|Bold Sun (M.A. Reilly, Montepulciano, Tuscany, August 2013--two years before Rob's diagnosis)|
Sometimes in late afternoon, when the sunlight falls across the west-facing windows at home, I am moved to recall the last three weeks of Rob's life and I think that maybe, just maybe, I dreamt it all. I mean how could it be real? For even now, his death, the awful 5 months of failed medicine, the pain he endured, having to tell our son his dad would die and die soon and seeing him collapse on top of his father and knowing what it cost Rob, frail from the illness and the attempted cures, to catch his son's weight. He caught his weight and held him steady.
All of that feels so far away, save the love. The love was so intense the last months of Rob's life. Some days I wonder if I haven't been in a deep shock these last few months and am now emerging like a winter coat you take out in late October to air. Here in the heat and glare of an early summer day, winter feels impossible--just like the 21 days I sat beside the clunky hospital bed that claimed a good portion of our family room and watched Rob as he would reach his arm into the air grasping at something I simply had not the eyes to see. At these times the late day light would be sparse, almost cool, as it fell across the linens on his bed. I loved how the shadows shifted and moved against the purity of the white blanket.
My husband was finally home--home after spending 50 days in hospitals. You must understand that the regular rhythm of day and night gets so disrupted in a hospital, especially as Rob was housed in intensive care when he first arrived. He had been taken from our house by ambulance the morning of December 30th because he could no longer stand up and he was brought back by ambulance on February 17th after the terminal prognosis. A resident, a young man, told us Rob had five days to a couple of weeks to live. He repeated this until finally I had to ask him to leave the room, to leave us alone. I remember telling him, "You are not helping. Please go." Yet, by the 17th, I was so relieved to finally have Rob home that I did not and could not fathom having to give him up forever. It seemed as if the two of us had forgotten he was dying.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion remarks "Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it" (p. 188). And now I know this is a sad truth. It is impossible to understand the permanency of your husband's death. It is ridiculous to waste time trying. Having spent most of the last 29 years with Rob it is more illogical than truth to not have him here planning our summer holiday. Now that Devon is out of school and the days are hot and sunny, I keep anticipating that I will find Rob seated at the round kitchen table scribbling in one of the many notebooks he kept, a pile of maps ready to be explored.
We loved to travel and thought little of getting in the car and just going. No destination, save an initial direction.
During the last three weeks we had together, I was so immersed in caring for him, operating minute-to-minute mostly in deep shock with little sleep and even less food that the implications of his death were not a reality I could attend to. I was only in my mid-50s and widowhood, I foolishly thought, was preserved for older women, not me. A few weeks after Rob died, I was paying for movie tickets and thought, "How can I be a widow? I'm too young to even get a senior discount."
But there are blunt reminders that in fact I am a widow. This week my brother collected Rob's ashes from the funeral home.
Life pulses on dragging me along with it. Most days I occupy myself with painting, walking, grocery shopping, making meals, watering the plants, talking with Devon and friends, visiting others, reading and writing . None of these things feel normal as there is no normal now. Normal has imploded. Even time has been reorganized into a new dating system: before the diagnosis and after. For example, two years before the diagnosis we ate dinner in a small restaurant in Sant'Albino tucked away in Tuscany. We talked about coming back to live after we retired never knowing that Rob would be dead long before he could retire. A year before diagnosis, Rob and Devon brought three huge hamburgers with fries from a Ruby Tuesdays in Brunswick, Georgia. We were traveling home after spending time in Florida and passing the night at an Embassy Suites.
But all of that is moot. Life as I knew it ended on August 20th, 2015 at 8:20 in the morning. It was then we learned Rob had cancerous lesions on his spine. We thought he would need just some radiation--28 days we had been told. It would be several weeks later that the full horror would be named: stage 4 lung cancer which would be further complicated by poorly treated staph infections, thoracic surgery, and spinal surgery. Each year roughly 160,000 people die from lung cancer here in the United States. It is the cancer that kills the most people. There is no cure.
Friends, acquaintances all ask, How are you doing? They ask this with genuine care in mind and I find I pause before responding as I don't really know what to say. You would think I would have come up with a pat answer by now but here's the thing, there is no single answer and none feel accurate anyway. With each inquiry, I feel as if I should be further along with grieving than I am. Yet after Rob's death nothing seems to make a lot of sense and this is what is so difficult. Nothing makes sense, least of all the death of such a vital loved man.