My dearest love, my beloved husband. D.
It’s 4 years since you and I drove to the ER at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs. It is now 4 years since you and I began our final Happily Homeless travels, travels that began on a sunny May day in NJ in 2009, as you got into the UHaul truck with the few of our belongings that we’d kept after the sale of our home, and I got in our car, having just signed the papers and closed on our house, and we headed west to drop those few things into a storage unit in Indiana and visit with your mom for a few days.
And then we headed south and west and our adventures began.
We had our last 4 years together traveling the USA, hiking trails, climbing to the highest heights, discovering history at our National Parks, visiting family and friends, gazing upon views I only ever thought to see in books. I pushed boundaries I never thought to push, and we fell more in Love each and every day, rejoicing in the times it was just us, far away from responsibility and distractions. Just us.
Life and reality hit hard with your first cancer and shocked us and horrified us through all the surgeries you had to endure, but endure you did…we did…and we didn’t let it stop us. You came through it and we continued on. You were a cancer survivor. I’d never met a cancer survivor before. The big C was a disease that had already taken so many from me, and I cried when I realized you…my beloved husband…you were the one I got to keep.
Until this time 4 years ago, when I took you to the ER, your breath raspy, your body doubled over in pain, your face creased as it had never been before as you struggled to maintain some sense of self. For the first time, though, you couldn’t hide it. You couldn’t reassure me any longer. I knew the truth of what was in front of us even before you did.
These 4 years of widowhood, my emotions wouldn’t allow me to write to you. I haven’t been able to speak to you. All I’ve been capable of saying, as I’d look up at a night sky glittering with stars, out on my own travels across the USA, is…I love you. Find me. I don’t know where you are. You find me.
I still can’t speak to you, but I need to write to you. I need to force my fingers to type words to you. I need to vomit words of pain and grief that you, my beloved, are gone from me. Have been gone from me for almost 4 years now. Speak to you of my anguish and horror as I watched the cancer decimate your strong body, watched the drugs muddle your mind even though we tried as hard as we could to minimize those drugs, wanting you to be as present as possible. You were insistent on that and I wanted to honor your wishes even as it added difficulties into a confusing time.
There are those who say that power shouldn’t be given to memories such as pour from my heart and mind and soul; memories that deepen grief and pain and loss, but I disagree. The very few weeks we spent, 4 years ago now, as test upon test occurred, as I watched you lay in a hospital bed, as our kids gathered, as you and I found tumors exploding in every limb of your ailing body, as doctors spoke to us of cutting edge treatments that sounded impossible to me, because I knew…I knew…on that very first night in the hospital, your time on this earth was so limited that there was no time no time, to even attempt such treatments. I watched as if outside my body as I spoke to the social worker, begging him to tell me how to tell you that we had no time. How do I tell my husband, this man who is my life, that it is time for us to find a hospice, that we must prepare as best we can for the impossible and unbearable time of his death? How do I tell him that there is no time for treatment without him thinking that I want him to die?
And then going into your room and telling you that I will do anything you want to do I will make it happen I have your back but I don’t think we have time and I think we need to find hospice.
Gazing at your face, D, in those moments, as I stifled my sobs through the words I had to speak to you…the look on your face is sealed into my being forever. A few very quiet ticks of the clock passed and then you took my hands in yours and you said okay. And I sobbed more, and we spoke of the magnitude of this, and we began to realize that we were saying goodbye to us, and you said how you would miss us more than anything else in your world.
You signing the papers that would admit you into hospice, the ambulance ride, the 3 weeks of multiple hearts breaking as the cancer gnawed at your body and ate huge chunks of who you were, you staring into the mirror, a look of confusion in your eyes, striving to recognize the narrowed face and sharp nose of cancer staring back at you and me taking your face in my hands, gazing directly into your eyes and saying you have been my hero you will always be my hero…god, every fucking moment of horror and drugs and breathing machines and treatments and doing slow jogs through the family gardens to work off my shock and anger and despair and every other goddamn physical emotion roaring through my own body…and returning to your room and your side to offer you all the Love that was in my body and soul, all the Love that you’d given so freely and willingly to me in our 24 years together, your vow of Love that you spoke, the vows of Love that I spoke, on our wedding day that we lived and honored and grew, every day that we had together and apart.
How can I not honor and remember our final days as we stumbled through the halls of hospice and spoke words to one another that I can’t remember? How can I not honor every painful and loving and sacred moment of those moments that lasted for 3 weeks and for eternity all at the same time?
These almost 4 years later I remember, and I honor those days and I honor you and me and us.
“I remember the night. I remember the sound. I remember the light, when the moon came ‘round. The night flowers bloomed, the air so sweet. I remember you. I remember me. “ (Sara Watkins)