Even though he was receiving a steady and very high dose of Dilauded through his pain pump, the day before he died Doug awoke in a panic about every 90 minutes, grabbing wildly for the pump so he could get an extra dose. And even though the extra dose was immediately dispensed, it was too slow to protect Doug from the intense pain that the ever-growing cancer inflicted throughout his body, from his thighs all the way up to his chin.
Each time I clicked the pump, I reset my phone’s 15 minute timer. For 24 hours straight that timer was, in a sense, a lifeline. It allowed me to finally do something to help the man I loved so dearly, the man who had shown me what it feels like to be adored and cherished and completely loved.
My cot was next to Doug’s bed and I stretched my leg over so my foot could touch his leg. If I dozed during the night, the timer’s alarm awoke me so I could click that button on the pump, sometimes with a vengeance. “Fuck you, cancer! You will NOT win this final battle! You will not pass by me to reignite terror in my beloved. FUCK YOU!!!!”
The next day, November 5, 2016, my Love was peaceful. I continued to administer extra doses for him throughout the day. I caressed his arm, held his hand, and noticed how hot his skin felt. When I asked a nurse to take his vitals, we learned that Doug’s temperature had risen to nearly 104 degrees.
Doug had been determined to make it to his 52nd birthday, November 7th, but I knew he was suffering and so I posted a public request on Facebook asking everyone who saw it to please help Doug let go. I sang him Happy Birthday and then I received two videos of others singing to him, one from his entire department at Benefis Health System (Doug was an IT guy) and the other from his dear friend, Jake Rose & family.
Throughout the day I played those videos and talked to Doug, trusting that he could hear me. I had called Doug’s parents that morning to let them know this could be Doug’s last day. They arrived around 4pm and his mother declared, “I’m here for the duration!” The determination in her voice told me the mama bear spirit had arisen in her too. I was so relieved to have her company that I slept deeply for several hours.
At about 8:25pm Doug’s daughters, Zena and Olivia, texted me saying they would like to sing to their dad. I put them on speaker phone after telling Doug what was happening and they sang the most beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday I’ll ever hear. After their song the girls cheerfully said, “We love you, Daddy!” and we ended the call. Immediately, Doug’s breathing changed. His mother jumped up from the couch and went to his right side while I stayed on his left side, grasping his forearm and hand, gently assuring him through my tears, “It’s okay, Beloved. It’s okay to go.” Doug took three long, deep breaths. He exhaled fully. His body lay still. My beloved was free.
Doug has been free for four weeks now. And I have traded places with him.
My grief sometimes feels like a heavy, dark overcoat, pushing my head beneath the waterline. I returned to work this week and am using an alarm to wake me up every morning. Even though the chime is different from my timer’s alarm, each time I am awoken, my eyes bolt open and I reach for that pump, then I slowly realize that I am not beside my beloved in Hospice, I am alone, in our bed, with no pump to ease my pain.
“Stop it!”… “Stop it!” Those are the last words I heard my beloved say. And they are the words I find myself saying, internally, now.