When your husband or wife is dying, somewhere along the road he or she is going to realize the there are dreams, both shared and personal, are not going to come true.
It may be the vacation to Hawaii, or the hike into the Grand Canyon, or the sweeping graceful deck she designed and began to build before she became too ill to work on it.
And now there are the loose ends, hanging about like unquiet ghosts.
Travel brochures. Hiking equipment that'll never be broken in.
Or the deck itself...perhaps its posts sticking out of the leaf-blown yard like gapped teeth.
If it sounds depressing, it is. The reality of the situation can be denied for a long time; the plans for the trip can go on when there's the need for a hospital bed to be moved into the living room, and hospice has to make that first dreaded visit.
There might be a miracle.
And finally the hope fades, and your mate knows that the only miracle will be the final one we hold in faith.
It's a terrible moment to live; it's a terrible moment to watch.
What can you, as the caregiving spouse, do to help?
First, don't accelerate the process. Don not discourage the inception of a dream on the probability that it probably can't be fulfilled (with obvious exceptions that can lead to serious injury or financial ruin). This is often done with the best of intentions, to cushion an inevitable disappointment and to help direct energy toward the possible...but that's not your job.
You can't live someone else's death. In the end he or she has to be responsible for their own emotional well-being, and the best thing you can do is to be supportive. And to help pick up the pieces.
You can't prevent the shattering. You can hold them in your arms amidst the wreckage.
Second, try to help make the possible dreams come true, at least in part. This can take sensitivity and planning, but there's a surprising amount you can do. I wanted to get into dirt-track stock-car racing, but it was clear that even a mild crash - which is part of the game - would be very hazardous for me. So Barbara arranged for me to turn some laps in a friend's car while I still could. It gave me the flavour, with little danger (though I did spin the thing out several times). It's a wonderful memory.
In the example of the unfinished deck that your wife was building...if you can't hire professionals to complete it, ask your friends for help.
Yes, it's humbling to have to ask, but it gives these people whose presence in your life you value the chance to do more than say "I wish there was something I could do".
They can make a difference, and perhaps complete the project in time for the dying person to see the vision become reality...even if not by her own hands.
Finally, if the loss of a shared dream is a disappointment to you, don't share that disappointment with your terminally ill spouse.
It's an unfair burden; illness is not entitlement, but there are additional burdens that dying places on a person's heart, and you should avoid adding to them if possible.
And guilt is a funny thing; a large percentage of people with terminal illness do feel at least a small sense of guilt..."if only I had lived healthier, exercised more, smoked less..."
Those are terrible thoughts to have at three in the morning.
There is one more thing you can do, really, and that is to cherish the dream. Make it part of your life, if you can, to demonstrate that your mate, and the life you shared, won't be forgotten.
Another tough one to write, because I see this happening in my life. I'm still working as if I have plenty of tomorrows, but today hurts so much that it's hard to believe that.
I still have dreams, though. Keeping this blog going is one of them.