Graham lay in the hospital bed, silent and gray. Harper had never left his side, sleeping on a small cot beside the bed. His mom Clare was staying at her house and would come to the hospital for a few hours each day, but Harper avoided conversing with her as much as possible since she seemed bent on finding some place to lay blame. Before Graham’s run that day, he had seemed the picture of health, and how things could have so quickly degenerated was difficult to comprehend. She had researched some natural cures and had started bringing in fresh pressed juices and green smoothies. She even tried to find a practitioner to give colonics in the hospital, but the staff said that would not be permitted. Initially, the oncologist had suggested chemotherapy and radiation as a possibility, but since Graham was stage IV, he was convinced that it would only give him a few months more. Maybe. Harper and Graham had to fight Clare on that point, which put more of a strain on their relationship than before. But Graham’s condition deteriorated so quickly, it became evident to all that there was nothing to be done. The doctor finally recommended palliative care. Harper still prayed for a miracle, but it all seemed so hopeless. The tubes and machines had been taken out, all but the morphine drip to manage pain.
“I don’t understand. How could he be healthy one day and dying the next? This doesn’t make any sense.” Standing in the hall, she had peppered the oncologist with part questions, part rant.
“Graham was strong, and that probably helped him fight it as long as he did, but when people find a lump or have an episode that reveals the presence of cancer, you must understand the cancer has been growing for years—most often many years. When people get a diagnosis, it is just because it got big enough or severe enough to finally be symptomatic. But Graham probably had the beginnings of pancreatic cancer even ten or twenty years before this. I know that is not a comfort, but it might help you understand that this is not as abrupt as it seems.” The doctor adjusted his notes and prepared to walk away.
“But why? Was there anything that could have stopped it? Anything we could have done differently?”
“I’m sorry, but there is just no way of knowing. There are genetic factors, environmental factors, lifestyle factors . . . and it would be impossible to figure it all out to your satisfaction. Right now, we are trying to make him as comfortable as possible.”
“How long?” Harper lowered her head.
“It is hard to say, but I would imagine it will be hours . . . not days. I’m sorry.” The doctor walked down the hall to the nurses’ station, and Harper returned to the room. She quietly closed the door behind her and sat down beside the bed. Fingers intertwined, she held Graham’s hand and cried. And she prayed.
It was not hours. It was days—five. Graham was unconscious much of the time, and when there was a glimmer of consciousness, it was so dulled by the pain meds, he spoke little. She gave him small sips of water on sticks with sponges at the end. For some reason, offering an actual glass of water was off limits because of the choking hazard, which made no sense at all. After all he was dying. It was the same with the morphine. At times Graham seemed to be in a lot of pain, but the nurses would only give him enough to make the pain almost bearable; anymore they said would suppress his breathing. And that was a problem, why? So, the dance went on, legality with compassion, efficiency with kindness, bargaining with resignation, such odd partners, and so much grieving. So many goodbyes.
Harper hadn’t been able to sleep much and sat by the bed, gently touching Graham’s arm, her head resting on the sheet. It was the middle of the night, and the noises of hospital routine outside his room door seemed muffled and distant as she drifted and dreamed. All of a sudden, Graham sat upright in bed. She lifted her head quickly to find him alert and looking straight into her eyes. Even in the dim light, she could tell he was there. All there. His eyes were bright, and he smiled. “It is going to be all right, Harper. You will be fine. I love you, but I see it. I see it.” He slumped back down on the pillow and breathed his last breath. Harper still in shock at what had just happened stared at his face for a long time. A soft smile stayed frozen on his lips. Still touching his arm, she felt the warmth change to cold beneath her fingers. He was gone. He was gone.
She did not press the call button. She called no one. She stayed alone by his side and wept.