Brain Cancer: Breathe, love, breathe

I posted this haiku on Facebook and Twitter this morning, inspired by the out-of-season flowers blooming on the dwarf Meyer lemon tree just inside our sunny bedroom patio door:
Sweetly intense fragrance
drifts from Meyer lemon blooms
Breathe, love, breathe!


The last line refers to where we are in this journey with Richard’s brain cancer: near an ending of sorts. “Of sorts” because I understand the end of life as a beginning of a new arc in the endless turning wheel of life itself, recycling what we thought of as “us” into new existences. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle, another can be drawn. That there is no end in nature but every end is a beginning.”

Thus my sense that this has been a week of firsts, not lasts, first steps in the life -transition we’re headed for more quickly than either Richard or I ever imagined.

For instance, Monday was the first time that Richard decided he’d rather eat dinner sitting up in bed, instead of transferring his wheelchair to be wheeled out to the dining table.

Tuesday brought his first-ever massage in a hospital bed, a gift of our friend and massage therapist who brings her portable massage table to our house once a month. “I can climb onto the table,” he said. He couldn’t. When Jeannie tactfully suggested that we just crank up the hospital bed for an in-situ session, he agreed.

Wednesday was the first time he allowed me to shave and sponge-bathe him in bed, instead of wheeling him into the bathroom. Also the first time he wore his Duofold night-shirt during the day instead my changing him into one of the button-down shirts he’s worn almost every day of his adult life. And that night marked the first time my fastidious love didn’t want to be wheeled to the bathroom to brush his teeth “Maybe tomorrow,” he said when I woke him up at bedtime.

Thursday, when I offered breakfast in bed because he was so groggy and weak, he consented, another first. And he who has always loved his food only ate about two-thirds of the special four-organic-whole-grain hot cereal I make for him every morning, topping it with his favorite homemade yogurt and fresh fruit.


Yesterday my once rudely healthy and active love stayed in bed all day for the first time (barring hospital days after his four brain surgeries, of course). He needed help just to sit up. And his smile, once a constant, appeared only one time.

Today for the first time ever, he wasn’t really interested in food. I got him to drink a cup of juice this morning; late this afternoon, Molly fed him a small cup of homemade yogurt the way he likes it best, mixed with fresh peaches, cinnamon and ginger.

You can probably see where these firsts are going. I certainly can.


Mind you, my love of the questing intellect, boundless creativity, and generous heart is still very much here. Up until today, he has spent an hour or two talking about his art over the breakfast table (or more lately, the breakfast tray in bed) with Molly and other friends. And he’s engaged in long and thoughtful discussions with a stream of visitors, talking about life, death and how the Buddhist concept of lovingkindness applies to our everyday existence.

One final first, another beginning out of endings: I started writing this post to the rich notes of Molly playing a medly of classical and folk music on her flute. She’s an incredibly talented flutist–she won a full-ride college music scholarship in middle school–but hasn’t picked up her instrument in years. Today, as a surprise for her daddy, she did. And he smiled. Two beautiful gifts.


On reflection, that last line of today’s haiku also seems like good instructions for life, wherever we are on the journey. Breathe, love, breathe. As long as you can. Again, and again…