“I am anti-life, the beast of judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything. Sss, and what will you be then, Dreamlord?”
“I am hope.”from Sandman, by Neil Gaiman
You can accomplish a lot in a year, sometimes without doing anything at all.
This time last year, I was waiting. There isn’t much else that you can do when your husband’s oncologist apologizes, and hospice says to let them know if the medication isn’t managing the pain. In the meantime, he was finally given the green light to eat and drink anything he wanted, which ended up not being very much at all.
During those final three weeks, I would count out the required pills in the specified combination, every six hours. I think, despite everything, I was still in denial. Blame it on a lifetime of storybooks and novels, and maybe a few films, where miracles happen. I thought of the loved ones who had passed before, and thought surely – surely! – there were strings that could be pulled in the afterlife. This was not how it was supposed to end: not with this kind of pain, or suffering, withering away in a form that was no longer his own. There were still beach days to be had, delicious foods to be eaten, unwanted 80s ballads to be inflicted. It wasn’t supposed to end so soon. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
This was not, as the saying goes, my first rodeo. My mom had been in the same hospice program decades prior. I knew I was supposed to call hospice first.
“I don’t think he’s breathing,” I said when they finally picked up the phone, “and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. You’re going to have to tell me. Just tell me what I’m supposed to do, and I’ll do it. Because I really don’t know.”
It turned out to be more waiting: waiting for a hospice nurse to call me back, then to wait for the person who comes by to check and make sure he really passed, and finally the people who come to take away the body.
In the meantime, I tried to call my siblings who live out of state, and therefore in different time zones. Somehow, it seemed to matter, not waking up anyone at a terribly ungodly hour. Nobody answered, so I left voice mails. My sister, J, was the first person to return my call. She walked me through some prayers, and cried with me. I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, but the routine helped me, personally, in that moment. (Don’t try this if you’re at all uncertain of how it will go with the bereaved. Definitely don’t use this as an excuse to try to “comfort” any atheist friends or loved ones.)
The man who verified S’s passing arrived about two hours after I’d first called hospice. He spent a long while, cleaning up S, and I guess checking for vitals.
“So…is he really gone?” I asked.
He hesitated. There was a look on his face that said he’d dealt with heavy denial and was bracing himself.
“I’m just wondering,” I hurried on, “because, well, my vision isn’t great and I thought maybe I saw his chest move, so…”
“No, he’s gone,” the man said. “I’m sorry.”
We talked about necessary things: the timeline of the men who would take away the body, funeral homes, and the like. Once he left, I made another decision.
“Hey,” I said softly into the darkness of the other bedroom, “some men are going to come and take away your dad in a bit. Do you want to see him one last time and say goodbye?”
We stood together for awhile. R said, “It looks like he’s sleeping.”
“I know, but that’s what it looks like.”
The men came as the sky was a pale dove gray. They offered their condolences, too.
The weeks after that were a blur.
If I could have had someone else drive me around to take care of things, I would have. I should have. I thought I was doing alright, holding myself together, getting things done, but in retrospect? It felt like I was at one place, and then suddenly I was back home. Once I finalized the paperwork at the funeral home, I made plans to stay home until I could think straight again.
On that day, I made a singular plan: if something didn’t absolutely have to get done, I wasn’t going to do it. We had to eat. Bills needed to be paid. Everything else? I would give myself one year to avoid anything that wasn’t necessary. One year to grieve, process, and most importantly, do my best to get R through this unscathed.
In about 10 hours, it will be exactly one year.
I don’t think of this as moving on. Moving on, to me, sounds like I can pretend that the past 15 years didn’t happen, as if S didn’t exist. That’s never going to be the case. If anything, it’s more like moving forward. But before I do, I want to make this post. It’s a lot of the things I didn’t think about over the last 364 days, but it’s lurked beneath the surface of my thoughts nonetheless.
I’m sorry that things ended like this. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to warm your face more times by the Pacific Ocean, and that we didn’t get to see all the places we’d talked about. I’m sorry for a lot of things, but…thank you for being a part of my life. Thank you for showing me what it’s like to not hold onto anger and grudges. Thank you for introducing me to Mr. Show and Arrested Development. Thank you for all of the times that you were there for me. Thank you for understanding.
I hope that there is an afterlife, and that somebody’s version of Hell is getting prank calls, and part of your version of Heaven is dialing them. I hope that there is something equal to, or better than, New Castle Brown. I hope you have access to a hella sick collection of guitars and old man cars.
Most of all, I hope that you are having the bestest, grandest adventure. I’ll do my best to do the same from here.