On Saturday night, I reached a huge milestone. A group that I’ve been working with through most of my adult life finally shuttered its doors with one last fête. I joined almost sixty friends and colleagues on a final production, and it was tremendously fulfilling. Throughout the day leading up to the event, we laughed, caught each other up, shared stories, and then delivered a show that everyone is sure to remember, regardless of the hurricane raging outside.
And while it was great in so many ways, throughout the day, I found my head muddled.
I was worried about my dear husband, who was home without me, and might or might not have been taking care of himself (or at least, not to the extent that I would have him to so).
I still hadn’t figured out the way to answer the question of “How are you?” when seeing friends – people who at one time, I was very close with, and genuinely care about their lives as they do about mine, regardless of how often we may talk with each other. I steeled myself, looked my friend right in the eye, and answered “How am I? Well, I’m going to say this and it’s dramatic and sad, but things will be okay. My husband has cancer. He’s in treatment now, and we have great medical care. But I’m very happy to be here today.” Inevitably, there would be the cycle of shock, sadness, and concern, and then they’d want to talk about it, and that’s where things got tiresome. I was so happy to be back at work, doing what I do very well, with people who I really love working with – it was hard to talk about the reality of the rest of life after talking with the first five or so people.
Then there were the people who didn’t really know me well, but were really excited to be working with me for a first time (not to brag, but in some circles I’m a bit of a known quantity). Eager to make a great first impression, they would take great care in being personable and asking about me. The celebrations of the last two weeks were great training grounds for learning how to answer that question.
And of course, it was an intense day of work – lots of small details to focus on, people to coordinate with, and actions that required my full attention. So there was that.
But what was hardest, and no one warned me about:
This event was a big deal. I worked hard, for many years as well as on this one day, and all of these efforts were going to be recognized. My husband has been a part of this for as long as he’s known me, and supported me every step of the way. My friends and colleagues know him, many were even there for our second date.
I wanted him to be there. He wanted to be there. Everyone wanted him to be there. And ultimately, he couldn’t be there. The weather, the people, the travel – it was too many obstacles.
So I celebrated the milestone without him. I sipped the bubbly, toasted our hard work, and noticed my hand was not holding his throughout the evening. I smiled, accepted the congratulations and well wishes, and missed him terribly all night.
And when I finally got home (through the storm, the downed trees, the off-line traffic lights), I walked back into our life. If I had planned, perhaps I would have set out some milk and cookies with which for us to toast the show’s success. But instead, I had my standard care giving to do – laundry, dishes, medication, food. Life was back to normal, just like that. Before he was sick, I would have rested against him on the couch (which would now cause a bruise). I would have put my head in his lap (which is now occupied by a feeding tube). I would have found a way to get him to give me a foot massage without actually asking him to do so (he was long asleep). After the zenith of this particular chapter in my life, I came home to the tremendously hum-drum of the every day. When he woke up this morning, he smiled and asked me how it went, and I told him about it, blow-by-blow. We held hands, and he told me how proud of me he was. It made me smile, but didn’t diminish how much I had missed him the night before.
Everyone tells you that as a caregiver, you need to make sure that you get out, do things that you enjoy and that are satisfying. No one tells you how depressing that can sometimes be, because of how much you will miss the person you are caring for.