Days turns to weeks and on to months. Catherine and he face their regular treatments with a smile, but the pressure and tension never disappears. His symptoms improve. Hers deteriorate. She needs more time, more chemo, more assurances. His need for transfusions disappear. His blood counts improve. The disparity is obvious. He does not know what to say or do.
Their trips are fewer and fewer. Picnics are shorter. She sleeps more. Is thinner. Conversations are less lively and tend to sadness. Is this what he will face if his treatments fail? Has his approach at remaining optimistic helped? Has her existence played a role? How do friends help in a time of need. Why has his friendship not helped her? Has he focused too much on himself?
“Can we talk?” She takes his hand.
They again are on the river taking another walk. The day is gorgeous. Temperature just right. Another blue sky.
“Of course. Are you ok?
“No, I met with my doctor yesterday. The latest test does not look good.”
He knows this is coming. She has not looked well. He has grown to like her on so many levels, and sees what is now likely. He feels so lucky that his time has not come, after being told he could die in 4 weeks. Now, he is with someone who played such a role in his success. She is failing.
“I don’t know what to say, Catherine. Help me understand what you feel. What you want from me. This is new, and I am an idiot. Forgive me.”
“Why should you know what to do. Who really does? I don’t know what to do.”
More discomfort. “I should know. I need to know. I want to help. To be there. You should not be alone.
She bumps his shoulder. “You have been great. Do not think anything else. Facing the prospects of death is impossible, I believe. I am doing the best I can, and things are just not working. I am not particularly religious. Afterlife has no meaning to me.”
Guilt. “I have been so lucky. What I have is a threat, but the medicine has worked so far. Everyone says I look great. It’s like, am I really sick, but then, I, too, have to have my shots on Monday morning. Without those, where would I be?”
“Why should you feel guilty? Your treatments have worked. Mine has not. It’s not your fault.”
“I guess I can’t tell myself that it’s ok to consider my situation,” he says. “It has turned out so much better than what could have happened.”
She takes his arm. “Perhaps it is ok not to understand how to handle relative disasters. You do the best you can and show empathy as best you can. You might not get it right, but no one is perfect.”
“How long?” He asks.
“A few months.”
To be continued…