One year ago today, curled up next to him in the hospital bed, I began to tell him a story. It was the story of our life together.
I was up almost the entire night previously. He was sick, and needed care and I couldn’t sleep and let him suffer. At 4 am I checked his breathing. At 5 am I called my friends to bring me paperwork so I could take over the medical decision-making process. At 6 am I called his family. “Hurry,” I said. At 7 am, the palliative care nurses came in, and I wept for the first time in 12 hours.
“You can get in bed with him,” they suggested, and they pulled the sheet back so I could lay on his chest.
So many years I’d laid on his chest. First as young lovers, so amazed by each other that we couldn’t stop physically touching anytime we were together. Then as a young couple, happy to have each other in a world where it seemed there was so much else we couldn’t control. Then as young parents, with our baby also on his chest and my face touching both of them. Then as tired professionals, happy to have each other at the end of the day. I knew his chest, and even if the cancer had weakened it, it still felt like home to me.
He wasn’t talking on the morning of the last day of his life, but he was breathing and I could feel his chest rise and fall. I didn’t know if he could hear me, but I started talking and didn’t stop. I began the story at the very beginning – meeting him for the first time at a karaoke bar, singing Bon Jovi and riding one bike home together. I told him how the wind felt on my cheeks that night, and how I laughed thinking back to that first adventure.
I told him about our time as friends and that first long night on the beach when the sun came up too early and we had to go home without a first kiss. I told him about the times we traveled and the times when we stayed home, and I told him about how he made me the happiest girl on the planet when he proposed. I told him about how nervous I felt getting ready on our wedding day, but how happy I felt when I saw him at the front of my church.
I even told him about our fights, including the stupid one we had during our first year of marriage where I didn’t speak to him for the whole day. I mean, I told him about most of that fight, but I still couldn’t remember what it was about. Neither of us ever could.
I told him about our life before kids and I cried, a lot, when I told him about the births of each of our children. I told him that his face was what I remember about those three days. Not the kids’ faces. His. He was so proud and so happy and so in love with me and our little family.
I kept talking even when the nurses and other staff came in the room. I didn’t want to get to the end of our lives because….then what? Would he die if I was done telling our story? Was that going to be it?
I wasn’t even sure if he was hearing me for much of the time. But every once in a while – when I was crying, usually – he’d squeeze my hand, or pull me closer to his chest with just a tiny tug and I’d know that he was still there. He was still mine, even if he was being called away from this earth.
It was the worst day of my life. But I’d do it all over again, just to have one of those moments when he pulled me close to him and said “I love you” without speaking.
Just to have one more moment when he was still mine.
One year. How have I survived a whole year without him? I do not know. I will never know how it is possible that I am here.
And he is not.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.