Long Cold Winter: Chapter Thirty-Two

2004. Juanita had bravely opted to try the experimental medicines, but had a bad reaction to them which forced her to discontinue the treatments. They had scheduled an exploratory to see to what extent the cancer had spread. They hoped that it was still contained enough to be removed. Or, at least, that most could be removed.

What they found devastated Matt. The specialist had been right in assessing that they had caught it too late. It had spread throughout her body. Now, there was nothing they could do.

No treatments. No chemo. No alternative medicines. Nothing.

Now, they could only sit and wait. Wait to see if, by some miracle, she would be able to fight this and win. Or if she would lose the battle. But her prospects didn’t look good.

She fought on bravely. And for the first six months, she seemed to get better. She seemed stronger. More in charge.

But then she began to fail. Slowly, at first. Then more rapidly as the year progressed. By the end of autumn, she was bedridden. Hospice now cared for her in the home, but Matt still cooked her all her favorite meals.

It was hard for him to see her in that position. She had been so strong. So full of life. So positive.

Now, she was a shell of her former self. The harder she fought, the more it took out of her. The more it hurt him to watch. But she still fought on.

He struggled to keep up the positive facade. It got harder as more of the hope died away to reveal the cold, hard truth. The futility of her fight. The hopelessness.

He helplessly watched as her fire slowly died with each passing day. As she grew weaker, he grew sadder on the inside. He knew that, once she was gone, his mourning would never stop. she had been his soul mate. His other half.

He stayed strong for her. As strong as he could. Even though he watched in silent anguish as she slipped further and further from him. And as he watched her slip away, he felt his own strength begin to fail. With every little piece of her that died, so did a piece of him.

At night, alone, he cried. He had nightmares. He prayed to whatever deity he thought would listen. But never to money. Money had failed him. Doctors had failed him.

And now, his faith was failing. Not that he had much to begin with. She had always been the one with all the faith. Not him.

He hadn’t ever been religious. Fate had always played its hand and he had accepted what he was handed. But he found this impossible to accept. He refused to accept this. No matter what.

The emotions warred within him. Guilt. Anger. Blame. Fear. Hate. He ran the full gambit.

When he was through, he felt as if he had been put through the ringer. He didn’t know how much longer he could last. This was too much. Too hard.

He wished he was the one who was dying instead of her. He wished that fate would take him and spare her. He had lived more. Done more. Loved more.

Why her? Why now? That was all that ran through his mind. He just couldn’t bring himself to understand.

As autumn turned to winter, he watched her slowly die. Slowly fade like a flower in a vase. He knew the end was closing in when they had to put her on oxygen to breathe and it became too much of an effort for her to even sit up. He continued on no matter what.

They had one more Thanksgiving. And one more Christmas. Then, two days after Christmas, she called him to her bedside.

She struggled to sit up. “It won’t be long now, My Love. I want you to know that you have made life worth living for me. Every day with you has been heaven on earth. Even in these last days. I want you to know I have never been happier than in the time we have been given together. I only hope and pray that I have never failed to let you know how much I love you.

“Even now, as I die, my love for you continues to grow. It will never die, my beloved husband. Just promise me one thing.”

He nodded, almost too choked up to reply. “Anything, My Queen.” It came out as more of a whisper.

She smiled at him. Her voice, too, was more of a whisper. “Promise me that you will go on with your life. Find a new love to fill your days. Do not lock yourself away in grief over me. I want you to be happy. Be strong for the kids. They will need you.”

His vision began to blur with tears. “How can I ever move on from what we had? It was special. One of a kind. I will never find another you.”

She smiled weakly. “I know you can never find another me. That is not what I want you to do. I want you to go find another unique love. Someone who will love you for you. You could never ask for anything more. I ask that you be happy after I am gone.”

He was frantic. “How can I? I can’t have you.”

She patted his hand weakly. “Just promise me.”

He buried his head in her quilt. “I promise.”

She played a while in his hair, then her hand slipped from his neck. He raised his eyes. He heard the shallow exhale that signaled her last breath. She closed her eyes for the last time as he looked into her eyes. She was gone.

He fought to control his emotions as he held her head close to his chest. “Goodbye, My Love.”

Egypt came down from her room to find him sobbing uncontrollably. He was still holding her close, cradling her lifeless body as if she was a child. She left him to his grief. She knew she would have to help him through his pain in the next few weeks. She only hoped he would heal quickly.

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