Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#SOL16: What Remains

House in the Country (M.A. Reilly 2013)


How can he be gone when all of his stuff is still here?

I try to avoid this room, but last night I came downstairs to walk a bit on the treadmill next to Rob's desk. And though I have cleaned up many of the things Rob had left, so much still remains, more than I can shoulder, more that I want to bear, but I do. A few weeks ago, I finally folded the acorn-color cardigan with the leather-covered buttons he always wore while writing and working at his desk. The sweater is now tucked away in our closet. Before I put it away, I held it up, burying my face in its softness and I inhaled. And there was Rob--so very, very faint. For months after Rob got sick and could no longer climb down the stairs to his office, the cardigan remained wrapped around the back of his desk chair. It was as if he had just taken it off and perhaps had gone to another room to answer the phone or get a class of water or make a cup of tea. That's how fast the cancer and infections changed our lives.

There is the sharp desire to find the man I have lost, the man who was gone so quickly, to find some sense of him in what remains.


After death, there is the illusion that everything waits. My husband's teak desk waits for his return. The heat of day waits for the cool dusk to arrive. The unstructured summer days grow tired and want to give way to the comfort of routine that comes with fall. But this waiting is a story I have tried to live. The want to live is strong even when grief feels limitless.

Life presses on.  Most days I feel this press with a certain urgency. The distance between Rob alive and the present grows greater, obscuring what I can see in my mind's eye, what I can remember. The faint scent of him in the sweater was bittersweet for everything smelled like a hospital, like medicine, and death. The sweater was untainted and held a brief, slim reminder of the man.

And all of this is another form of loss. It is a loss that lends definition to this unfamiliar life I now call my own.


I must confess that at first after Rob died I wanted time to speed along. I prayed for the rapid passing of minutes, hours, days, weeks, and then months. I wanted to roll time along and feel its healing powers.  Now, I feel the slice born from such desire and want to drag my feet, to remain as still as I can be in the moment before his last breath. In that awful moment when I could at least still say Rob was alive. There is nothing but a body after that last breath. Nothing familiar. Nothing once loved. The tenderness of life is gone. But even before that last breath, he was more absent than present, deep in some sleep I could not touch.

So perhaps I want to dwell in late November when the three of us celebrated Thanksgiving and we could not see what was before us even though we knew more than we could not say aloud. Then Rob still sounded like himself and though I know now that each day the spinal compression grew worse, the cancer wrapping itself around his spine like a boa constrictor, I did not know then that he would die before winter ended.  We simply did not see that possibility.  So not then. Not when life was so quickly ending.

Better to linger back three years earlier when the tumor in the apex of his right lung was finding ground. Then, yes then. That was the time to intervene to rid his body of this awful awful disease. Then we were readying to travel to Italy and on to England.  A summer holiday, so halcyon in memory. Then we lived with no warning of what was growing in his lung.


There is no return to the past without the full knowledge of what will happen. And such knowledge is a price too large to bear.

Each day that passes distances me from Rob and so I want to hold on to what I can't actually grasp and exist in this in-between world where there is no time, there is no death.

The anchor I have always known as my husband has given way
         and I am drifting
where the current flows.

I tell you even my will has forgotten its name.

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