Watching you die

Jan Haag taught journalism, English and creative writing at Sacramento City College for more than three decades before her 2021 retirement. A former magazine editor, she is the author of Companion Spirit, a collection of poems about her husband’s death published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press. She leads in-person writing groups in Sacramento, as well as virtual ones, in which the topic of grief and loss often arises. Read more of her beautiful writing here.

Well, you don’t die during the week I visit—you want as much
time as you can get on the planet, and you’re getting it—but you’re so close,
you say, that you can see St. Peter when you’re in the shower.
In the shower? I ask.
You know, it’s a kind of confessional, you say, sounding like a true lapsed Catholic.
Is it? I press. Because that’s what BFFs do. Talk about the weird stuff.
When was the last time you went to confession?
About 1963, you say, and we burst into the kind of laughter that can make
a girl pee her pants.
Which in your case, dealing with all manner of incontinence,
not to mention being a fall risk every time you stand, is not advised.
But what the hell, you say. I haven’t got long. Don’t tell him.
As if your husband/caretaker for the achingly 17 long years doesn’t know?
I shouldn’t ask, but… You think he doesn’t know? falls out of my mouth.
You shrug, yank the big blanket around you, poof back on the pillows.
He’s focused on the next pain pill.
You say this with a fentanyl-laced sucker in your mouth, the stick poking
out one corner of your cracked lips. It looks like something a kid would love.
A highly-addicted-70-year-old-opioid-addict-with-gawdawful-painful-metastatic-colon-cancer-whose-teeth-fell-out-and-now-has-artificial-chompers kind of kid.
And your husband is focused on your next pain pill. Or sucker. Or suppository.
I ache for him, this man well into his 70s who should be comfortably retired,
the attorney still working from home defending incarcerated clients two states away,
caring for four females—you, your youngest daughter, her two little girls,
all in a too-small house—not to mention the three cats and the dog also
literally on his last legs. I walk the old golden lab a few times a day for exercise,
which he loves, but he falls more than once, too. I hoist up his back end,
and he toddles off again.
I don’t know which one of you will go first.
Either way, I don’t say, your husband will have to deal with both.
Not to mention the heat sweltering the unairconditioned house on Oyster Bay
this godawful June because who needs A/C in the Pacific Northwest? People who
hadn’t heard of climate change six decades earlier—that’s who. Oh, and a pandemic.
Crises of major proportions heading right at all of you like an ocean liner making
straight for an iceberg. You can see ’em coming, but mostly you don’t look.
Still, you say, mostly bedbound, sleeping 20ish hours a day, it’s not as if I can do
anything about it.
No, you can’t, I agree, resisting the urge to add, not any of it.
You give me a soft look. I’m so glad you came. I can’t talk to anyone else about this.
I raise an eyebrow. About dying?
Yeah, you say. No one wants to talk about it. Go figure.
Chortles burst from us both. I do, I say.
Yeah, you say. You’re funny that way.
And that cracks us up even more, making the whole bed cleanup that follows
worth it, we agree.
So, so worth it.

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