After I saw my last patient of the day, I decided to stop by and visit a dear friend who is going through chemotherapy. Her husband had just undergone major surgery a few months ago, and she stayed by his side until he fully recovered. She never once complained, but I could see the toll that his illness had taken on her. She didn’t mind. She was able to give him exactly what he needed – her love, her presence, her being there when he needed her most.
And now the tables were turned. Less than a month after her husband’s final visit with the surgeon, she was diagnosed with cancer. She opted for chemo, and the side effects were devastating. I hesitated even going to visit her. But I wanted her to know that I cared.
I played out the scenarios in my head. If I stopped in and she looked and felt terrible, what would I say or do to make her more comfortable? But if I didn’t go, would she feel even more alone and separated from her friends because of her disease?
As I pulled up to her house, I noticed that her husband’s car was in the driveway. The late afternoon sun shone in through the picture window. I couldn’t tell if the lights or the TV were on, so I walked quietly up to the door and peeked into the window.
She was sound asleep on the sofa, wrapped tightly in a blanket. Her wig was askew as she lay on the pillow, but her face was as beautiful as ever.
Her husband sat in a rocking chair by her head. He, too, was sound asleep. An untouched glass of red wine sat on the table between them. They had no idea that I was standing there – with my fist in the air in suspended animation just before knocking.
I took in the scene – feeling simultaneously like I was trespassing on an intimate moment in their life together, but wanting to just burst through the door and give them both hugs and cheer them up.
I turned on my heel and walked back to my car.
I hope to go back another time.
We often have mixed emotions when we learn that a loved one is ill or is receiving hospice care. Sometimes we want to walk away from the situation and pretend that it isn’t happening. It hurts to see a loved one suffer. At the same time, we want to show them our love and support. It’s hard to know the right thing to do.
I think that the best thing to do is to listen with your eyes as well as your ears, and take your cues from the situation. It hurt me to have to turn around and leave. But I think it was the right thing to do. Maybe next time my timing will be perfect.