Author’s Note: “When my beloved husband was dying at age 59, I felt compelled to write…in the middle of the night…about living in the bardo of dying. (“As the Moon Has Breath,” published by Main Street Rag.) As years go by, new memories about our life together keep emerging. “Wow” was written as I pondered how calm we both were upon hearing his grave diagnosis. That calmness, looking back, was a tribute to the depth of our connection, and our shared spiritual practice that included facing, with fear, courage, tenderness and awe, the fragileness and impermanence of life. (Steven’s father died suddenly at age 57 two weeks before our son’s birth.) I write with immense gratitude to my dearest Steven, who announced at his 50th birthday party, it was his decade to practice dying and then began dancing like a phlonic bird with widespread wings.”
NOTHING MUCH SURPRISES ME ANYMORE, except for the day my fanatically fit, nutritionally balanced husband was diagnosed with a Stage 4 brain tumor, but even then, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if I hadn’t had my head in the sand, or wherever dread-avoidant heads go in Philly, where there is no sand. I mean, looking back, there were signs of his brain faltering at age 58, which, if you think about it, is a terrible miracle, as it makes a person aware of the great miracle of the brain when it works, for years on end, with no stutters, sputters, dips, blips.
The signs included, but I’m sure were not limited to, the day we were driving to the Willow Grove Mall (such an excellent driver he was) and the front right side of our car bumper hit a mail truck’s front rubber bumper. My husband didn’t even stop to give his insurance info or to wonder, what just happened? I said something like, you’re not yourself (which was our mutually odd way to be understated in all things). And he didn’t disagree with me. But he didn’t agree, either. Some piece of his brain had already signed off. But no one saw it yet, not even me.
You have to be willing to see what you see, which happened only after his diagnosis. See, right there, pause the tape, he said. We were watching his TV appearance recorded a few months before on the causes of disease. He showed me the moment the word pestilence had escaped him. So, he had to use a different word, had to make do without pestilence—had to use a usual pedestrian vocabulary, which was probably a good thing for the audience, but he had wanted his usual scientific-dictionary tongue to be sharp.
This is how it is when someone you love has a sharp mind and is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his mind was the very thing you fell in love with—that mind that fathomed miracles and understood the body is such a thing—how miraculous dendrites are shaped like branches of a tree, transmitting impulses to nerve cells.
Or, how his brain tumor was shaped like a cauliflower-tree with branches that invaded the Broca area in the frontal lobe, left side. How we both shaped—after 30 years of marriage, when the MRI came back in the ER—how we both shaped with our mouths only one word, wow. And that was that. Wow. A terrible miracle. Miracles every day. One of the last we’d share.
Doris Ferleger, MFA, Ph.D. is a prize-winning poet, nonfiction author, and psychologist. She has published three volumes of poetry, Big Silences in a Year of Rain, As the Moon Has Breath, and Leavened, as well as a chapbook, When You Become Snow. She holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College and a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Ferleger is a mindfulness-based therapist in Wyncote Pennsylvania.
Delmarva Review publishes compelling new prose and poetry annually. As an independent, 501(c)(3) literary journal, it is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The review is sold in paperback and electronic editions from Amazon.com and other major online booksellers and specialty regional bookstores. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.