By Daphne Simpkins
A steady stream of well-wishers greeted the
couple, attempting the awkward task of offering
congratulations on the recent wedding while simultaneously
offering words of sincere concern. I watched our mutual
friends move through the room, making their way to pay their
gentle respects to this sick bride, to embrace her,
respectful of that side of her weakened now by muscle loss
and radiation burns.
Her bodyguard remained poised behind her, silent, eyes
disciplined and deliberately opaque so that no one could
read his mind and see....what?
My eyes used to hide the secret life a caregiver lives.
It is one of disciplined optimism. Of ready service.
Of fear and hope living side by side. Of being terribly
alone while always in the company of someone who was going
to die no matter what I did as his caregiver.
This caregiver had a more promising future, I thought.
His wife’s prognosis was good. Whenever possible, one or the
other of them said to anyone listening, “Get that mammogram.
It’s life or death. We caught it early.” Her
treatments were working. And they had a network of
friends who supported them. Those were the facts.
But was he still afraid? Did he have job pressures as
he juggled caregiving with making a living that supported
him and his wife? Did he feel all alone, though as a
caregiver, he was rarely alone?
The buffet dinner was finally ready and we all rose.
His patient moved serenely through the crowd, a bride
welcoming the guests at the reception. He followed
her, nodding as others assured her that she looked great.
She fixed her own plate, adding spoonfuls of this and that,
and I saw him watch and take deep breaths as she took more
food. ‘Good, good. Eat more,’ he thought. ‘Eat
as much as you can.’
He forgot to make his own plate as he followed her. He
smiled appropriately at friends who patted her or nodded
some silent intention of good will toward him, but the smile
never made it to his eyes. Compliments brought the bride
closer to him, however. She leaned gratefully toward
her husband, patted his chest and called him her hero.
The look in his eyes remained the same.