Sunday, March 19, 2023

Crawling Through Hell

 I’m sorry if this dream is triggering, but I just woke up in the middle of the night…and I HAD to write it down:

I’ve found a place that offers death with dignity. It’s a small facility, not widely publicized because they’re worried about the public’s reaction.

I meet with the doctor—the owner—and sign all of the preliminary paperwork. “You don’t look sick. Why do you want our assistance?”

“I have terminal cancer,” I say.

She looks over the mountain of papers I’ve brought, and nods. “I’ll have to confer with your oncologist in Utah and several other healthcare professionals in the area, but it does appear you’re a likely candidate. Congratulations.”

Congratulations?! I nod sadly, innately knowing this person will someday help me die.

A few months pass, and before I know it, I’m back at the facility. They give me a puce hospital gown, and I place my regular clothes in a nook, wondering what will happen to them after I die. Will they be donated, or get pawed through by a hapless janitor?

Soon I’m wearing the ugly gown, waiting for the last time in my life. I’ve opted to die with other people. So, there I am, with others who can no longer abide the suffering.

A younger man sits on a metal bed to the west of me. He’s staring blankly as the owner walks around, giving each patient a “gift bag.” 

“There’s a bottle in each bag. Please drink this,” she says, pointing to a pink concoction she’s procured. “It’ll make you less anxious.”

The younger man next to me downs his drink in an instant, then—before I can drink mine—he turns to me imploringly. “Can I hug you?” he asks. “I want my last memory to be…I want to pretend someone cared.”

I’m dumbfounded. So, instead of drinking my pink medicine cocktail, I step off my bed onto the cold tile floor. There might be germs, but I’m finally immune because I’m about to die anyway. I hug the man, this stranger. I don’t know why, but it just comes to me. “You’re beautiful,” I say. It’s odd, but it resounds so perfectly that the man clutches the gown’s fabric on my back, and he cries

“My mother used to say that. You know…she thought I was beautiful. But, she died when I was young.”

Soon his eyes appear droopy, and he has a faraway look. I’ve lost him somewhere along the journey, and he struggles to sit back on his bed. The owner rushes over. “Neither of you should be standing. I need you to drink that drink,” she says.

I sit down, telling myself to be brave, but as I study the dozen-or-so patients in that room, spotting the IV stands next to each one, I realize they’ve already lost the light in their eyes.

“Just drink it,” she says, after I’m lying on the metal bed once more.

I pull the drink from my bag but don’t comply. Instead, I watch the doctor hook up various IVs that make the patients close their eyes and then find the stillness of death. 

My heart races. I think of Mike and my kids—my reasons for living. I suddenly picture Mike, sitting in our bedroom, wondering why I wouldn’t let him come. I picture Ruby, unaware of my choice, happily tattooing a stranger. I envision Sky, making everyone’s day bright as she walks through a local campus. And I see Trey and Indy both taking finals in school. 

I think of my own test, the test of life and how I’ve come here because I couldn’t handle the physical pain. And as I zone out on a patient across the room, I remember a strange conversation with Trey.

“I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.”

He gapes at me. “You wouldn’t make it through hell.”

“Oh, yes, I would!” I say. “If it meant I could raise each of you. I’d do it, just for the chance.”

His features soften, and a smile surfaces on his face. “I love you, Mama.”

The owner shuffles up to me. “I have too many people here. You opted to die with others. I’m facilitating that, but I can’t be the babysitter. I need you to drink that!”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“It’s too late she says. You’ve signed the paperwork.”

“It’s not too late.” I’m thinking about my children, my husband, and that strange conversation with my little boy. The woman shakes her head. “I should’ve known you’d be difficult. People like you always are.”

My face lights with  fire—I’m so angry. And I turn to her. “I want to live until I simply can’t anymore.”

I don my clothes and leave that place of death and heartache. As I take the bus to Idaho, back home, I’m still replaying that conversation with Trey. My back aches with every bump. The nerves in my arms and legs turn to fire with each movement since the cancer has eaten through so much of my spine. But I don’t care anymore. I realize I’d do anything for one more moment with Mike and my children. I’d fight almost anyone just to see them—hold them—one more time. In fact, I’d even fight the spirit of death himself. And THAT is ironically exactly what I’m doing.

I remember Trey’s eyes, filled with pride and wonderment when I talked to him years before. “I’d walk through hell, just for the chance to be your mom.” And I realize that’s what this has become.

Each day I’m striving to find the good, rise above the pain, grasp at shreds of hope, and make the best possible life for my family. It isn’t easy, but at least I can say I’m really trying. Tears slide down my face as I sit on that beautifully mundane bus. My hands are clasped tightly in front of me…I can hardly wait to see Mike and the kids again.

Then, I woke up.

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