The challenge in writing about June 8, 2016 is finding a way to distill an endless day into 500 words. How do I tell the story in a way that that does justice to a day in which hope bloomed and burned, and heartache was matched moment for moment by love and friendship?
I’ve told a part of this story before (April 7), recalled when the neurosurgeon found Matt’s father and me in the sunny surgical wing waiting room and motioned for us to come talk around the corner. I’ve written about sitting on plastic chairs and that moment when the neurosurgeon hung his head and told us, based on his experience, the tumor he removed from Matt’s brain was cancerous (although a pathology report would confirm that diagnosis). And I’ve shared that the neurosurgeon said that patients generally respond well to treatment, and their lives continue relatively unchanged.
I did not write about how my world shattered the moment I heard the tumor was cancerous. How every breath and thought and dream for my future vanished in an instant. I did not write how that single glimmer of hope I’d held on to since the day before burned out and dimmed out of existence and I was left in the dark.
I went numb. I went blank. The tears stinging the backs of my eyes didn’t belong to me. The crushing weight on my chest was a stranger’s battle for breath. I was living someone else’s nightmare. This couldn’t happen to me, or Matt, or the kids, or our families.
After the neurosurgeon left us, while Matt was in recovery, Matt’s dad and I returned to the solitary quiet of the ICU waiting room. Away from the sunny windows and the curious stares of the other visitors still anxiously awaiting news of their own loved one. I don’t know what we did, what we talked about it or how much time had passed. It felt like seconds. It could have been hours. I only remember my phone buzzing with a text from a friend, saying something along the lines of: we haven’t heard from you, so we came; we’re here, outside, if you need us.
My heart rate spikes just thinking about that walk from the ICU waiting room to the front doors and that step outside, into a world that had traitorously kept spinning. Everything, the stress of the day, the news the doctor had delivered, the statistics I’d read online the night before, crashed through me and I realized: this wasn’t someone else’s nightmare; it was my reality. And I broke down, began to tumble deeper into that darkness.
The two friends, who’d come without knowing whether I’d even take their call, found me. They sat beside me and didn’t let me fall without a safety net. They knew to be there even before I knew I’d need them there. See? Love and friendship matched moment for moment with heartbreak.
After the breakdown, when the tears and shaking mostly subsided, I told them with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t fall apart again. They told me it was okay if I did. I said I know, but that’s not me. Because, after the crash, in that utter darkness, my mind had already latched onto the next glimmer of hope, those words the neurosurgeon uttered: Most people respond well to the treatment, and, our life wouldn’t change.
I couldn’t know he was probably speaking more short term than long term. But it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d found my next glimmer of hope, my way out of the darkness. And when that one burned out, I found another, and then another.
(As it turned out, I did break down again, but I made it well over a year before the next meltdown. So more a half-truth than a full lie.)
Yesterday I said I refused to believe our story would have anything but a happy ending. I said I reached for a glimmer of hope, eschewing what I’d read on Google, and chose hope over despair. On June 8, 2017, I believed we were one MRI away from happily ever after.
Today, June 8, 2018, I know our story does not have a happy ending. I know the heartaches and heartbreak waiting in the wings to smother one glimmer of hope after another. But I never look back and wish I hadn’t always found a new glimmer of hope in the darkness. I never look back and think it would have been easier not to reach so high after every heartbreak.
Knowing all that I now know, I know hope (with a little friendship and a little love mixed in) was the only way out of that utter darkness.