Our Last Good Day
Our last good day was a Saturday.
It was a resplendent August day in Northern California. Morning fog burned off to clear blue skies. Sunlight twinkled across the pool. The golden hills stood like proud elders, drawn in sharp outlines. It was like living inside a painting.
Ted’s health was declining again. The immunotherapy treatment that staved off tumor growth ceased working. The treatment gave Ted eight good months after a hard and horrible summer. His health improved so much that he would ride his bike to UCSF for infusions. Sometime in March or maybe April he started to lose weight and get tired easily. Night sweats returned. We both knew what came next: a hard and horrible summer. We felt wobbly facing an uncertain future.
His sister Dr. Susan came to San Francisco for a visit. We convinced him to make the trip to a friend’s weekend home in Sonoma County. It is less than two hours’ drive from San Francisco but I could see that Ted was afraid to leave. Our home was a sick ward and I needed fresh air. Medicine bottles lined the countertop. Everywhere there were notes scribbled during doctor appointments and get-well cards our kindergartener made her father. Our home was sad. The dog was sad.
Ted’s illness took over our living room. If he was awake, he was on the big blue sofa in the yellow room, reclined on his back with knees bent, head propped on a pillow, iPhone in hand. Mabel, who was six, would sit on the sofa to watch baseball or play cards with her dad. When I sat on that sofa, he would reach his legs down the couch so our feet would touch.
We all deserved more memories than just the blue sofa.
I needed to be with him somewhere, to have memories that were not just at our house or the cancer center. I wanted Mabel to have experiences with her dad during this time too. I wanted her to have memories of being somewhere with her family, memories that were different than another day in the sick house.
Down deep, so deep-down where words aren’t spoken, I knew this weekend away would be Ted’s last trip. I was not afraid — I was furious. I was sad. I was angry and emotional and lonely. I was so sad that sometimes it was hard to be with him. I mourned our relationship for more than a year, crying in the shower about how much had changed since the cancer, crying that someday Ted would be gone and Mabel wouldn’t have a father and I wouldn’t have a husband. I cried that I wouldn’t have my biggest supporter and funniest friend.
The Sonoma house is the weekend home of a friend. I knew Ted would be comfortable once we got there.We’ve been there many times. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel far away from city life. It’s a place to commune with the beauty of the countryside without even having to go outside. It’s all angles and glass so even indoors you feel a sense of nature and sunlight. Golden hills in one direction, stripes of vineyards in another, blond horses grazing on the other side.
He was uneasy most of the car ride but once we got through the rainbow Robin Williams Tunnel and over the bridge, he lightened. Once we hit Marin County we tuned to the Grateful Dead station in the Audi, which was our tradition. A lightness came over him. It was a happy return.
While I made us all lunch, Ted napped on a chaise lounge by the pool, covered in a towel despite the warm summer weather. I put all his medicines in a centerpiece bowl, arranged flowers and set it all on the table. Standing in that kitchen, I realized how exhausted I was, how absolutely bone-tired I felt.
I tried to do normal things like sit under the pool umbrella, leafing through Vanity Fair. I set up an obstacle course for our daughter. I chased the dog around the yard. Mostly I was trying to convince Ted to get in the pool. He was tentative about it. He didn’t want to get too cold.
Come in, the water’s fine.
It took a day or two but Ted inched closer to the pool. At first he lounged on the chaise. Then he sat upright in a chair. Then he moved to sitting on the edge of the pool. On Saturday afternoon, he waded down the stairs. His sister and I held a giant inflatable swan and he climbed on. I floated toward him on a unicorn. We held hands “Like otters,” Ted said, “so we don’t drift away from each other.”
I remember thinking how sunny and perfect the day was. I remember thinking how sweet it felt to float hand in hand. I remember telling myself to enjoy the moment.
It was our last good day.