The fear came back. The kinds of things that woke me up at night before she had the goddamn stroke and suddenly I cared too much to worry. Even when she died, I didn’t cry. Not the last few hours. Not after I realized that might make it hard for her to let go, and then the love poured out of me like Niagara Falls. The last damn chance to show how much I loved her and a whole lot more. The power of it wiped my psyche clean. I need that back again because I’m crying now.
Not all the time. Monday when I decided I’d better see if the 1099-R was in her studio. It wasn’t, naturally, but so much else was. A picture of her as a little girl, the photos of her mom and dad. Performance programs, PR shots, resumés, syllabi, mementos, paintings, dying plants, her favorite rocking chair, the little notes she always left around. Her grand piano hasn’t been tuned in over three years because the very best tuner in all the world, the only one she trusted, up and moved to Spain. “Don’t you think you ought to have it tuned?” I’d ask, “I know it sounds okay now, but—”
“Wait until we find a home!” she’d interrupt. “After it’s been moved.”
I thought of that when I was looking through her desk and lost it all again. Oh baby, honey, baby doll, why did you have to go?
The physical details of her dying come back sometimes when I lie down or go to bed at night. Of course they do. I paid such close attention. The way she breathed or tried to. The blackish-purple blotches on her tongue and lips. The absolute impending certainty of what was happening, the nothing-I-could-do unfolding as I stood or sat there, holding, touching, talking to her constantly. The time I called the nurse at 4:00 a.m. because I couldn’t get a reading on my pocket oximeter. She looked at me like I was from another planet but humored me by wheeling in the big machine that told us 98% and afterwards I tried my own again and there was nothing. You see it spilled out on the floor or painted huge across the wall but don’t know how to feel. I know she’s dying but I stand there fooling with the stupid plastic thing as if it makes a difference…
Okay, you get it. Welcome to my world. And now a little shift but still on Planet Juan.
Before my honey died she looked me in the eye and shot a picture right into my brain. It was the local cemetery in Keota, Iowa (pop. 958) where her parents are buried. No one in the family lives there any more unless we count the aunt by marriage who erected headstones for her miscarriages and gave them names. She meant well of course and I don’t mind. My sister-in-law and her husband have a monument in place with dates of death left blank. Their brother in Georgia wants his ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico so he’s out. But scads of other relatives are already in the ground, including Kathy’s beloved “Gram” who came all the way from England. She had a hand pump in her kitchen for the well and once had grapes and chickens in the back yard. Her cherry dresser stands beside my bed. Our bed. My bed. Goddammit all to hell.
The telepathic prompting told me, yes, please put my ashes there. (Finally looked at them last night. Quite finely ground, about five pounds of powder in a heavy plastic bag.) The plan is I will use her parents’ plot to bury the urn and place a flat “companion stone” on top. Having neither of these on hand meant I had to do extensive research.
One place I found is called “Mainely Urns” and guess which state it’s in but they sell every kind of urn and granite gravestones from a website built in ‘96 I’d say. They’re not the only ones, either. Returns might be a bitch if anything was spelled wrong but there’s no reason I can’t do this. I’ve even been texting back and forth with a fellow named Slaubaugh who handles all things cemetery-related in Keota. He hasn’t gotten back to me yet about borrowing a post hole digger so maybe I pushed him too far. Mainely Urns does sell nice bronze urns that cost much less than I ever would’ve thought. There’s even one on sale right now for 80 bucks. Don’t know about the granite business yet.
By “companion stone” I mean one that has both our names on it. The drawback here is that it’s heavier but I’m still shopping. Two small stones side-by-side might do even if I’m never buried there. Having some kind of marker is the thing though. I’m proud to have walked this Earth with the love of my life and want at least a few to know. So here’s the deal: I have the gravestone (also called a “grass marker” since it lies flush with the turf) shipped there if it’s not too heavy, regardless of where I order it from, or maybe I could pick it up along the way. Early September after Labor Day. Perhaps my sweetheart’s siblings will be there. I dig a hole, bury the urn, and place the stone. Everybody cries and I drive off into the sunset. Maybe I return years later on secret pilgrimages. Not tell anyone, just me and her. Strange dude kneeling on the grass and weeping. Leaves a bouquet of yellow roses, walks back to his Maserati and disappears.
I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know where I’m staying. Driving through Taos, it feels like Venus or bad luck. What is there to stay for? Soon everyone who knew who Kathy was will be dead just like me, and mostly people didn’t know. Now there’s a funny thought. We only pay attention to you while you’re in our faces, then we all go back into the stew. I guess the thing is do it now and let us know.
