She lay on the gurney, 85, her son at her side, both wincing. Hers for the pain from the breast cancer metastasis bleeding into her liver. His wincing, for her. They live together. Their proximity has robbed him of the perspective he needs to see the wasting around her temples, the obvious, chronic pallor. He is too close to her to see that she has been dying already. And she is too modest to show him the rising mass on her right breast, present for months and quietly, consuming her, like a secret.
Her stomach is swelling from the bleeding. In medicine, when we embark on a plan that requires the dismantling of a body, a life, in order to possibly give the person a chance, we call it heroic measures. They aren’t…the measures…not heroic. I told them what it would take to intervene in the process that was grinding through her.
The woman, a little light still on inside, under the folding mantle of her body, found clarity in the pain. She took off the oxygen mask and calmly, directly said: No. I want to go home son. He winced again. Mom, I can’t take you home, I can’t stop the pain. (Hers? His?) She agreed to stay. For him. Although I know the pain had to be deep and unhinging for her, she was beyond it. I could feel her already on a different plane. Heart/mind/spirit in the same spot in her and beyond her. Together, all of her, and sure of this one thing: no heroics. The journey she was on required that she be all there to the end.
That was five minutes, in a sick bay, in the emergency room, on independence day. Hers.