On April 23, 2017, I sent this text to a friend: This is G in a nutshell. She watches Matt try to fill a water bottle over and over without taking off the lid then we get in the car and I drive. She asks why I’m driving. I say because daddy’s not feeling like himself. She says, completely straight faced, “I haven’t noticed anything different about daddy.”
It’s funny because until I re-read that text, I didn’t remember Matt trying and failing to fill the water bottle. That memory was lost in the blur of dozens upon dozens of other moments exactly like it. But now, I remember. Matt’s frustration at failing to understand why the water was spilling all over the floor. My (hopefully patient) attempts to tell him to take the lid off the bottle. His burst of steroid-fueled anger because he didn’t need my help.
I didn’t yet have the vocabulary in place, the clinical terms necessary to describe to the Duke nurse, who I was now calling a couple of times a day, what was happening with Matt. I could only give examples. He forgot to open the lid to a water bottle, he’s mixing up words and struggling to read, he’s irrational and agitated. But boiling down Matt’s mental decline into two or three examples wasn’t enough. It wasn’t then and, even now, it feels insufficient.
Because a few examples can’t describe the scope of what the kids and I were seeing, how every word and action and thought was impacted from morning until night. It wasn’t just that he tried and failed to fill a water bottle, it was that he didn’t choose his favorite bottle, and he didn’t rant about politics or bore me to tears with fantasy sports updates while he filled the bottle, and he didn’t look at me like he’d been looking at me for over ten years when I spoke to him. It was all of that, all the time.
And regardless of G’s spontaneous declaration in the car, she and H did see. The issue of what do we tell the kids returned, but this time Matt wasn’t there to wordlessly agree on a message and I was left trying to explain the unexplainable on my own. I asked the kids if they wanted to talk about anything going on with Daddy. They said no and changed the subject. And, for better or worse, I let them.
So instead of talking, we rode bikes. The kids rode ahead. Matt fell behind. Choices had to be made and I couldn’t bring myself to introduce the word cancer into their world, or to admit how savagely it had invaded mine.