This post may be triggering for its mention and description of cancer, death, depression, and grief! Names have been changed for the purpose of anonymity.
Mark’s been dead for 3 years and 2 months. He just pops in and out of my head all the time, but I don’t often think of him actively. I can tell I’m still traumatized by the whole thing because if I’m having a bad day I will often go to blaming Mark for dying and fucking everything up.
Mark died and I found someone better suited for me. That makes me sad still. I wish we just broke up instead of him having to die for me to learn all this, you know? I’m so much happier with Michael, that was hard to swallow. I love him so much in such a healthy way, and he’s supportive and understanding and just fucking great. Neither of us are perfect, but we’re honest with ourselves and each other and we make a wonderful team.
I don’t feel guilt anymore, it’s the natural order of things to find someone else…man I was a 25 year old widow.
Mark was the love of my teenage life. We met when I was at the end high school and he just finished his first year of college. I was 18 and he was 21. We were the envy of all our friends because we were so compatible and had a very honest relationship full of passion and laughter. He had a dark past of physical abuse and hard drugs and turned it all around by acing college and university, graduating as an electrical engineer. Man that guy was smart. He was perfectly sculpted with like no body fat and had a smile that could melt a woman of ANY AGE! He was a musician, a man’s man, an intellectual, he had it all. And I was everything he ever wanted. We moved out of our parents’ houses and into a beautiful apartment downtown. We had finally started a real life together after being together for like 4 and a half years. It was around fall that year (2011) that I had started to become depressed. It wasn’t anything all that unusual, with winter coming I always got wildly depressed (this was before any meds or diagnoses). But I seemed to be going deeper and deeper, I chocked it up to Mark not paying enough attention to me because he was VERY busy with work. He got a job at a small speaker/amplifier design company maybe 8 months prior, at which he had no choice but to wear multiple “hats” and go above and beyond the capabilities and expectations of a junior engineer. He was stressed to the max and really struggled to keep his temper under control. He would come home from his hour commute hoarse from screaming and yelling all the way home. About work, about the cars on the highway, about anything. The time came when I felt as though I was a roommate who slept in the same bed with him and would occasionally have sex. We shared intimate emotional moments too, but there was something growing inside him (figuratively, of course!) that we both tried to ignore and stay in love together. Christmas has always been a tough one for me, partly because I have to contact my mom and act as though I hadn’t avoided her the rest of the year. And because I don’t ever have a predictable family holiday, and I would have to spend the time with his extended family.
Mid to late January he came home from work on a thursday. He had spent the night at his dad’s house the night before to save on gas and time as it was a half hour closer to work. He was drinking all night with him and smoking weed and partying. He went to work with a severe hangover and made it all the way home. I was reading in bed when He got home and he came into bed with me. One thing led to another and we started getting busy. About 5-10 minutes in he stopped for a second and said, “ow. my head hurts… OH MY GOD MY HEAD HURTS!!” He ran out of the bedroom naked frantically walking around the house holding his head screaming about his head. He was having trouble even standing because it hurt so bad. He then ran to the bathroom and threw up over and over and over again. I had no idea what was happening, I opened the windows, maybe it was a sinus thing and he needed fresh air? Maybe it’s a migraine. I shut off all the lights. Maybe he’s just hungover, I offer gatorade and tylenol. He takes nothing and nothing helps. He finally made it to bed reassuring me he was okay. His head was still pounding. After a fitful and unproductive sleep I went to work early the next morning. I told my coworkers and my boss sent me home right away and told me to take him to emerge. He wouldn’t go. He went to the walk-in clinic instead. Doc said he probably had strep throat as he had seen unusual symptoms that year. couple days later his mother came over. Hospital time. They found a hemorrhage in his brain. They helicoptered him to another hospital where a top surgeon excised about 93% of a tumor. Results came back as Glioblastoma Multiform Grade 4. Terminal brain cancer at 26. We were there with his whole family and they started crying and at the same time trying to put a smile on for him. He was in shock so he didn’t seem too bothered by it. I knew he was waiting. When we got home we both broke down in private together. I wanted to have a million babies and marry him and go on trips and live a lifetime in the year or two they gave him to live. I wanted to die with him. I wanted to die instead of him. He had so much more to offer the planet. I sort of still feel that way. We took things one day at a time. When he was sleeping I would read a lot of forums and support chats to deal because he never understood mental illness, even though he suffered from it before and after cancer. I needed to keep a logical mind, everyone else around him was falling apart and tiptoeing around the obvious. If they did talk about cancer it was almost in a desperate attempt to fight or cure it with this supplement or that superfood. We got a juicer and juiced a lot because he struggled with eating so he could get SOME nutrients. He gained a bunch of weight while on steroids for inflammation of his brain after surgery which was good because he had done radiation and chemo (pill) for I think 6 weeks. (I forget). We stayed at a lodge during the week to cut on travel time and money. They allowed me to stay with him for a reduced price and we went to all his appointments and meals with a bunch of old people. I had a hard time listening to them talk about all the good things in life they’ve had and experienced and built up and NOW they have to get cancer and have it all compromised. I couldn’t understand how selfish they sounded complaining to a 26 year old man who has been denied the chance to even get there let alone get all the material crap they were talking about.
