Keep it to Yourself

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judysflowersfinal1.jpgAfter a long and successful career in broadcast journalism in Houston, North Texas and Oklahoma, Judy Overton joined MD Anderson in 2008 as a senior communications specialist. Her husband, Tom, was treated at MD Anderson for renal cancer. He died in April 2007. Judy's occasional posts will cover aspects of the cancer experience from the caregiver's perspective. Read more posts in this series

I wish people who have never experienced the loss of a loved one would keep things to themselves.

An acquaintance said to me she felt people could recover from a debilitating illness if they had a strong faith. I immediately gave her my two cents. I have first-hand knowledge that is not the case.

Letting him go
Tom's last day on earth was a beautiful, sunny April day. The annuals were at their height of bloom. A palette of colors decorates our lawn every spring.

Almost two weeks had passed since Tom left MD Anderson and was under hospice care in our home. Family and close friends came to see him for the last time. Every day was a mini-party, of sorts, because he was still alert enough to "hold court."

So, this particular day didn't have any mark of the end, at least not the way it started. My sister, Joanie, and the hospice nurse raised Tom on the lift to give him a bath. Not long afterward, Tom, sitting up in bed and looking very boyish, received the Viaticum from our parish deacon.

But then, the hospice nurse pulled me aside, "You have got to let him go," she said. I thought to myself, "But I have!"

She continued, "Every time he hears your footsteps coming up the hallway, he wakes up. He's worn out. You're worn out. The room needs to be quiet. You can talk to him, but whisper."

That was around 10:00 a.m. I sat by Tom's bedside for awhile, caressing him, and whispering to him that it was OK, that the boys and I would be OK.

Healthy heart, ravaged body

Occasionally, I stepped away to a nearby room to allow the quiet to take over. Throughout the day, Tom's breathing became more arduous. With every release of a breath, he also released a moan. The nurse had given him all the morphine that the law would allow. He was in pain, but his heart kept pounding.

Not realizing Tom was delivering rattled breaths, my sister Joanie asked, "Is that Chocolate (our dog) crying to be let inside?" "No, actually, that's Tom," I responded.
The youthful 53-year-old heart gave in a little more than 12 hours later. We gave anyone who needed a moment a chance to view Tom before we called the funeral home to remove his body.

As we sat in the living room, more than likely in a state of shock and exhaustion, Joanie reflected on what she saw during Tom's bath. She was horrified at the number of tumors on his back. "They were eating him alive," Joanie said.

But now he is at peace.

I am riddled with loss and anxiety even after five years. I wish my state of mind could be at a peaceful place, particularly when people say things, because they just don't know.

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