This is written for the partner who isn’t dying. You’re here because you’ve received bad news. Your love is dying.
I’m so sorry. Breathe. You don’t have to control your breath. But listen to it. You don’t have to do any work. Just close your eyes for a few minutes and listen to the sound of your own breathing. I’ll wait…
OK, you’re back and you’re a little chill maybe, yes? So, here’s the drill. Your brain is mush right now, I know. I feel your pain and your terror. I do. And I’m here to tell you, get a few ducks in a row RIGHT now because your ride is just beginning. I’m sorry, but it is. Think of me as the friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth. Everything is NOT going to be okay. The sooner you stop telling yourself that, the more prepared you will be. It’s not okay. Nothing is okay. Accept that. Okay?
If you’ve just received a diagnosis, or word of some sort that your love’s time is short, please please please take my advice and do a few things. As soon as you can. Before you go to sleep tonight. First thing in the morning. Whatever works. But please please, help yourself and do it now.
- Reach out to trusted friends, neighbors, relatives, whoever you can lean on. Tell them the facts. You can discuss emotions and devastation later, trust me. Tell them specifically what is going on, tell them that you can’t go into it further just yet, and tell them WHAT YOU NEED. In my humble, non-expert, and VERY raw opinion (remember, I’m not even three months out) – you will need the following:
- A personal listener. Someone who will listen to you. Not interject, not advise, not cry with you. Not repeat anything you say. Someone who will be there FOR YOU. That may be a tall order. This person may have to be a therapist, mentor, pastor, whatever rings your bell. But you NEED A LISTENER who is there for no other purpose.
- A communicator. Someone who you can pass info along to and they can start the phone or email tree. You are NOT IN CHARGE OF TELLING EVERYONE EVERYTHING OR ANSWERING EVERY TEXT AND CALL. This is NOT yours to do. Find a communicator.
- A taskmaster. Someone who could walk into your house, see immediately what needs to be done, and does or delegates it. Dishes; groceries; laundry; whatever. If you’re a very private person like I am, and you don’t want people in your home doing chores, you STILL need the taskmaster. You can delegate things like Target runs and nobody has to come inside; the things can be left on your doorstep. Yep, it sounds ridiculous. But trust me, it’ll happen. I’m no stranger to Taco Bell on my front porch.
- A clear thinker. You need ADVICE. And you do NOT NEED IT FROM YOUR DYING PARTNER. It’s time to buckle up and accept the reality. You need to figure this out. But you need someone to help you navigate the decisions, the things you’ll forget, the things you’ll need to set up, the appointments in many cases, the notes, the calendars if that applies, the supplies, and the mindscrew you’re experiencing. Again, this may be a tall order and you may need an attorney or other legal professional to be your clear thinker. But figure it out. You will need someone who can be rational and help you when you aren’t.
- MAKE SURE YOU HAVE LEGAL MATTERS IN PLACE. If there isn’t one already, help your partner execute a living will/ health directive, a Power of attorney (medical at least, and complete if desired), and a Last Will and Testament. Yes. This sounds horribly crass right now and for that I apologize. I just really am telling you things I wish I had discovered BEFORE I needed to. EVEN if you are married, get these things. Have witnesses (the number required varies by state) and get it notarized. Even if it’s not required, get it notarized.
- MAKE SURE YOU KNOW YOUR PARTNER’S WISHES. If you’ve never discussed it, discuss it now. Don’t wait. If your partner isn’t able to speak and you’ve never discussed it, then this decision will be yours. But if there’s a chance to be really clear with them about their wishes, please don’t let that chance slip away.
- CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR. Tell him or her what’s going on. Trust me, it’ll come in handy later when you’re losing your mind and you need Xanax or something else. My doctor called me after Michael passed away to check on me and call in a script that day. It probably saved my life.
This is just the beginning of many twists and turns and tortures to come. That storm off in the distance is coming for you and your partner. It will only leave you in its wake. But right now, you need to brace for its arrival. And it’s not going to be okay. But, you can get through it. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I don’t know why I’m still here. But I know I’m getting through it, somehow. Hang in there with me. Build your team. You matter. And there are so many who know your pain and have come out the other side. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.