A Thousand Little Pieces

Just a matter of time. As if time were almost inconsequential; a byproduct of experience  rather than the framework within which experience is defined. It’s just a matter of time seems so dismissive, so insignificant, so brusque and crude. I prefer time will tell, though I won’t claim I have never used the harder, less sensitive phrase. Time will tell gives time its due; it inculcates time with more meaning and more power. More gravitas. The former phrase suggests predetermination. It robs circumstances of choice. But time does that, anyway, doesn’t it? Maybe I am making too much of a simple turn of phrase. But everything has meaning now.


When I watch my wife sleep now, I have to acknowledge she’s not really asleep. She is in a coma. She cannot be wakened.  A nurse explained to me yesterday that the process of organ failure has begun. My wife’s kidneys are shutting down, her other internal organs are slowing their processes, her lungs are beginning to fill with fluids, and her extremities are cooling and changing color because her heart cannot pump sufficient blood to them. To the nurse, these processes are natural end-of-life occurrences requiring matter-of-face explanations. To me, they are excruciatingly painful reminders that it’s just a matter of time. Time will tell, indeed. No one can tell me with any accuracy how much time remains; no one wants to guess, I suspect, because a guess might trigger a response from me that neither I nor anyone else could control; an emotional breakdown uncomfortable for anyone in close proximity to witness. I cannot control my tears. I tried when my father died and when my mother died and when my sister died; I failed each time. There’s nothing wrong with tears, but their power can be shocking to people unused to seeing them shed in such volume.

I spend time writing about emotions in the hope my cold, analytical assessment will enable me to control them better when they inevitably come. But, really, I know better.


I have so much to do at home; financial recordkeeping, filing, bills to pay, checkbooks to reconcile, etc., etc., etc. But, despite intentions that I will do that work each day when I come home from the hospital, I don’t have the energy. I received a long, thoughtful, and extremely welcome email from a church friend this morning, explaining her experiences when her daughter and her husband died. She described the same fatigue and the same assessment that, after a long day at the hospital, those important tasks no longer seemed important. That message made me feel like my lethargy, at least, is not unique and may well be natural. In my case, on some days (yesterday and today, for example), my lethargy started before I left the house; the bed remains unmade, though I might convince myself to make it before I leave this morning.


National and domestic news is of no interest to me this morning. I feel a little like, if global thermonuclear war would break out before 8:00 a.m., that might be precisely the kind of stimulant I might need to just go back to bed. Just stop the scrapping and get to the meat of the fight.


I had a conversation last night with a friend who is, like me, happy with her own company and the company of her spouse. I wonder what happens with such tiny units when one of the pair dies? I hate that I will find out. I am glad my wife did not have to find out, though five+ months in tiny hospital and rehab rooms probably gave her more of a taste of it than she ever would have wanted.


I think my mind is splitting into a thousand little pieces, with nothing to connect them. More coffee may repair the rifts.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to A Thousand Little Pieces

  1. Bev says:

    Robin and Pat have really said it all. I will just add that it’s very exhausting when our emotions are at their full expression. Let them have this time. And crying is good — it is. It’s like a relief valve. It’s the crack that lets the light in. Thinking of the two of you. Just be in the moment. Take care.

  2. Pat Newcomb says:

    I second Robin’s remarks AND give yourself permission to address this time in any way you want (i.e. send all those “coulda, shoulda, woulda” voices PACKING). You will be very glad that you have put all these thoughts and feelings into words. Many of us are standing/sitting with you in spirit.

  3. robin andrea says:

    I forgot to add that it’s also good to say out loud that it’s okay for her to go.

  4. robin andrea says:

    I am so sorry that your wife has started this final journey. It is a heartbreaking thing to sit at the bedside of our dearly loved ones as they slowly leave their bodies. I have read that the last sense to go is the ability to hear. Say all the words of love out loud, play her favorite songs, say more words of love. Thinking of you and Janine.

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