The new normal had been in practice for some months. Receiving chemotherapy, recovering from the treatment, then a short break before the cycle started all over again. It was the short breaks that she looked forward to the most, when they could be free from feeling really unwell, almost normal again. Apart from the changed taste buds, and unrecovered appetite. At least they could enjoy each other’s company and smoke their favourite cigarettes together. Although they came from vastly different backgrounds and family origins, they had been amazed that they had so much in common. “In sickness and in health,” they had said as a part of their wedding vows, and he had certainly fulfilled his part. The doting husband, always there to help, he had never missed any of the appointments. He would text or call her from work during the day. She really needed him during the weeks after chemotherapy, these were her low periods when she had never felt more unwell. At times she almost didn’t want to start the next cycle, but he managed to convince her each time. That this was something that they would be going through together. His devotion had kept her going throughout the tough days and nights. Even in the midst of illness she felt blessed as he was standing by his woman.
It was the week after cycle four, they were just about to enter the recovery phase, and had planned to take a small trip to their favourite beach. They hadn’t been since last summer, things had been too hectic. This would be their chance to get away from the city, and their problems. He had gone to work as usual, he had prepared her breakfast before leaving, allowing her to sleep in. It was getting close to lunch-time and she was looking forward to saying good morning to him, he’d usually call her during his lunch break. No call came. Strange. She texted him but there was no reply. She noticed that there was a message on their answerphone. She listened to the message, it was his boss. Asking her to call him. What’s going on? What’s happened?
Hello, I’m returning your call.
Hello, are you by yourself, are any of your family with you?
No, I’m home alone.
You’d better sit down.
What’s going on?
I’ve got some bad news, some really bad news.
What’s happened, has he been injured.
No, he wasn’t injured. He collapsed and there was no pulse. We called an ambulance and we started doing CPR.
No, is he all right?
The ambulance arrived and they took over. They worked on him for 45 minutes, but they couldn’t get his heart started again.
What, no…, she dropped the phone.
The next hours were a blur, she just couldn’t stop crying. She had somehow managed to ring her sister-in-law, who came over with his mother. All three ladies held each other as they cried in disbelief. They went to see him at the mortuary a few hours later. An autopsy had been authorised by the coroner to find the cause of death.
Massive clot in his left main coronary artery – Widow-maker lesion.
She didn’t want to live anymore, she really meant it. She wanted to join him but suicide was against her belief system. Life was just not worth living anymore. Her sister-in-law and mother-in-law moved in but they were experiencing their own grief at the same time. She instantly decided that she did not want any more cancer treatments, she had been doing it for him, but now that he was gone, she just didn’t see the point anymore.
The sisters came over to try to help, she couldn’t even cry anymore, she had finally run out of tears. The agony in her heart was intense, it burned her very soul. She couldn’t even remember the last conversation that they had, before saying goodnight to each other. She was not interested in any life-prolonging treatments now, she just wanted to die, the sooner the better.
She told the hospice staff, they sent in their counsellor, but it didn’t really help. Her mother-in-law tried to convince her to continue her treatment, but she had decided that she couldn’t do it. Not if he wasn’t here. She willed herself to be more unwell, the sooner she could die the better. The only relief she got was from smoking, she started going through more cigarettes.
When the nausea and vomiting started she was almost glad, although it did make her feel awful. The pain in her abdomen was worsening as well. She couldn’t control the symptoms and the hospice offered her an admission. She only agreed when they promised that they would not give her any life-prolonging treatments. They agreed not to, but she Googled what they had put her on anyway, just in case they were lying. They weren’t. Symptoms were better controlled, and her sisters wanted to organise a get-together. She thought of it as a chance for her to say goodbye to them all. It was a lovely time but her heart was too broken to really enjoy their company. She said what she thought would be her goodbyes.
The hospice people were nice enough, and she played by the rules, going outside to smoke. Over the next weeks her condition worsened, and people had to take her out in a wheelchair to smoke. She didn’t recognise herself in the mirror, she had continued to lose weight, and all she could see everywhere were her bones. She stopped looking in the mirror.
She needed to sleep more and she welcomed the escape from her living nightmare. Everything became much patchier, she refused food when it was offered to her, she just wanted to smoke. They had always smoked together, the familiar smell made it feel like he was there with her. If only that was the case.
She became so weak that she couldn’t get out of bed, but the pull of the nicotine withdrawal was strong. They had to wheel her out in her bed in order for her to smoke outside. She moved away from the huge bright white light, as she needed to make the small orange light of the burning cigarette tip. She was so weak that she needed assistance holding up her cigarettes, she had dropped one, and it had burned a hole in her blanket.
She could hardly understand what the doctor was talking about to her sister-in-law, something about Nicotine patches, that they might decrease the withdrawal syndrome. That the Nicotine withdrawal was waking her up from her coma, that it was preventing her from dying. She thought, what the hell they want me to quit smoking now? What’s it going to do, give me lung disease, hell, bring it on.
They applied something sticky on her left shoulder, and she felt more relaxed. Hey there was that white light again, she could see someone behind it, his arms wide open…