Tomorrow is the day I have been dreading all semester. It is our last day of lecture for this semester, and the topic is going to be "Death and Dying". And while everyone is listening to the physiology of death and the physical changes of dying, I will be sitting there with my mental images, having watched the changes take place in my once dynamic and engaging son. As they talk about the emotions of the patient as they look death in the face, I will be recalling a conversation in which my 13 year old informed us of his wishes if he were to ever be on a ventilator in a state where recovery was not possible. When they talk about the aftermath, the care of the body, the potential familial and caregiver reactions and how to help them, I will be swamped with the memories of that hollow aftermath. There are others in class who have felt loss. I am not the only one. I wonder if they are afraid tonight too?
When I started back at school, my classes took me to many places that were hard for me to face. The immune system in particular was disturbing as I saw all the ways it was supposed to work and thus all the ways it did not in my child. The way cancer cells work, the Paris Hiltons of body cells, immature and refusing to grow up, doing nothing but sucking up resources and propagating their own kind while contributing nothing useful to the function of the whole. The kinds of viruses and the risks of immunosuppression, the way lungs work and the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. How narcotics function...all the little chinks in the armor of my determination and the careful facade of my polite and dignified grief. I have done well with them all. And I have enough experience to know - these moments of abject fear are more in my mind than in reality, and their actual happening have always been far less traumatic than my own mental build-up and fear of them. And I hope that is the case again tomorrow. But right now I am wondering why I chose a seat in the middle of the class, third row back, the row where instructors tend to stand as they lecture and where I am least likely to make a quick, dignified get-away out of the line of curious eyes. I know I won't fall apart. But I am pretty sure that will be a matter of pure determination.
Maybe I am just tired tonight, but I dread this. Joe took me out tonight. We had sushi and mini margaritas and went to Home Depot and bought Knockout roses for the backyard. We rented a movie and drank a little wine and laughed and flirted and played. I was so relieved to get out of the house that my eyes teared up when we left. I needed that respite. And I am sure it has helped with the intensity of dread I am feeling right now. But it doesn't change that it will happen. I can only look forward to this time tomorrow night, when it will be over and life back to normal with nothing further in the immediate future to spark this panic that I have not felt in quite some time now. I will be glad when tomorrow is through.