Not that the world is holding its breath because I haven’t written a Well-seasoned Woman blog post for a few months, but this is the first one in quite a while. You see, my husband died in June. The cancer beast returned, after a hiatus of eight years. It seemed so long, in fact, that we thought it would never return. All the doctors kept saying, ‘You’re cured!’ when the cancer was still in remission after five years. The husband believed them, never supposing it might sneak back, hiding out somewhere like a serial killer in a horror movie.
Well, if I’m being completely honest, the possibility of a recurrence always lurked in the background for me. It was the monster under the bed that I waited to reappear. Waiting, for the other shoe to drop, the one I had anticipated since the beginning of his “journey” (I hate that word; how about death march instead) to cancer hades. The shoe I expected but never mentioned. Because why should I bring it back into the room? The husband was in quite a good place. He wrote and published five books on a 17th century philosopher, Spinoza, he believed held the secrets of the universe, of what god is, of what the emotions wrought upon us mere humans in a world struggling with ethical dilemmas and often failing. He corresponded with scholars across the globe, wrote white papers on the difficult concepts, and mentored university students who sought him out with questions on his writings. He wasn’t an academic. He was a philosopher. No one paid him to do this. This was who he was.
We had spent four decades together that spanned living in Africa, adventures across the globe and in the U.S. He was my first and only love. Except for temporary, ethereal crushes on gorgeous men like Paul Newman, George Clooney and a cast of Hollywood eye candy across the decades.
It’s been two months now since the world lost my Love, so still feeling emotionally raw, wrought and rung out. The several weeks of what-the-fuck disbelief that this man is no longer within my reach, in every sense, is morphing to another shape and stage. While I still feel emotionally electrocuted, the disbelief can no longer hold up to the god-awful truth that he’s never coming back. Ever.
Depression has filled in the spaces where the disbelief was in the first weeks. I’m alone. There is no one on the earth who loves me now. I mean the kind of love my husband and I shared, or the love of my parents, who both died in the last two years. That’s a big fucking hole. I talk to myself because I can’t run those spouse-only things by anyone else. We laughed at the same things. He was from Philly and some people did not get that city-subtle wry way of joking that Philadelphians are known for. But I did, despite being an Oregon kid. We were mostly on the same page, but not always. We all have our black holes that everyone in the universe recognizes but us. He was important to the world. And he was only halfway done with his sixth and final book in his series on Spinoza and the ethics. If you ever needed verification that no one is in charge of this shit show on planet earth, that was it. Unfair, you fucking universe.
It might only be caregivers who know that feeling of wanting your spouse’s pain to go away, but not him to go away. I held those wishes simultaneously. It makes no sense, but his pain was so extreme I just wanted it to stop. But not him to stop, living that is. He did not deserve such pain. I guess no one does. Except really nasty evil people, so fuck them and, yes, they should suffer. But not the good guys. My good guy.
Something is blocking me from remembering anything but those last two horrid months of the Husband’s suffering and his body’s final act. I want to remember all those other years, not just the cancer years. Those nine fucking long cancer years. And the night he died, in our home. No last words. A tracheostomy and a coma saw to that. He did mouth before leaving the hospital, a week before he died, “I’m so sad.” I said, “I’m so sad, too,” as I tried to be strong, and quickly wiped away the tears. But that didn’t seem to capture it all. Those grand last words and understanding between loved ones, like in all the movies, never happened. He just drifted away, voiceless, sad, without me knowing what he was thinking about. He tried to mouth words but his lips were so weak I couldn’t understand him most of the time. That lasted for about four days and then the coma started. I did catch, “Thank you,” and “I love you.” That’s all I got now.
And then a gift landed, attached to a comment on the Husband’s obituary page. A former work friend of his and his wife and two kids had attended one of our famous Christmas Eve family celebrations at our big house several years ago, and video-taped some of the craziness. Besides a large extended family, we always invited “orphans,” like our international friends away from home, or local friends not near their families or who just liked the joyous chaos of the Eve. There were always carols sung, by whoever was so inclined, but generally led by my sister who loves to lead such things. On this occasion she had written down all the words to Ave Maria on a white piece of cardboard for whoever was inspired to join the ad hoc choir. It ended up being two of my sisters, my Mom and the Husband. I clicked on the video link and, Bam, there he was on video, pre-cancer, his body not torn apart. There he was, laughing and pretend-acting like the conductor of the motley crew of singing elves. There he was, his real voice, which I hadn’t heard for nine years. There he was, the personality as it had been, before cancer changed his focus to staying alive during grueling treatments of radiation, chemo, tracheotomies, the feeding tube, the learning to speak, the never eating by mouth, the fucking suction machine. I have to stop. I just let the pain back in the room.
Even now as I write, the tears blur the screen I write on, the ache tightens my throat and head in a vice grip of hurt. The only thing that helps is just to noisily cry. No one else is here, so I do it alone. No one disturbed. Just me alone. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there does it actually make a sound?
Yes, goddamnit it does.
P.S., promise I won’t go on and on about death in the future and depress the universe. There’s one less egg to fry. Now let’s find out who the hell I am by myself.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere, alone, on the Oregon Coast
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