Today marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death.
It’s been a long year…
On February 17, 2014, I got to Mass General very early in the morning.
Since Jim’s hospitalization the week before, I hadn’t been spending the night. I’d leave about 11 p.m. The nurses had my number. I could get to MGH in 10 or 15 minutes…
Throughout his illness, Jim had remained positive and good-humored. This is not to say pollyanna-ish or in denial. Not in the least. But, as he said early on, if he thought that complaining, whining, or being angry would cure him, he’d do it. Instead, he wisely reasoned, all such carrying-on would upset me and likely alienate the doctors and nurses who we wanted our side. Good thinking on his part. Jim’s candor and good humor – however gallows it was on occasion – were part of the reason that so many of the doctors and nurses we worked with very much enjoyed being with him. It made life (and death) a lot easier for me.
Towards the end, however, as often happens with the dying – at least those dying of cancer and starting to take some potent drugs – the nights are tough.
Jim would tell me that the night nurses were mean. They’d ripped his catheter out. They’d yelled at him.
He was hallucinating.
He was the one ripping the catheter out. He was the one who was yelling.
On that final day, when I arrived at the hospital, Jim was still in sun-downing mode.
He was asking me to do something for him: plump a pillow, pull a sock off, get him a popsicle (all he was eating), adjust a sheet.
I couldn’t understand what he was asking.
Jim glared at me and said, “If you can’t f-ing do what I need you to do, what f-ing good are you?”
Oh, swell, I thought. With my luck, these will be the last words my husband says to me. Figures!
Not what he had planned to say, that’s for sure. (Jim was a planner, and a few weeks before he died, he asked me what I wanted the last words he said to me to be.)
Jim then fell asleep.
I told the very nice resident who popped in what the famous last words had been, making a bit of a joke out of it, but thinking….Sheesh. After all we’ve been through…
Well, what are you going to do?
A couple of hours later, I was holding Jim’s hand when he woke up.
He looked over at me with a big smile on his face.
“Moe, you’re here! I’m so glad you’re here.”
All I could think was ‘say no more.’
This wasn’t what we’d planned, but it was good enough.
In fact, it was great.
I don’t remember all of what we talked about during the day.
I know that he told his nurse, who’d been our regular for the last few days, that she was doing an excellent job, and was a wonderful communicator – right on both counts.
I also know that we found out we’d gotten a bed in hospice, and that the ambulance would be taking us there in the early evening. When I headed for home to pick up my hospice bag – at hospice, I was going to be with Jim 24/7 – I went to take Jim’s parka with me. After all, he wouldn’t be needing it again.
He stopped me. “No,” he said, “I want to take that with me.” I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe that he had a few more days in him. Maybe we’d get a little walk in. (It reminded me of a short story by Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish writer who’d spent some time at Auschwitz. In the story, a prisoner who is being called to the gas chamber packs up his meager possessions – a bit of bread, a piece of string (I can’t quite remember) – to take with him, even though he knows deep down that he won’t be needing them. Hope springs eternal… The things you think of…)
Within an hour after we arrived at the hospice, Jim died.
I was holding his hand.
I think I was telling him that I was with him, that I loved him, that I’d be okay.
I don’t remember what, if anything, he said to me.
I choose to remember his last words as “Moe, you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.”
Not what we’d planned, but good enough.
There’s a lot more to it.
There always is.
It’s been a long year.
Oh, it hasn’t been all bad, all grim, all sad, all weepy.
I’m not looking around for a nearby pyre to throw myself on.
But a lot of the time, it’s just plain hard.
I miss Jim terribly.
Sure, I do plenty of things with friends and family – I always have.
Sure, I’ve always needed a lot of “white space” in my life, a lot of time to myself – and I’ve always enjoyed it, and often craved more. Be careful what you wish for.
It’s been a long year.
I miss Jim terribly.
I miss having someone there when I get home.
I miss having someone to watch the game with.
I miss having a built-in social life. I miss having someone who’s always around to do something with: take a walk, go out to dinner, watch a movie.
I miss his eccentricity. (Much as he drove me nuts half the time. No, I really didn’t care to look at a menu for a restaurant in Paris we might or might not eat in six months from now.) I miss his goofiness. I miss his humor, his enthusiasms, maybe even his frequent flyer obsessing. I miss his very Diggy-ness. (Jim’s name was Jim Diggins; his name in the family was Diggy.)
I miss having him around.
The other day, I played a Frank Sinatra CD. One of the tunes was “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
The words don’t really apply, as that song is about the one that got away.
But I miss having someone to watch over me.
Mostly, I miss having someone to watch over.
In the last couple of years of his life, I went from helping Jim live to helping him die.
I think I did a pretty good job with both.
But it’s really hard to go from that level of intimacy and intensity, from being the someone who watches over, to being on your own.
I keep returning to those famous non-last words.
“Moe, you’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.”
I’m glad I was there, too, hon.