The Uncertainness Of Life.
Mary was in her late 50s and married to Peter, and they have two adult daughters who are themselves mothers, with their respective young kids, whom she doted on. In her 20s, Mary had been a schoolteacher, but made a career switch after 8 years, becoming an estate agent. Having made her million, she retired and travelled extensively with her group of close-knit friends. Having been referred by a friend, Peter contacted me to request for an urgent appointment.
Mary looked depressed when they walked into my office one morning. As we began to explore the purpose of their visit, Peter was doing all the talking: describing Mary’s recent stroke. After some time, I turned to Mary and posed her a question. Suddenly, she burst into tears, and a jumble of incoherent sounds spilled out. I must have looked a little shocked, as Peter immediately stepped in to explain that his wife had lost her capacity to form comprehensible words. I apologised immediately, and waited for Mary to regain her composure. Her stroke had not totally incapacitated her physically, but had removed her ability for meaningful conversation. For someone who used to be an English Language teacher, this was devastating! Mary’s depression was understandable for someone who had been able to command a conversation and to play with words skilfully, to suddenly be bereft of her speech. We resorted to written communication whenever Mary needed to do so. Further medical tests were scheduled in the following weeks, as Mary had no prior ailments that could have directly caused her stroke.
Two weeks later, Peter called and reported that Mary had been warded, as she was experiencing severe stomach cramps and had been unable to keep her food down. The outcome of scans surfaced a 4th stage carcinoma that had spread from her womb to her intestines and stomach. Her doctors’ prognoses were not encouraging, but Mary pressed for immediate chemotherapy. Peter continued with his individual sessions with me, as we processed the probability of loosing Mary earlier than they had anticipated. I continued to visit Mary at the hospital each week. She messaged her replies to my questions onto my mobile as I sat next to her bed. We processed her hopes and fears, regrets and achievements in the past years.
Another three months on, chemotherapy was halted as the progress of the disease was not halted, but had rapidly advanced. By this time, Mary had lost substantial body weight, and could no longer walk on her own. She was discharged and came under a palliative care doctor. Our sessions were now conducted at her home. Our conversations grew more intense as death seemed inevitably closer. During her last weeks, Mary’s energy levels inevitably dropped, and she could hardly remain alert for more than few minutes at a stretch. One day, with her eyes half- closed, she indicated she wanted to hold my hand. She reached out, and I took hold of it. It was a strong grasp, and I realised her inner strength was challenging the frailty of her body, she wanted so much to live. Silently, I sat next to her bed for the next half hour. Peter peeped in once in a while. Once she was asleep, I moved away. This went on for a few sessions in the following weeks, as Mary was subsequently moved to a hospice.
At home one evening, I suddenly sensed Mary was saying ‘good bye.’ It is difficult to explain these intuitions, but I accepted it, and called Peter to let him know. He was at her bedside when Mary left a couple of hours later that same day. I felt a loss and a sadness.