|Last Valentine's Day with Rob in the Palliative Care Center|
Today, I am thinking of you who I don't know.
I see you waiting beside a bed--the lamp light casting a partial shadow on papers you have long forgotten you hold. Or perhaps it's your hand I see reaching to pick up a phone and silence the ringer. Noise shatters the near silence you have come to know. Or perhaps it is you who let winter's coldness in through the doors that still revolve as you rush beyond them into the well lit foyer of a hospital you know too well.
After the death, you may well wonder, how is it that you have found yourself here? Here where the shoreline fails to meet the edge of earth. Here where nothing is sure. Here where the widening space grows too big for your slight body to bridge. Here where machine sounds and the drone of 10,000 bees are impossibly loud. Here where you have forgotten the cadence of your own name.
This is what it means to know an ending, to accept the mortal limitations of self and the one you love.
You will not save him.
You will not save her.
You simply cannot do so.
And now, your life depends on knowing this.
Feelings will come later.
If only I.
If only I could.
During the last month of life, Rob struggled to breathe and I struggled to save him.
Is there anything as loud as the constant hum and drone of a machine pushing oxygen into lungs that will fail?
And they did.
I kept wanting to save him thinking, This. This is what I was born to do.
His life was never mine to save.
After his death, it was a sound like distant bees buzzing that I recall. A long, dark tunnel raised up from the sea like Jonah in the belly of the whale and I knew the comfort and pain of dark interiors.
There were narcotics to be bagged for the police. Liquids drugs to be washed down the kitchen drain. The funeral home to call for transport and clothes gathered and bagged. Everyone seemed to have a job in the aftermath but Dev and me.
I had been so very busy for months.
Still. So still.
My son sat next to the hospital bed and held his dead father's hand between the two of his. I gathered the adult diapers, the incontinence pads, the medical gowns, the yellow tubes of hydrophilic wound dressing, the too-many-to-count bottles of bedside-care foam body wash, the never-used contour bed pan--all of the things my Rob would have hated and dumped all of it into the garbage. I watched until my son released his father's hand. That was my job, one I promised Rob I would always do.
Watch over Dev, he told me an hour after we learned he had just weeks to live.
Watch over our son. Love him for me.
To keenly watch is a language of love--one Rob taught me. I have been practicing this way of noticing for the last 30 years.
Later when it was time to sleep I took my phone as I had for the previous 6 months of nights and placed it next to the bed.
The phone did not ring.
There would be no calls from Rob ever again.
I couldn't quite drown the buzzing, not for weeks.
Someone later would tell me, nothing will be the same, and this is the one truth I know a year later.
Nothing is the same.
And some days I am the better for it.
Some days, not.
After the death, it's the existential loneliness that most seems to cause distress. My marriage, like yours, shielded me from the truth that we are all alone.
Now loneliness seems sharper, more acute, in the absence of the man I loved and do love.
A year later and I know like I know my own name that how I loved Rob in the years we had together and how he loved me mattered more than any charade of life saving I might have dreamed, surely desired.
We were so flawed in our love for one another.
So beautifully flawed.
And that slim truth--that our expressions of love were flawed, is what I hold closest to me these days.
Dear friend I do not know.
Dear friend who now enters this club of widows and widowers--a club you, nor I, hardly wanted to join--the buzzing will clear.
Clarity will return.
Sadness will be redefined as too-sharp moments.
And there will be whole days of joy.
I repeat. There will be whole days of joy.
And beneath that joy--your one precious life will bloom in ways you could not name today. And I hope this blooming brings with it a measure of peace, and something unexpected.
A friend sent me two words when I was losing Rob, when I was watching him die.
She wrote, Stay curious.
I have. And staying curious has made the most difference.