Half Empty

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I’ve come to a moment of discovery that the proverbial glass is actually not half full, but in reality is half empty. This is not a simple optimist / pessimist outlook, but an actual check on the facts.

Dave is dying.

Until now – from the terminal cancer diagnosis in October, through radiation in December, past the Tarceva incident in January – the glass has been half full of hope, overachiever expectations, a sense of having time, and beating the odds (overreaching the six month hospice timeline and being part of the 10% who survive the first year). Now, the innermost thought of death has burst forth and cannot be denied.

Finding a suitable meal for Dave is a chore these days. Usually he drinks an Ensure Plus chocolate drink with supplemental powder at breakfast and dinner. Maybe he’ll have pudding or fruit or ice cream at lunch or as a late snack. Food is love, comfort and nourishment. When I think about it, the emotion of love is tied to eating from the moment of birth (even through pregnancy). At the end of life, eating and appetite wane or disappear altogether.

Dave bravely tries some of the food I prepare for my meals or when Leah is here at dinnertime or during other gatherings when food is served. He hopes that whatever is presented will taste good. I keep offering, suggesting, bringing him little plates of samples. He rarely eats any meat; what may taste good one day may not the next. He takes a bite, apologizes and shoves the plate away more and more often. He is obviously disappointed.

Yet, we both try over and over again to make this outcome change. I offer food. He tries. It tastes bad. Another Ensure. Eat and live, we think silently. I am reminded that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result!

Taco Bell Limeades tastes good. They are old-fashioned memories in a take-away cup. He wanted one the other day, so last night I went out to get our Limeades. He’d try a burrito, too, he said. In my heart, I knew it wouldn’t be a food he’d like. He didn’t. One bite, and “No,” he said, wrapping it up in the waxy paper.

The conversation turned to trying other foods, things he has liked in the past, since the illness. He turns down things he has liked in anticipation that it won’t taste good. Once he’s had a taste of something bad, it is gone forever, he explained. Burritos, he can never eat them again. He tried it, it’s horrid, now he’ll never do that again.

I understand his thinking, but my logic pushes forth: If you don’t try something, you’ll never eat it again, so isn’t it worth trying? If you don’t like it, then you know. Either way, I continue, you don’t eat the foods, so why not taste it to be sure? At least you’ll have the possibility of liking it. I was laughing over the argumentative points and illogic of his defense. He took it personally.

“I’m the one dying here,” he cut the air sharply with his statement. “The doors are closing.” I bit my tongue so as not to cry, because I know that he is the person dying, not me.

This is not about a logical argument. It is the emotional pain of change, more specifically of loss. We are not the only ones in grief. He faces loss of his own life, there is no comfort from the familiar as he tallies an accumulation of bygones.

I had this same round robin of a conversation with my mother last week. She was responding to my desire to have Dave move about the house, see the yard, be downstairs again, sit on the porch. He can be carried down, she suggested, for the Father’s Day gathering. We could take the oxygen, too. “He could, we could, but…,” I’d say. She wants for her daughter to fulfill her desires. She wanted to fix the problem. But the problem is bigger than getting up or down the stairs.

“Don’t you realize he’s dying?” I finally said in exasperation. The point is not that these things can’t be done, it is that he can’t get downstairs on his own any longer. That door is closed. We are emptying the glass through evaporation.

Each food that tastes bad is now a door closed behind him. No more. Never again. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to eat, or enjoy certain foods; it’s that it doesn’t taste good any longer.  It isn’t that he doesn’t want to move about the house, enjoy the porch when it’s sunny, sit in his chair downstairs; it’s that he must conserve his energy and his breath for more basic tasks of living.

Whether we like it or not, Dave is still dying.

I think I would keep the memory of how foods taste over the closed door, too.

2 replies
  1. George Schroeder
    George Schroeder says:

    As i search for, find, and read your posts every day or so I know that one day you will post that Dave has died and I will cry big sobs for him and for you. The students that write about Dave as their teacher move me to tears and I realize what a wonderful mentor and friend I once had while I was struggling with my life. I put myself in his shoes and wonder what I would think each day as more and more “stuff” is shut off to me by this disease.

    It makes me wonder…

    I think about you and Dave daily and I am so glad that I had a chance to know him and a chance to reconnect with him. I wish our lives had not been so “apart” when you and Dave became a couple. It sounds like I would have liked you very much too.


  2. joan
    joan says:


    All of this journey makes me wonder, too! (Would that make it wonderful? In a strangely sadistic way)

    When the time comes to say Dave is gone from our world, I will have and hold dear all these stories to remember, and to know that he is not far away in the hearts of many friends, colleagues and former students. I will know that he had a chance to hear from the likes of you and others. He is very pleased and humbled to know that his teaching and friendship, and music has changed lives for the better.

    You have shared with us what a great life you have made for yourself, and that, my friend, is the best gift of all. We will all cry, but I hope we will also laugh and remember with love. Thank you for being here. ~Joan


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