Labor Day marked the sixth anniversary of Tom's diagnosis. Although his illness caught us off guard and reeled us from our comfortable spot in the universe, I can't recall that we ever asked, "Why us? Why Tom?"
There was plenty of time for questions as we waited for his surgery later that week.
The surgery to remove the mass and Tom's left kidney would be a challenge because of the size of the tumor, said the urologist when he paid a last visit to Tom's room. Tom's urologist also mentioned the possibility that extensive bleeding could occur, although he said he'd never experienced it during one of his surgeries.
Never say never, as the saying goes.
Around noon, Tom was taken to pre-op, where our son and I joined him until he would be moved to the operating room. To mask my tears, I kept my camera in front of my eyes to capture the moment. Tom and I were avid amateur photographers, and we'd chronicled every stage of our lives since we'd first met in the late 1970s. So taking photographs wasn't unusual for me -- nor were my tears. (I can attend the wedding or funeral of a complete stranger and still cry.)
Once Tom went into the operating room, several members of his family and a couple of our friends joined the vigil.
Time in the waiting room seemed to run in slow motion. Despite the void of information, my thoughts were focused solely on what was going on in the operating room.
By late afternoon, we learned the surgery had been successful. I made several calls to the recovery room to get more information, and was told the surgeon would be out to see us. When the urologist appeared, he looked weary as he told us there'd been a need to give Tom a transfusion. But Tom had made it through, he assured us, and was OK. Soon he would be sent to the ICU.
By early evening I was alone in the ICU waiting area while I called other family members and Tom's colleagues. Around 10 p.m., I learned that Tom was asking for me. I didn't know what to expect as I walked toward ICU. But I felt as though I were swathed in a warm, nurturing blanket held by an angel, because I was calm and in control as I approached his bed.
With a thick plastic breathing tube down his throat, he seemed agitated as he tried to communicate, instead expressing himself with his beautiful blue eyes. He grabbed the pad and pen someone had given him, and scribbled questions that were almost illegible.
I still have the paper for a keepsake.
"But what's happening? I also have an overactive gland in my mouth," (not realizing he had a breathing tube down his throat).
After a nurse made adjustments to the tube, he scribbled, "It feels much better, but hurts. When may I move it? Thirsty."
Later: "Explain why I'm here, and when do I go back to my room?"
I answered those questions and others the best I could.
But never once did he -- or we -- ask why this was happening to him.
Tom would only raise the question later in ICU in reference to the young woman lying in a coma in the bed next to him. The victim of a one-car accident on her 21st birthday, the only child of two grieving parents would eventually succumb to her injuries.
"Why did she die and I survived?" Tom asked.
Though many challenges lay ahead of us, I'm so grateful we had more time together.
I can't imagine what it's like to lose someone without having a chance to say goodbye. I hope I never do.