Last night was a hard night.
I awoke at 2 am to my partner, the love of my life, in absolute agony.
I can still hear her cries of pain.
She was in the throes of a violent migraine.
She has a neurological condition and migraines are a frequent occurrence.
This one was particularly bad.
She could not walk on her own or even see straight.
She was shaking.
She began to heave from the pain.
I frantically ran to get a trash bag, stumbling over things in the dark to get her something, anything to throw up in.
I managed to grab a trash bag after what seemed like an eternity.
She threw her head into the trash bag. I could hear her gasping and choking through the bag.
I felt helpless.
When she caught her breath, she said she needed to go to the hospital.
I help dress her, shaking internally but trying to remain calm.
I know she needs me.
I know that I need her.
Seeing my loved one in excruciating pain was agonizing.
Time slips to a crawl.
The world grows dark and static.
There’s a foreboding feeling in the air. Like the corners of your vision are growing darker.
The circle is closing. Time is running out.
My heart was racing and I felt the sting of adrenaline with every moan and cry she made.
I felt a loss of control.
I felt my world crashing down.
I just wanted to help her. Ease her pain for only a moment.
My love, you don’t deserve this.
I am so sorry.
But you are so strong. You took my hand and stumbled to my truck.
You threw up in my truck. You groaned at every bump we hit.
The air on this February night was frigid and biting.
The chill of the night air had an extra pang of panic-laded indifference.
Why was this happening to such a precious soul?
Where is the justice? Where is the mercy?
I felt the world grow colder and the road stretch further and further, seeming to never end.
“Are we there yet?”, she mutters.
“We are almost there dear”, I try to assure her.
It’s 3 am now, and we are sitting in a triage room in the ER.
She has just received a cocktail of medicine for pain and nausea.
She lies back in her hospital stretcher.
She begins to softly snore. It was gentle and beautiful. A sign of relief.
The lights are dim and I am alone in the room with her.
All I see are the faint flashing lights of her monitor by the bed.
I remember sitting there quietly feeling so grateful for those tiny snores.
I know the medicine is working.
I know her pain has subsided.
She is resting.
After a while, she awakens.
I touch her hand as she says she is okay and she thinks we can go home.
I sigh a longing, deep internal relief. My mind is both exhausted and frenzied.
I get her discharge papers and slowly walk her to the truck.
The drive home is a little warmer.
I get her into bed.
She grabs my hand and thanks me weakly, but kindly.
I lay down beside her.
The weight of the night hits and I begin to tear up.
It’s 4:30 am now.
She begins to breath heavily again as she doses off.
All is quiet again and I am left with an ocean of thoughts and emotions.
That was scary.
That was real.
That was raw.
Her migraines come and go and we are fortunate that it is non-life threatening as far as we know.
But it was still hard.
My mind starts to wander as I lay still.
The silence of the room is strange against the backdrop of my screaming mind.
My thoughts are like endless flashes of light jarring me awake, keeping me in this purgatory of anguish.
I think about all of my patients back at work with cancer and organ failure.
I think about my patient last week who told me he didn’t really care about receiving a kidney transplant because his wife just died.
I think about my grandmother who died in my arms last year.
I think about how my 20s so swiftly bled into my 30s.
Things are different now.
I am older. We are older.
The pangs of morbidity, but especially mortality are setting in.
Mortality is not just something vague and abstract like it once was for me. I have felt it personally. It has let itself in and whispered in my ear. I have felt its cold fingertips streak across my skin as I age.
Perhaps the feelings of helplessness I felt last night reminded me of the helplessness I felt seeing my grandparents die. Knowing that there was nothing I could do. I am truly helpless, waiting for the black tide.
I can see the wave of death, sweeping up everything in its path.
When it touched my grandparents, it was the first time that I felt death, intimately.
Their deaths made Death personal.
And I was helpless in the face of it.
I kept thinking that I know that it will likely end for me or my partner with a similar trip to the hospital.
Will it be a frenzied rush like this night or a slow burn from a debilitating disease?
Will death be swift or out-stay its welcome?
The morbid fascination with the pain and suffering of death hovered over me like some sinister spirit.
I tried to push these thoughts out of my mind, for I knew it would lead to a darker place.
I know my mind.
My 30s have been the years of disillusionment.
I can no longer afford the luxury of my youth, in thinking that I am somehow impartial to the rhythms of this world as life bleeds into death which pours back into life.
The cycle frightens me when I can see it so closely and personally.
When the years layer on and the weight and fragility of our fallible bodies become more and more evident.
Last night was a hard night.
It was not life or death, but it scared me.
It shook me, awakened me in some strange way to our mortality and our true helplessness in it.
Death, pain, sorrow, and loss are coming for us all. We have no say in the matter.
But I will not let my light go out. And I will not let thoughts of death keep me from living.
The opposite actually.
Times like these are a stark reminder of death. And it is important, oh so important, to remember death.
Reflections on death are the springboards to life, forcing us in the here and now, to the beauty of it all.
And to the beauty of love.
Just like death begets life, thoughts of death can beget new inspirations for life.
And that’s when I choose to decide that I will let mortality work for me. In the here and now.
I will fight each day for the ones that I love, knowing this time is so fleeting and precious.
It’s been such a transformative year falling in love again. I mean deeply, truly caring for someone and giving my life and my everything for them.
Despite all of my travels and challenges, it all meant nothing until I took that wealth of experience and self-love and turned it into love for others. For my partner, Bonnie.
I have found what it truly means to love someone. To care and sacrifice for someone.
To quietly sob for someone in a dark hospital room, when you would gladly carry their pain at a moment’s notice.
This is love.
It’s not always light and playful.
Love is heavy and hard.
But this experience is reassuring that I am on a wonderful journey despite the pain and the struggle.
The pain means that I care. That I am living. And I will take that as reassurance for the future.
I fought so hard to let love back into my life. To stoke away the flames of cynicism and apathy.
I would never have it any other way and I have never felt a greater sense of purpose through the joy and the hardships.
And this love, after all is said and done, will still be there, floating it’s way through the cosmos.
So even though death scares me sometimes, I know the love that we embody and the love that I am learning to cultivate with others….
Death can never touch this.
And so I choose to live, and to be grateful for every moment of health and vitality.
I love you Bonnie.