He got thin. He got weak. He got a little better! He even went back to work. The headaches came back, his tumor regrew. Another surgery. He bounced back from this one so fast that the surgeon even SMILED! I had never seen him make any face than a stern concentration. We were all so proud of him, even the nurses were happy to see him leave. He didn’t get better when he went home. He started spending days and nights in bed again, and he stopped eating again. One day he got up and I had a mutual friend over. Mark was enjoying his company until all of a sudden he noticed he couldn’t see out of his right eye. Something was wrong. About a week later he went back to the hospital. My best friend Kate came to visit and brought me a few blankets to make the floor a little more comfortable, a couple books and a bottle of Mark’s scotch for when he got out for a celebratory drink!.. Another friend who lived in the city took me out for a walk to get away from the hospital. We impulsively got matching wrist tattoos of CB, his initials. I came back to the hospital He got weaker. After about 5 or more days in the hospital he was uncomfortable from laying in the bed and in a fit of anger he said “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” It was at that moment where I stopped and thought, he’s dying. They put a feeding tube down his nose. He was so heavily morphined that he wasn’t really him anymore. He was moved to a palliative-type room, with round the clock supervision. One room away from the ICU. He was blind in both eyes at this point. They medicated him enough so he was almost asleep. I went to my sister’s house, she lived in the city. Just as we were going to sleep that night we got a call to come back. When we returned to the hospital, his step dad told me they intubated him and he was in the ICU now. They wouldn’t let anyone go see him because he was so unstable. They said he may have to stay that way for a few days to clear up the fluid that had accumulated in his lungs. It was at that point that I had a talk with his mom. With the doctor I told her that Mark wasn’t coming home from this trip. She went into immediate shock. She said, “but I already bought his christmas present for next year…”. It was heartbreaking to see her break down in front of me with this realization. His sister was not ready either to even think about saying goodbye. The next day I told the doctors to take out the breathing tube. His family didn’t know what to do because Mark never filled out any power or attorney paperwork his mom insisted on (she was a financial advisor, she was always on top of this shit). They looked at me as though I was delusional, but we’d been together for 6 and a half years and I knew him better than anyone else. We’d had conversations about life support type of things before and he’d always said how miserable it would be and how he’d never want that. So we made the arrangements to do this.
A team of doctors, the surgeon and a flight of counsellors talked to his mom, dad, sister, and me. Not even his step dad. We all discussed what to do, the doctors explained the progression of his disease. I made a point of telling the surgeon how grateful I was for giving us one more year of Mark and how secure he felt with him (Mark hated doctors). He broke his stoicism to look me directly in the eye and tell me how sorry he was and how much that meant to him to hear that. The emotion I saw in his face told me that he was genuinely sad and sorry he couldn’t fix him. So together we agreed that we’d take out the tube and unhook all the machines and let him go peacefully. He was almost in a medically induced coma so he wouldn’t wake up or sputter or choke or anything, which I was REALLY worried about. I thought THAT would cause trauma I couldn’t bounce back from.
We all said our goodbyes one by one or two by two and then it was time to let him go. His sister and I went into the ICU holding hands, shaking like leaves. It was about 3:00. We didn’t look when they took everything off him, then went in to stand next to him as his heart slowly stopped. We were crying very hard individually and together. I watched his lips go from pink to purple to blue to grey. I watched his pulse on his neck grow fainter. I kissed his forehead and he felt clammy. I laid my head next to his and wrapped my arm around his head and told him I loved him and said goodbye. His sister thought she was hurting his hand squeezing it so hard, but I told her it was okay. His blood was pooling at that point and her squeeze pushed the blood away from his hand. It was a surreal experience because I was heavily crying and grieving but at the same time I was observing the physiological effects of death.
I brought my head back up and the sun came out. There was a window at his head that I hadn’t even noticed before and the sun shone on him as though signifying the end. -Now I’m not a religious person, or even really a spiritual person but I CANNOT ignore the peace that was felt when that sun started shining…
We didn’t want to leave him but we knew logically there was no one there anymore. We walked out at about 3:30/4:00 to meet the family and everyone lost control and we all had a good hard cry. I got a stack of little pill cups from the nurse’s station and poured everyone a shot of Mark’s scotch. We all toasted him in the waiting room of the hospital.