Life After Patrick: Remembering My Husband, Patrick Swayze
Keeping It Together
LHJ Serious illness can trigger problems in a relationship, even divorce. How did you two keep it together?
LN We had a lot of ups and downs in our marriage, but we'd gotten a lot of crap out of the way before we went into dealing with this. That was a huge gift. The challenges we'd already faced helped us in this journey.
Also, not everybody is as courageous and gallant as my husband was. When people are in existential angst, they sometimes lash out at the ones closest to them. Patrick had his moments of fear, but he was infinitely loving and kind to me. He had a high pain threshold, like a lot of dancers. He refused to accept limitations. Cancer wasn't going to tell him how to live his life.
LHJ You seem pretty strong-willed yourself. Did that help you cope?
LN I'm from a Finnish family and I grew up hearing this word: sisu. It refers to a particular kind of courage, where you're doomed to fail and yet you continue to fight. It's about going the distance, about facing down death itself. With Patrick there was no distance I wouldn't go for him. I'd always been afraid of needles, but I got very good at giving him shots. I started out barely knowing the names of medications and ended up giving orders to the nurses.
I learned how important it is for the patient to have an advocate. Medical professionals work really hard but they are only human. Yours is not the only case they have; they can get tired and make mistakes. I'd go to doctors' appointments with my legal pad and write down everything, so we could keep track of all the details. There were times when someone would say, "We should do such-and-such," and I'd go, "Um, no, we already did that a month and a half ago. It didn't work."
I was amazed at how much Patrick trusted me. That was wonderful, but it was also an enormous responsibility. I felt like I had his life in my hands. I need to sleep sometimes! That's why, dealing with a terminal illness, you really have to watch out for the caregiver getting sick. Because you know what? It's happening to both of you.