Anne Hamilton’s real-time memoir A FOREVER DECISION, is about her journey through the grief of losing her beloved dog Camilla, and then finding that her Uncle Steve is suffering with terminal cancer. Begun in September, 2012, she is writing this memoir as the real-life events of her uncle’s illness unfold in order to record the grief process and help to heal through engagement in self-expression and community support. As a playwright and dramaturg, Anne has written articles, and appeared on internet and radio shows to speak on the Topic of Healing Through the Arts. For the past few years, she has been writing articles on Open to Hope’s website, which helps people to find hope after the loss of a loved one. This series was originally published there. She is pleased that this memoir is now appearing on the Grief and Loss blog of YourTribute.com.
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A Forever Decision (Part 10)
By Anne Hamilton
Uncle Steve went home. He’s back in his home after six weeks – one week in the hospital and five weeks in the rehabilitation center trying to strengthen his limbs so he could walk better.
In a strange way, I’ve had a strong emotional reaction against the move. I’ve cried like a baby. It took me a couple of days, but that’s what I did. If I can figure it out at all, it’s that I’m thinking, “This is the beginning of the end.” And that makes me really sad.
My Aunt Doris came home after rehabilitation after having a stroke. She was there for a couple of years and then she took a turn for the worse and went into the hospital. Those memories are bubbling up. She died several months after that. I would travel back and forth to visit her from my home in New York City.
I know that Uncle Steve’s doctors haven’t given him too many months to live. And he can last longer than that. But it’s the similarity of the situation that is getting to me. He could have only a few months left.
And I’ve remembered something that I didn’t write about in my earlier chapters. When I went to visit Uncle Steve in the rehabilitation center last month, his roommate died about an hour after I got there. Here’s how it happened: Sally was sitting near the curtain which separated the two beds and I saw her look over into the roommate’s side of the room, and she got a funny look on her face. I asked her what was wrong and she quietly mouthed, “I don’t think he’s breathing” so that Uncle Steve couldn’t hear it.
She went out to the nurse’s station and one of them came back with her. After a moment, the nurse rushed out and came back with another one. In what seemed like a careful, quiet ballet, the nurses went back and forth out of the room. They were up to four now. They pulled the curtain shut all the way.
Sally told me that the roommate had been breathing very heavily for about a day and a half. When he was quiet, she knew something was terribly wrong. We knew he was dead.
Uncle Steve asked what was going on. Sally walked over to his bed so that she could hear him clearly and said, “Your roommate has passed away.” He didn’t react. Hamiltons are stoical.
It took them about four hours to get the body out of the room. The nurses called the funeral home to come and pick up the body, and they were delayed. There were no free rooms in the nursing home to move my uncle to temporarily. So we sat there. And talked. With a body five feet away on the other side of the curtain. Although it was a serious situation, it had so many elements of farce.
It happened just an hour after I arrived to visit my uncle. What were the chances of that happening? Sally’s facial expression tipped me off, and then the nurses’ behavior confirmed it. And then, we sat there for a few hours with the body acting like nothing was wrong.
I buried the experience in my memory for a bit, and it surfaced when Uncle Steve arrived at home two days ago. Why did that happen?
I think that we are socialized, or just naturally, skirt around the topic of death, even when it is staring us in the face. That is why I’m writing these chapters. I feel that it is very, very important for me to become comfortable – or at least habituated – to talking and writing about death and loss. I think that the grieving and recovery period will be easier if I am used to handling my grief. I’m grieving already, even though he’s still with me.
I was hit with a wave of pain about my dog, Camilla, yesterday. I went back to that first day near the end when she had a stroke and I rushed her to the vet’s office. A team surrounded her and the vet told me that she might fall asleep and not wake up. I had to leave her, and I cried all the way home, feeling horror that I might lose my beloved dog. It was so close and so real. I repeated those hard, fresh tears yesterday, and really wanted her back. This will be my first Christmas in ten years without her, and we usually have really quiet Christmas holidays in my house, with quiet time shared between me and the dogs. I really miss Camilla.
The reality with Uncle Steve’s cancer – it’s really too much to think about and process. My emotions feel raw. I am not looking forward to visiting Uncle Steve next week – in a way – because I spent so many deliriously happy Christmases in his house while I was growing up. I know that’s selfish of me. But I will go, and I will be happy to see him, once I gather up my courage.
I couldn’t write anything down yesterday, and I should have. It would have helped me to keep my emotions fluid and maybe it would have helped me feel better sooner. I really feel that it’s crucial for me to face my emotions and fears promptly so that I can deal with this very sad situation in the best way possible. It’s really too painful for me, and I have to find a strategy to get through it.
My instinct and experience tells me the more I can talk about death, and face my underlying fears, the better I’ll come out of the situation when I do lose Uncle Steve. This grief is bringing up years-old grief, and stirring up recent grief as well. Loss begets loss. And old wounds are being reactivated. My heart is slowly breaking and I have to keep it together.
Copyright Anne Hamilton 2012
Updated: October 11, 2013