|from my art journal, 9.21.16 (acrylic paint, gesso, pan pastel, stabilo pencil)|
Devon was about 8 years old when Darty died. His pet Guinea pig lived for two years in a cage in his bedroom. It was early morning--the second day of spring holiday when I heard him clomp down the steps. He came into the kitchen and told me with a slight tremble in his voice, "I think there's something wrong with Darty. He's not moving." Rob had left an hour earlier to go to work and as I climbed the stairs I wondered what I'd find, hoping it would not be my son's dead pet.
But it was.
And as my face confirmed what Devon had hoped would not be true, he broke down and sobbed. After ushering him out, I closed his bedroom door and held him as he cried. I'm sure I said what I thought was soothing, more than likely something about love, but really at these times it is the sound of comfort, more so than the words spoken, that seem to matter most. Murmurs are Morse code for love.
After a while he settled and I decided it would be best to get us out of the house. So I called Rob to tell him the news and we made a quick plan. I took Devon for the haircut he was supposed to get, then to a movie, and to a local diner for some lunch. Meanwhile, Rob came home after school, cleared the cage from Devon's room, and placed Darty in a box. It's odd the things you notice at such times. But when we returned home it was the absence of hay that normally littered the rug in Dev's room that I first noticed was gone. Rob had everything in Dev's room neat and clean.
Like Devon, Rob too had loved Darty. He and Dev would play with Darty most days, letting him out of his cage so he could run around; feeding him bits of carrot. And so that afternoon, it was decided that we would bury Darty out where the woods meet our backyard. That night Devon carved a marker that he wanted to place on the grave. The next day, we held a funeral for Darty. We all stood in the far corner of the yard looking down on the rocks that topped Darty's grave. The marker was round and small and carried the single initial D. We each told a 'Darty" story and later I recorded Dev's story on a piece of paper and we went back outside and set it on fire. We were quiet as we watched the smoke rise towards heaven, much as we had done two years earlier when Rob's dad had died.
Love and loss are more about relationships, than categories.
Marriages are built on such moments, the foundation that supports those days that surely come when love feels less certain, less sure. I recall the tenderness, the fierce love Rob revealed as he sheltered Devon murmuring words I could not discern as we stood at the grave. I don't know what he said, but the tone carried more that the words as did the strong arm wrapped around my boy's slender shoulders.
Just eight years after that spring passing on a Wednesday afternoon in February, Rob and I waited for my oldest brother to bring our son to the hospital. The hours before anyone else arrived were the most intimate ones I have ever spent with Rob. He was so lucid and when Dev arrived we somehow found the words to tell him that his dad would not be getting better. We told him that the cancer had progressed and that no treatment, not even the immunotherapy could reverse or slow the spread of cancer. We told him that his dad had just a few weeks to live.
The memory of Devon collapsing his six-foot body on the hospital bed across his dad's legs sobbing a too-wounded animal sound that wound down to barely a whimper leaves me feeling sick again. To know such sorrow, such distress is to fully know, for the moment, what human loss is.
Even then, on a day Rob was confronted by his own mortality, his thoughts were of our welfare--Devon's and mine. It was our care he thought of immediately. It was earlier that day when he told me to take care of Devon, to nurture his passions and interest. He told me to live brilliantly and asked only that I get him out of the hospital so he could home to die. A week later he would be transported from the hospital's palliative care center to our home. He had spent the previous 50 days in the hospital and more than 100 days there since September.
On a snowy December morning in the front parlor of Dave's Vermont home, I could not know when I pledged to love and honor Rob all those years ago what such a vow might actually mean. I simply could not know.
Love unfurls across the years; a sail to the wind and it all passes so very quickly. And though the first flush of love is truly passionate and giddy and feels so good--it is the deep steadiness of love I now miss the most. Loss (re)informs love, allowing for such acute clarity that what matters most is revealed with definition. My husband's deep love for our son fills me with a quiet certainty I now know as a blessing.