CHAPTER TEN – ENCOURAGEMENT
Frances was bed ridden. We came home after nearly two weeks in the hospital in late April to the care of hospice. Her doctor had tried to get her into a swing bed. The hope was that intense physical therapy would make her strong enough to have more chemo treatments. She had not had one in over a month.
The doctor came in and sat on the bed next to her. She tried, she said, but all four rehabs turned us down. You have to show the possibility of improvement to be accepted, she said.
I looked at Fu. She was angry. She was hurt. Fu looked at me with tears and said, “there’s nothing to slow down the tumors.”
After a few moments she asked what was next. The doctor said home and hospice.
We looked intensely at one another, like we had done countless times.
Over the years one of my favorite moments of each day was after we had gone to bed. Before turning out the lights, we turned toward one another, our noses almost touching, and looked deeply into each other’s eyes. Usually nothing needed to be said. Often, I would tell her how much I loved her, or how pretty she was. We would smile at each other. We were Mutt and Fu, and we were together. We were home. Then, she would turn out the light and would be asleep in moments, while I read or watched TV.
In the hospital room we looked at one another like we had done for years. The reality of it all washed over us in waves and waves of sadness.
For 10 months Dr. Jennifer Eubanks, Fu’s oncologist, helped us fight this terrible disease. She was wonderfully attentive, listened carefully, and treated us with great compassion. She never failed to respond when we had questions or needed help.
Dr. Eubanks and I went out into the hall to talk. Fu could see us. She got angry at me. Later, after Fu was home, our daughter told me she was angry because Dr. Eubanks and I talked about her without her being present.
That was true, but I felt I needed to have a hard conversation about how things were unfolding. I didn’t think about it until much later, but from her perspective I was starting to make decisions without her, like a Mutt without a Fu.
Our daughter Katie, a schoolteacher, came each weekend she could to be with her mother and to help. The last weekend in the hospital Katie relieved me and I got to go home for the night. Late that night, Katie went out into the hall to get her mother some juice. She forgot to put her mask on. A nurse saw her from down the hall and yelled at her. If she didn’t put her mask on, she would be kicked out of the hospital!
Katie scurred back to the room and told her mother about the mask Nazi in the hall. Katie heard a growling noise. It was Fu. The tumors had robbed her of some language skills, so she showed her displeasure at that nurse and her support for her baby girl by growling like a mother bear protecting her cub. A little later Fu told Katie, in broken language, that they should hide and when the nurse came in, jump out and growl at her.
She still had her sense of humor.
A few days later an ambulance brought her to the house. Once home she never got out of bed again. The hospice nurse came, the hospice social worker came, and the hospice care assistant came. Then a friend of mine, the hospice chaplain, came.
He and his wife had been dreadfully ill with Covid-19 earlier in the year, and she was currently in the hospital with respiratory problems. After talking to Fu for a few moments he offered to pray for us. He held Frances’ hand and prayed a sweet prayer. After the amen, Fu would not let go of his hand. Instead, she started praying out loud for him and his wife.
Because of the tumors she would often start a sentence but could not find the right words to finish it. She would start a prayer thought, get stuck searching for the words, and then say, “Lord you know.” She did that several times. Then she said, “Amen.”
I walked my friend out through our garage. He stopped. The chaplain said through tears that in all his years of doing hospice chaplaincy work, that had never happened before. Never had a client prayed for him or his wife.
That was my Fu, still wanting to encourage someone.
She survived nine days on hospice care. Our three children were doing their best to be there. Each day she was weaker and less alert. The Hospice nurse came by and spent a few minutes with her. She and Donna, the retired nurse who helped us, talked. I approached them to learn what they were saying.
The Hospice nurse turned to me and asked when all three of our children would be here again.
“Not until Sunday afternoon,” I told her.
She said, “That’s not soon enough.”
I was shocked! This was on Wednesday. Though I had known from the beginning the ultimate outcome, I couldn’t believe it was coming on so fast.
That night I wept alone as I confronted the reality of life without Fu.