January 29, 2018 marked my first quiet morning with Matt. I’m not sure exactly what I did while I sat with him for those hours. The next five days are a blur, one day fading into the next. Sometimes I played music—our wedding song always at least once—sometimes I put on an audiobook for us, sometimes I gossiped and chatted about nonsense and filled him in on G and H, and sometimes I sat in silence listening to him breathe and measuring his breaths against my own.
Days earlier, the neuro-oncologist had suggested inpatient hospice over home hospice so I could simply be Matt’s wife again, and I hadn’t understood what she’d meant. But during these days in that quiet sunny room, I understood. For the first time, there were no tests to schedule or results to learn or doctors to badger. For the first time since June 6, 2016, I sat with Matt and I didn’t feel the stress of needing to keep running, keep moving and fighting. He was safe and he wasn’t in pain, and there was nothing for me to do but sit with Matt and let the rest of the world spin around us.
It’s a strange feeling to stop after so many months and days and hours of going. It’s a strange feeling to sit in a room and not hop up at each sound or think about the next moment or the one after that. To sit and be. Friends often texted me to ask if I wanted company during these solo hours and most of the time (some might even say all of the time), I told them I didn’t. It had been a long time since I’d been able to sit with Matt and just be. And a part of me was grateful to get these moments again—these moments to be with Matt without expectation, without willing him to be someone he couldn’t be anymore—even as I kept waiting to wake from this nightmare. The final contradiction of brain cancer, I suppose.
At some point in the afternoon, the nurses came in to help move Matt’s position. Rather than asking me to leave the room the way they had when G and H had been with me, they allowed me to stay. Matt’s eyes fluttered open for a fraction of a heartbeat. The nurses said it was likely only a reflex response, but nevertheless, when they left, I put my hand into Matt’s and squeezed, and—maybe I imagined it, maybe you can talk yourself into believing all sorts of things when emotions are running high and sleep is running low—but I was sure I felt a squeeze back.
When it was nearly time to pick up G and H from school, I told the nurses I was leaving for about an hour and I’d be back with the kids. The words came out with more emotion than I’d expected. And the nurses somehow understood. They told me that if anything happened while I was gone, Matt would know I was only not with him because I was taking care of his kids. And it gave me a kind of peace to believe that—to hope that on some level Matt understood I was doing my best to be in two places and be two people—his wife and G’s and H’s mother—and that he’d want me to be there for G and H, as much as they needed.
That night, I helped G and H with their homework on the floor beside Matt’s bed. We talked about their days as we ate dinner cross-legged, plates on our laps, on the couches and chairs surrounding Matt. Matt remained comatose—I still don’t know whether coma is the official word, but asleep doesn’t feel significant enough—but we were together. And it was easier to breathe when the four of us were together. It was easier to just be when we were all together.