She lasted 22 years after she retired early. We didn’t plan it though, she simply quit and then we winged it. Everybody thought we must have gotten an inheritance but no, not anything. What if she had stayed on ten more years in the academic cancer factory? Shut up you shit you can’t ask questions like that. The point is that she stood for joy and insisted we follow our hearts. That was how we got here and it’s beautiful. There are no mistakes, not ever, and there’s no way I can make one now.
I’ve opened a brokerage account with Charles Schwab. Watch the old dead hippie blow the rent on mutual funds. A couple, anyway. Wake up a year from now and find I made a couple thou, I’ll keel right over then go buy another phone. Felt I couldn’t do that while we were “saving for a house” of course. That didn’t work in any case and now she’s gone, goddammit, but still here in my heart and maybe cheering.
When I was looking for the tax form in her studio, I came across some old silverware she had there. Pieces from a larger hoard here in the hutch, actually my great-grandmother’s silver plate from way back in the 1800s in West Virginia. I kid you not. We—“we”—have tons of things like that. No one in either family ever threw anything away, especially mine if it were worth a nickel. Somewhere I have my great-grandfather’s “clergyman’s pass” for the B & O railroad. Worth lots more than nickels then, but the point is that my grandmother kept it, see, because she was proud that he could ride the train for free…
Where was I? (These people. Me too, obviously.) Anyway, the silverware:
It’s heavy, solid, and I like it. Could easily be 150 years old. Why am I eating with soulless stainless steel utensils made in China? Let me say again, I like these. She made me find them. The drawer was even hard to open. They’re a symbol. Follow your fucking heart right now or die a worthless sack of scum.
Immediately I thought, hey.
You need a funky old museum kind of house to keep and use this stuff. It makes you smile. Then you don’t have to sell or give it all away and pull a stupid trailer around to state parks like a sad old motherfucker with a little yappy dog and scare the little girls. My Kath-a-leen approves. (“Why didn’t you do this before I died?”) I know, it’s sad and crazy but there is this kind of sense. I had a thought I liked and didn’t kill it. My family, all mostly dead, would not approve and this does bring me joy.
A flicker of direction. A drunken firefly at 40 yards. I may barf it up tomorrow but tonight I sleep. Oh look, a half-dead lilac. Moving on.
Grief is such a fucking long, ongoing, never ending process. Why can’t we just grieve and get it over with?
It really warms my heart to see you refer to your wife in the loving language that you do. I don’t think my dead husband would have ever felt that way about me. He was so self absorbed.
I’m jealous that you got to say goodbye to each other and have that closure. My husband was completely unconscious from the minute he had his heart attack and for the following three days before he quit breathing; and because of the GD Covid, I could not even be by his side until the last few hours, which were horrifying. I know what you mean about the memories of the physical process of dying that keeps revisiting your mind. After a year, I still relive those last hours. I keep having dreams in which he comes back and I am so glad to see him, but he never tells me he loved me. Maybe one day I can let it go.
Wow! I shouldn’t have stopped going to grief counseling. I obviously still have unresolved issues.
Hang in there, kiddo.
Sorry to take so long to respond. I hear you, on all counts. It’s a very long process. I’m glad you’re finding something to feel good about in reading my accounts and so sorry for the difficulties you describe in your own experience. Dealing with death is such a universal challenge yet so different in every instance.
I wouldn’t worry about grief counseling. I mean, who am I to give advice, but it seems to me that we’re supposed to feel whatever we feel and see where that takes us. The last 10 days have been the roughest so far for me. Maybe some things just naturally wait until we’re ready to face them.
John, I am so deeply sorry to hear of Kathy’s death. It must feel worse than death for you as you go through this time of missing her, of being without her physical presence. She was a ray of sunshine in your life. Losing her, her death, is not something you “get over.” Ever. It travels with you until you see her again on the other side. And you will see her again. Mourn for as long and as deeply as you feel it. It won’t keep her away from you. It won’t keep her from where she needs to be. She will always be with you. Laurie Anderson once wrote: “Then finally I saw it – the connection between life and death. And the purpose of death is the release of love.” My mother, too, died of complications from a stroke. I was with her to her final breath. I wrote about it, and spoke about it here. https://speakingofjung.com/podcast/2020/7/23/episode-68-cedrus-monte Maybe it will provide some sense of solace, or commiseration. Or something. Kathy shines still. And always will.
Hi, Cedrus. Thank you. That’s pretty much exactly how I see and feel it. Laurie was right, too.