I was born in a place people only passed through on their way to somewhere else. I was raised at a vague address, in a locale that went unnoticed, and no one bothered to put energy into forgetting. God created the heavens and the earth from nothingness. I know this for a fact, because that’s where I lived.
Every star across the heavens has its place before evening falls, but I was 30 years into my life and no space felt right. Numbness was a sanctuary, a lie spilled from a bottle, and when people passed me on their way to someone else, I went unnoticed. I expected it and accepted it.
Eventually, I settled into a marriage that made everyone happy but me, because that’s what I thought people did.
It is at this place the journey began. After a lifetime of no meaningful identity, I found her, and with her came the pride of being called “hers.” The joy in my heart spilled over when I imagined a place where we could live together in a place called “ours.” I finally knew the full potential of life in my every breath as long as her life included me.
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Our souls craved to be together. I told her I loved her while we were stacking chairs in a storage closet. I was shocked when she said she loved me, too. From that point on, our lives became uncontrolled, like a tornado. It was never our intention, but we destroyed homes and families to be together.
It took over a year, but we finally blew from one coast to the other. While our wake exposed the bloody carnage of our divorces, the calm was worth it. Wherever we landed, we were home. Our love eventually provided us a sanctuary and a place of gathering for the interesting and talented souls we befriended on our adventures.
It was an eloquent reflection of who we were and how much we loved each other. During those 20 years, we continually rediscovered our joy.
We invited many into our home to share our delight except one: cancer.
We fought valiantly to stay together throughout the next four years. As our world eroded, we became the driftwood that kept the other afloat.
Unwelcome changes were constant. Cancer forced her from walking to using a cane, then to a wheelchair, and ultimately into a hospital bed.
Still, she chose to have the bed by the window in the living room so she could see outside and interact with the visitors we hoped would still visit. We saw the eyes of those who did visit transform from support to pity.
Together, we witnessed the optimism of our doctors wear down as the disease progressed. She suffered more and more indignities as time went on, including the loss of most of her vision. Her body was dying in pieces.
We held each other tightly as hope slipped from our hands, but eventually we recognized the futility of fighting any further and called hospice. She passed in the calm of an early morning seven months later, as I caressed her face. I wish I had, too.
But, in the course of her struggle, one very welcome and unexpected blessing befell us. We grew more deeply in love. As the 1,224 days passed by, the number of days from our diagnosis to her death, we found every hour magnified us, her smiles became treasures I still keep, and her touch transcended into privilege only we could understand.
As her body painfully declined, our hearts merged into something stronger than death. It is now a place only the two of us can go, and that is forever.
Cancer cannot kill forever.
I fully devoted four years of my life to her protection, comfort and dignity. It sounds selfish to say this, but I miss it. I long for that singular life purpose. I yearn to inhale those noble breaths again.
I also look back on that time as my wife’s most admirable years. She endured so much physical pain for so long but with such grace that I cannot put her great courage out of my mind. Two years after her passing, I am still absorbing the lessons she taught me through her suffering. She will always be my hero and teacher, and that, too, is forever.
But for now, I live in an empty emotional state people only pass through on their way to someone else, on a small parcel of land in a house where all were once welcomed, but no one visits.
God has returned the heavens and earth to nothingness, including me.
Bob Marcotte of Fresno is music minister at St. Columba’s Church. He also is an author and photographer. His blog is www.besidesthecancer.org.