Cheryl Barnes

Prepare yourself ?

I heard that phrase a lot when Tony was in and out of hospitals. The first 10 or so times I heard it, I was truly frightened. My big, strapping husband was going to die? No. Just no. Ain’t happenin’.

Seemingly miraculously, over and over again, he survived scare after scare…infections, clogged dialysis ports, medications not agreeing with him, days of semi-consciousness, altered mental status or coma…on and on.

Prepare yourself, they’d say. We don’t know what else we can do for him.

Then he’d wake up, eat, laugh, talk, whatever and the fear in my heart would disappear. He would beat the odds again.

Nothing was going to get him down. I not only believed it, I knew it. With every fiber of my being.

Even as he grew weaker and acquired more problems, I still thought he was going to get up and walk again. Be whole like he wanted to be. Like we all wanted him to be.

I was preparing for that.

I planned trips for us. I planned to look for a wheelchair van so that he could get around until he got out of that wheelchair. I was looking into getting a place with a big enough bedroom for us to share with his medical equipment and wider doorways if needed. I was even talking with the dialysis company in order to set up hemodialysis at home so he could be more comfortable with that procedure. I learned to do ivs. I searched for a job to do at home so I could be with him as much as he needed.

That last week he was alive, that weekend was Labor Day weekend, and I planned to be off for four days for the holiday. I talked to my son about getting Tony out to the complex’s pool that weekend so he could get some sun and see water, even if it was just pool water. We planned it as a surprise.

These are the things I prepared for. I prepared for our future as a whole family. We had been through enough and I just felt things were going to change very soon. An intuition I had.

How right I was and how wrong I was.

Prepare yourself, when I took him to the ER. His blood pressure is dangerously low.

Ha! I thought. We’ll show you. I looked at Tony. He opened his eyes and looked positively pissed to be back in the hospital. That’s what I expected to see. I was prepared for him to get angry and fight to get out of there. He squeezed my hand hard as they stabbed him with yet another needle. He was mad and still fighting.

But the fight in him was waning. I was NOT prepared for that. Not at all.

Prepare yourself, Mrs. Barnes. We are having trouble keeping his pressure up.

Whatever, I thought to myself. Tony JUST told me he wanted to go home. I took that entirely to heart. I wanted him home. So we’d work in that direction, as always.

Prepare yourself…his lungs are filling up with fluid. We need to put him on a ventilator.

Prepare yourself…he has a very bad infection and we may have to remove some of his intestines.

Prepare. That’s what they kept telling me. So I did. I continually prepared for how I would manage when he got home from this latest ordeal.

Prepare yourself, Mrs. Barnes. Ok, I kept saying.

Let’s be real here…nothing prepares you for the passing of your beloved. Nothing. At all.

I was never prepared for him to die.

How in the hell do you prepare for that?

Doctors almost constantly telling you to prepare. What in the hell do they know? They prepared me for nothing, so how could I prepare myself? What was I supposed to be preparing for?

It is impossible to prepare for what I saw, what I had to do, what I had to say and what I felt.

Nothing prepares you.

Your parents prepare you for adult life and how to do things like cook, fix things, etc. Siblings prepare you to get along or not get along with others.

School prepares you for life outside of your family and a career or two. Driving teachers prepare you for the road. Medical professionals prepare you to take care of your health. On the job training prepares you for your new job.

Childbirth coaches can prepare you to have a baby. Parenting classes prepare parents how to better cope with their children.

So on and so on.

What prepares you for losing your love? Not a damned thing. I certainly was not prepared.

No one prepared me to make end of life decisions.

No one prepared me for the moment I assured my husband that I would survive his loss.

No one prepared me to calm him as he fought his fate.

No one prepared me to leave him alone in that hospital, knowing I would not be back to see him or take him home.

No book, no website, no magazine article, no teacher, no speech, no amount of anything prepares you for this.

I think someone should have prepared me for this, instead of saying over and over, “Prepare yourself.”

Preparing myself was impossible. How was I supposed to know how crushed I would feel? Or how the loss is a pain that you wish you could scream away and as loud as you scream…it’s still there?

I was not prepared to tell my boys that their father died.

No one, nothing, prepares you for that.

How about planning a funeral? Is that taught in school? How about planning a funeral and being heartbroken at the same time? Definitely not.

You are not prepared for the disconnection you feel from everyone and everything as you try to understand what happened and why it happened to you.

You are not prepared for how you will look after this terrible thing happens to you.

You are not prepared for how much you will cry, or how angry you will feel, or how lost you will be.

You are not prepared for the rapid and painful separation caused by your loved one’s death.

You’re not prepared for people to refer to your love in the past tense.

You’re not prepared for how many people will abandon you just when you need them.

You’re not prepared for the stress, anxiety, and depression you will experience.

You’re not prepared for the financial strain of everything.

You are not prepared for your entire life to be turned upside down and inside out due to one single, devastating event.

Honestly, even if I was prepared for all of this…I wasn’t.