Visiting our old neighborhood, I looked out over the yards from my friend’s home into what was once our backyard. In my mind’s eye, I saw him there, sitting on the deck, having his cup of coffee and another cigarette. In the last few months of his life, he’d sit there, head hung down, blankly staring at the wood planking. He was not one to share his feelings without a prompt of dynamite. His pet response to my asking him what he’s thinking only consisted of all the things he wanted to do that day. My heart ached. My husband couldn’t open his heart to me. I think he wanted to, he didn’t know how. For my own survival, I dismissed it as another aspect of his PTSD. Viet Nam arena.
Once again, he fell at work…how strange. My strong, sure-footed man was losing his balance too often. I was aggravated, he smoked, and I knew he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his brain. It was his body’s way of telling him to stop smoking. Too little, too late.
Pat, his manager and friend helped him take his glucose level...it was at a dangerous level. She called me, and I said, call the ambulance.
Anyone will tell you, once you get the dreaded and probable final diagnosis, life becomes a blur. You start putting one foot in front of the other without much thought.
He had Stage 4 lung cancer that went into his brain. The surgeon wanted to remove the tumor in his brain to prevent seizures and further spread, as I understood what was being said. It seemed all my training and experience as a Registered Nurse was no longer accessible to me. I did a lot of nodding.
Hindsight being 20/20, I criticize myself for not asking more questions. Why didn’t I make the surgeon fully and clearly answer the questions I did ask? I felt we were just another 10K for his pocket. That may be unfair but that’s how I ended up feeling. And I kick myself with the “what if” barrage of accusations.
Larry never fully recovered from the brain surgery. He was half himself. His humor, though mellowed, was still working. He was in rehab, riding a stationary bike that faced a window to the parking lot. I challenged him to see how fast he could get to that white care, he laughed and did his best to take off.
I cried through most of his rehab, watching my once-smart-quick-witted-husband be muddled over matching 3-grade level words to pictures. He had forgotten what a dime or quarter was. He was speaking less and less. Eating less and less. He was either resigned to what he thought was his fate or he just didn’t know where he was and what was going on. He wanted to go home and so home I took him.
He settled into home easily, but I’d find him fallen out of bed or urinating on the floor. I was terrified he’d fall down steps that were close to his bedroom. After a few calls and evaluations, Hospice came in. Thank God for Hospice, who are supportive of both patient and family, death and life. Neither Larry nor I could have gone through this process as Grace-fully as we did without them.
That time at home was a precious and painful time that allowed us to say our goodbyes, give & receive forgiveness, pretend-plan a vacation to Gettysburg, (his favorite place), to cuddle and to cry. I did the speaking for both of us, he didn’t remember how to form the words. I would curl up behind him and cry, my beloved would gently pat my hand.
It was precious, too, in that because he was home, he was kept clean and comfortable. He looked nice. I took great comfort from that.
70 days passed.
I read to him from the Bible that night as he peacefully drifted off to sleep. For some reason, I wanted to stay next to him but sleeping in a chair at a 45-degree angle took its toll on my back and neck. I went to bed knowing I could easily hear him if he called out.
I woke up the next day at about 6 A.M. and, as always, went to check on him. I touch his arm and was shocked by its coolness cried out loud “Oh, dear God”, thinking I had forgotten to turn the air conditioning to a higher temperature when I went to bed.
Then the reality of it all hit me. It couldn’t be. It was. He was gone.
I wanted to be at his side when he left this earth. I regretted letting my stiff neck get in the way.
Boots, our dog, had slept next to my bed that night. At some point, he woke me up with a howl…not a freighted or aggressive howl but a long, bemoaning howl. In my sleepiness, I dismissed it as his own nightmare. Maybe it was something else.
Boot’s sister died the month Larry was diagnosed. I don’t think Larry really knew that’s what had happened to Sadie-dog because during the time he could talk, he’d ask “What was wrong with Sadie last night? She was running all over the house.”
Maybe Sadie was waiting to accompany him in his journey. I like to think so. Maybe Boots was saying goodbye to both that night.
I’m entering my second year without Larry. It’s been a rolling-coaster of emotions, changes, and firsts. We had our troubles during our 39 years of marriage, frustrations, but we also had a lot of laughs and good times, as well. His absence is huge.
This may sound like a cliché, but my husband would want me to move forward and do the things I love…to think of him but not be bound by his memory. I can hear his encouragement, “You’re talented, you’re healthy, your Spirit is strong, don’t waste any part of your life. Be joyful. I am at peace. I have seen the face of The Christ.”
I’ll do my best, Love, I'll do my best.