Copyright 2013 by Blair Atherton
What goes through the mind of someone who is dying slowly over weeks, months, or years of a disease like cancer? We try to imagine what they think about, but we can’t really. We try to find things to talk about to take their mind off of the pain, sorrow, and anxiety, but we can’t be sure they are listening.
What goes through a person’s mind when they know they will not get better, only weaker. What goes through someone’s mind when they realize that their independence is gone and they can never go home again? What goes through a person’s mind when they know they must leave their loved ones behind not knowing if they will ever see them again?
We do our best to make them comfortable, bring them foods they like, and celebrate their lives through old family photos. They may cry in response to old familiar songs that elicit a host of fond memories of the past. We try to tell them that they should be happy and thankful for these things remembered. Still they grieve for days gone by that cannot be relived. They lament the empty days ahead in a life fading away slowly and methodically.
We see their jaw and lips quiver as they reach for a bite of food. Their hands shake as they reach for their glass. We struggle to conceal our sorrow in seeing someone who was so strong and steady, now so tentative and frail. We try to be strong but sometimes after we’ve gone home, the night is too long and we break down. But that doesn’t matter because the night is always too long for them.
We want very much to somehow ease their transition, but we don’t know how. So we go back to be with them the next day and the next in the hope that our presence will somehow make them feel better and less anxious. All we can really do is let them know how much we love them.
What is going through their minds? We try to imagine, but we can’t. The night is too long.