It is over. Richard finally faced something he couldn't conquer, and he is now free from the fight and doing who-knows-what, who-knows-where.
Oh, how I wish I could see it. I know it's totally amazing, better than anything we can imagine with our physical minds, because it far outweighs anything we've ever experienced before. I know that there is no pain or sadness or worry, and that everything we've ever struggled with will suddenly make total sense because we will see it a way we've never been able to before.
A friend sent me this C. S. Lewis quote from The Last Battle:
"All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."
That's what bring me hope and comfort. Not images of green meadows filled with rainbow ponies and candy floss clouds (which is what so many books on heaven seem to show). Heck, there was no way Richard wanted to leave his adventures on this world behind anyway, never mind for fluffy rabbits and people in sandals grinning serenely at each other. No, the next great adventure - the unknown chapters that get better and better - that's where my hope lies. All our frustrations with this world point us to the fact that we were made for somewhere else.
In the meantime, I am back, for the third time in my life, at that exhausting, core-sucking place where I have watched someone I love fade bit by bit by bit and fought so hard to change it any way I can. The images in my mind are still fresh of just what a degenerative disease, plus all the hard-hitting medicines used in a futile initiative against it, plus long periods of time where the body is debilitated and wasting away, can actually do. I could go into great detail about those last few weeks, but I am going to use the same tactics as I did for my mother-in-law and for Scooby, and keep choosing not to talk about them or give description to them, so that eventually time will do its thing and the memories will fade, and stop flashing into my mind when I'm trying to sleep.
But, as with all things, God can use them for good if you let Him, and right now the horrible parts of the end of Richard's life have a use, and that is to remind me how important it was to let him go. When those images come, I can turn them into an excuse to rejoice - his body doesn't look like that anymore! He has a new one! The old one was a trap, weighing him down, giving him pain and preventing him from doing what he wanted to do. It was wrecked and ruined, so why would I want to keep him in it? The new one is so amazing, we can't even picture it. And that's what makes it more exciting.
And as awful as waiting for death is, I am still glad that (for now) we don't get a choice about it. There is no quick and easy option to skip to the end - we have to let nature do its course, with as much comfort as modern medicine can bring us. So even though, in my sheltered experience, it's the worst thing I have ever ever been through, like a form of torture, I wouldn't want to change the law on it.
This last week, as he faded fast, Richard found it really difficult to keep consciousness and kept fading in and out. He was easily confused about what was going on around him and couldn't always finish his sentences. But there was something so beautiful in the middle of all of it. Instead of the frustration of a busy mind that was desperate to do something "productive" and hating to be so dependant on others, I saw a man reduced to the character qualities that summed him up best: wanting to be useful, and consideration for others. All his dreams were about fixing things, and trying to make things better. All his interactions were about making people feel that they were understood and appreciated. Even though I stayed over to be with him while he was like that, he would frequently wake up and see me and say "Oh, you're here!'" and fall back to sleep with such a big grin that he didn't need any more words to show me how much he loved and appreciated me. While he was asleep he would chat to his dad and other friends about ideas and schemes for building things and seemed so happy doing it. Even when not fully conscious, he would thank the staff for everything they were doing and ask me if he was treating everybody okay and if he'd accidentally ignored people because he knew he was in and out of sleep.
One of my favourite moments, which turned out to be one of his last interactions with me, was caught by one of our incredible friends, who was sitting quietly crocheting in the corner. I'd leaned over to ask him something - maybe it was to sit up and swallow his meds or something - and as he opened his eyes and saw me, he said "Oh hello. You're very pretty. Can I please have a kiss?'
It's compliments like this, of which there were many in the week, and only for me (thank goodness) that I am choosing to fix in my mind. When the adrenaline that I no longer need in case of emergency gradually fades and I can start doing normal things again, and I rebuild strength in my muscles that I haven't used for long walks and other exercise, and I can remember what it feels like to wake up in the morning and have a pre-planned schedule for the day, I will no longer feel like I have been ripped apart by this process. I will heal and be so glad that I walked him through every opportunity I had to be with him. I will treasure the few happy moments that I would've missed if we'd cut the journey short, and I will know that no matter how tired I was, and desperate to see his suffering end, and ragged by the emotions that pulled me all over the place and back again, that I did my absolute best for him, without holding back. Because physical suffering is not the worst thing that happen to us. We are so ready to run away from it and find comfort instead, but then we miss out on so much that will shape us, and deepen our understanding, and take us beyond limits we wouldn't have gone otherwise.
So I am not bitter about this. I am still waiting for peace, as I still can't accept this outcome yet without wanting to scream about, but I know that eventually the peace will come, and probably a whole load more unexpected blessing with it too.
So goodnight Richard - you now have your perfect peace, and soon I will have a less-perfect but still amazing version of it here too. See you soon xx