared for her almost as well as I would've. And we'd said goodbye, in our own way, for months.

So...in the end, I had to remember how proud she'd been of the things I'd tried to do for her, and that in so doing I proved my love once and for all. I know she would've loved to see my face at the end...and I would've loved to touch hers. But...what amazing gifts she gave me to take with me on my journey after she left! She is with me every time I call upon that strength and serenity I saw in her, and remember the words she spoke at just the right moment.

I am sure it's the same for you. I am sure that every day you'll find another precious gift that surfaces just when you need it, to inform a decision or deepen a moment...and you'll marvel...
what a sad, beautiful, honest post. thank you.