“The person I miss most is the one I could have been.”
–G. B. Shaw
The little boy ran circles around his mother as she stood outside of the restaurant smoking a cigarette. The young woman and a friend were engaged in an animated discussion and the smoke rolled from their mouths and drifted past their faces. Suddenly, the toddler stopped running and squeezed his mother’s hand. Once her gaze had focused on him, he smiled broadly. She grinned back at him and he resumed running laps. She took a drag on her cigarette and resumed her conversation. I remember being charmed and disturbed by the interaction.
A few days later, I stood at the bedside with the family of a delightful woman in her mid-fifties. Her smoking-related cancer had required removal of her voice box and a course of radiation therapy. Months later, her cancer had recurred and all of her treatment options had now been exhausted. She was at peace, slipping in and out of wakefulness, very near to death.
The whole family had tried to prepare for this day and her adult children gathered in a semicircle around the bed. One of her boys sat dejectedly in a chair gripping her hand. As I watched, she slowly opened her eyes. He brightened visibly and wordlessly returned her gaze. She closed her eyes, but they both continued to smile. This, too, was a powerful yet disturbing moment.
I was struck that the two scenes were essentially from the same drama, with the second following inexorably from the first. Within a few days, I had witnessed two points along the same arc.
A previous version of this essay appeared in the MCW Cancer Center News.
||The following is feedback received for this blog:|
Once again you have captured the moment (or two in this case) so very clearly.
- rl bates
Great post, Bruce! I wish all the parents I used to see in the ER, smoking as they brought in their wheezing children, would read it.... and see themselves. Before it's too late.
- David Loeb