Leave Taking

 In Aging, Repairing the World, SHIFT

Sitting at my same spot, eating my solitary breakfast, looking out my dining room window…did I miss the changing of the leaves on my crepe myrtles?  Where was full-blown summer with blinds closed against the hot sun?  Oh, how I would have loved to breath in the spring blossoms, but I do not mind having missed the stormy, wet winter. It has been a year since my Love became ill, and now he is gone.

As we chased the elusive diagnosis, there was the debilitating pain of gout and psoriatic arthritis, somewhat masking the lethal intruder, skin cancer.  He endured medicine to keep the blood clots from traveling. Worst of all was the heinous chemo that wracked his fragile frame. These poisons demolished his bone marrow leading to the need for massive transfusions of both white and red cells. The final insult came when a tumor on his ankle grew out of control. It was then he was sent to undergo radiation for this growth, but instead the pronouncement of his imminent death was spoken.

All through the year of his fight, he was always trying to stay mobile and independent. I cringed as the cane gave way to the walker. Then there was just the wheel chair until he lost the strength to get out of bed.

Who could watch the seasons? Our world became very tiny, contained within our bedroom. I brought in as much of the color of the world as I could. I surrounded his hospital bed with pictures of the children and grandchildren. His bed lay alongside the sliding glass door that forms that end of our bedroom. First thing every morning I thrust back the shutters, only closing them against the dark as the last strains of the sun vanished.

The tension of the vigilance as his time grew near has now seeped away while we worked out way through the busyness of burying our dead. Where is the once vital man who laughed at my jokes, who insisted that he too liked sappy chick flicks, whose choking gasp would break out when there was heart break. This was the man I lived with for 37 years but never saw cry. When I broke down at the finality of the prognosis, even then he had no tears. He just beamed this beatific smile as I wept.

I asked how he was able to cope with his impending death, assuring him I would not be able to do so if it were I. His response came through a soft smile on that otherwise taut face, “You will be able when it is your time.” I choose to believe him. He did not just slip at once into peaceful eternity, but rather seemed to flow back and forth between here and there for days before his actual passing.

As I have shared with others, a day or so before he died, he came out of his sedated state to ask a question. At this time he had not been formulating sentences at all. Looking very clear-eyed, he asked me, “Are you aging?” This was so telling as neither of us ever saw the other age as the years passed. He seemed so surprised that I was showing signs of age. I have to believe he was also in the land of no aging at the time.

He altered so much during the year. The most visible changes were the sudden, extensive weight loss and his hair having all but fallen out. By the time there were but wisps of hair left on his head, he asked for a mirror. That was when his demeanor faltered a little as he asked me to shave his head.

When he died he had his moustache back, but his lustrous beard and salt and pepper hair were gone. It helped me to at least be able to see his moustache again. He wore a beard most of our time together, but had never been without a moustache.

It is so hard to deal with the shock of the finality of his being gone. I could not imagine it, and now it is here. The flowers from the memorial are beginning to droop. It is the time for cleaning out, clearing up, settling in. I have to ask what it is I am to settle into. How can I redefine myself? I was 29 when we met. It had been so easy, natural to throw in my lot with him, beginning to identify as who we were together. It has been so long now that I cannot remember who I used to be. I am not sure I could ever return to who I was before him, nor would I want to. I have become a new person.

The things we have created together are still here, tugging at me to take my place once again: the children, the grandchildren, the congregation, the extended family, the friends, my writing. I will rejoin them as I can, when I can, how I can. They too feel the absence of my other half. I want to keep his presence, his values, his ideals alive in all that now continues on without him. I hope I can always remember his views. His way was of deep contemplation and thorough investigation, while his conclusions were always just and kind and wise. He lived to study. He grew to be an anointed teacher.

We often studied together. I endeavored to read what he read. We had amazing, transforming discussions. Those are what I will miss most. I hope to one day be as kind as he was. For now I have to say,  “Goodbye, My Love.”

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  • Sojourning With Jews

    Thank you for sharing such a tender aspect of your journey with your sweet husband.

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