Witness


 Staring out the large windows into the frigid January sky, I was remembering when my young son told me that not talking about problems is like being in a room of stinky farts. But when we start talking about our problems and what’s bothering us, it’s like opening a window and all the stinky air goes out the window.
 
I think to myself, I like that kid.  He’s pretty smart.
 
I’m brought back to the present moment.  Waiting in the lab with my husband for the blood draw before his chemo treatment.  We are by far the youngest people there.  But no one makes eye contact as I look around, a public voyeur.  No one seems to want to acknowledge why the other is there.  Especially us.  We’re so young, right?  Is 50 the new 30 in this place?  
 
I watched my husband closely this time.  Eyes gray, beard thin, crows feet newly scratched. I feel the breadcrumbs of fear that still linger after 11 months of treatment. (Did I feel that from my husband, from the room, or from me?)   Weariness proclaims, “Here we go again” and a deep whisper from the Monkey Mind asks, “for how much longer can this go on?  Is this what’s going to kill me instead of those damn tumors?” 
 
I suddenly felt a tsunami of emotion overwhelm me.  I started to berate myself. Why have I not been here by his side for every single lab draw?  Why am I only seeing TODAY, sixteen chemo sessions into it, how weary he really is?  Why have I not been better for him? In some weird deflection move, the problem quickly becomes about me after witnessing the suffering of my beloved.  I need to fix this, make it better, Ego says.  But you can’t, my inner knowing says.
 
All the nurses there know him.  I’m a bystander.  An observer.  But this is my husband.  My partner for life.  Why have I not been a part of this experience with him, trying to make it a little less ___ for him?  The nurses don’t know my name.  I am a stranger in these halls.  I felt like I had just walked into the Teacher’s Lounge in middle school- I was witness to some sort of alternate reality that exists without me having any part of it, even though I’m a relevant player. This hurt me because I felt powerless all over again.  I felt like I was a ghost, reaching out to touch someone, only to have my hand go through them. 
 
So,  we pull our masks down for a kiss goodbye.  I’ll have to get the kids off the bus then come back to pick him up.  Off he goes to the Teacher’s Lounge.  Off I go back to class. 
 
Chemo days and weeks have been difficult from the beginning. COVID prevented me from going to treatments with my husband early on. Should I have fought harder? Did he even want me to? Could I have prevailed? How did I end up accepting the “no”? I can’t remember anymore. 
 
What I do remember is dropping him off at the hospital, my gut wrenching each time, wishing this was over, the miracle manifested already so we can move forward with our lessons learned, in the hardest way possible.  (OK! WE’RE LISTENING!  YOU HAVE OUR ATTENTION!). Hopefully I was able to keep all of that under wraps from him, instead sending him off with a kiss, a smile and an I Love You.   
 
Should I have done more, could I have done more?  Why have I not insisted on being there with him every single step of the way?  Every blood draw, every intake, every meeting, every infusion.  Shouldn’t I have arranged for someone to get the kids off the bus?  Get them sorted, snack and homework done, screen time monitored?
 
Was trying to create a safe, predictable environment for the kids, as their dad endures this journey, just a ruse to keep my own fear of losing him at bay?  Is it really just ME who needs the safety and focus of something else, so I don’t get swallowed up in the rabbit hole of dis-ease? 
 
The threat is real.  My determination to not let fear rule me is as fluid as the sea.  I think sometimes the Fear renames itself as Denial or Distraction.  But I don’t care.  I guess it’s what it needs to be in the moment. 
 
Perhaps I have I been guarding myself all along.  Then, recently, feeling confident in our new rhythm, my defenses were down so I decided that I’d join him for half of his hospital day.  What could go wrong? 
 
It’s a weird space to occupy, especially in those times when I have experienced a profound sense of grief and melancholy that settles in my bones before a chemo session.  So far, the intensity of these feelings is my barometer for how well “scan news” is going to be every few months.  These last two meetings went well.  And I felt no worry beforehand.  But the continual reminder that we are not out of the woods yet lingers, remains; there is more work to be done.  There always will be.  We have to keep going, keep planning, keep changing, keep getting better.
 
But he’s a pro, my husband.  That’s what they call him.  He wears his Superman tee shirt every chemo day.  And he is just that, Superman.  He goes in, greets the front desk, switches masks, goes to the lab, waits for the tech.  Sometimes they can find a good vein, but not always.  Sometimes he’s stuck several times.  Amidst comments of “oh you know what to do!” and “Oh, you’re a pro by now!” meant to liven the unfortunate familiarity of that particular environment.  Despite the nurses’ best efforts and the love energy, I still felt, saw and sensed weariness, of all kinds, from all people. 
 
My guidance has recently told me I must be The Witness more.  I must let things wash over me, around me and through me.  “This is part of it” is what my soul tells me.  “I surrender” I say in response, so I must do exactly that when the opportunity is given.  No controlling.  No fixing.  No talking.  No changing.  No convincing. Just the understanding that there is no sharing of the burden that happens when I’m there.  I am simply there to hold space for my beloved, as a Witness. 
 

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