A year ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. Wait . . . what am I saying? One year? No. It’s been two years since he died. What a strange error to have made, yet perhaps it’s understandable. The night he died is still so very clear, as if he’s been gone only months, not years.
On the recommendation of his hospice nurse, I’d taken him to the hospice care center in the hopes that they could figure out how to regulate his drugs to give him the most lucidity and the least pain. It crushed my heart to take him there. I never got to talk with him again — he was in a drug-induced coma for those last five days of his life. I think he was at peace the final two days, though. All the time he was there, his breathing sounded like moaning, and I worried that he was in pain, but during his next-to-last day he exhaled a few melodious-sounding breaths, as if he wanted to reassure me he was okay.
He once told me that if it ever came to his being in a facility, he didn’t want me to visit, but how could I not? Even though the care center was sixty-five miles away, I went there every day, but I left early enough so I could get home before dark. The irony is he agreed to go so I could get some rest, but I never did sleep those nights. I was too worried about him.
His last night, Friday night, I didn’t go home. A few snowflakes fell and I used that as an excuse to stay. Also, I was restless, sensing the end was near. So I waited.
Around 1:30 in the morning, his breathing changed. Became harsher. I went to his side, said it was okay for him to leave, that I would be all right. At 1:40, he took a breath. His Adam’s apple bobbed once. Twice. And then he was dead. I kissed him by the side of his mouth. Waited a few minutes before I went to get the nurse.
I like that I got to tell them he was gone rather than have them tell me.
The nurse confirmed that he was gone. She called the funeral home, and I sat there in the room with him for two hours, just waiting. I might have cried. I might have been numb. I don’t really remember. I couldn’t even see his face — they had cleaned him and wrapped him in a blanket — so I just sat there, thinking nothing until almost dawn, when they came for him. (They came in an SUV, not a hearse. And they used a red plush coverlet, not a body bag.)
I followed them outside, watched them put him in the SUV and drive away, then I left. The highway was dry, but about halfway home, I skid. (I must have hit a patch of black ice, because there was no indication that patch of road was any different from what I’d already traveled.) I went careening, around and around, back and forth, my car totally out of control. I thought I was going to die, but oddly, I never left the road. The car finally came to a halt facing the wrong way on the highway. I was fine. So was the car. I remember wondering if he had stopped by on his way out of this world to leave me a final reminder to be careful, or maybe he was shaking his ghostly head, thinking that after his being gone only two hours, I was already getting careless.
He always worried that I wasn’t careful enough. I’m trying to be careful. Trying to take care of myself. I hope he’s taking care of himself.
The past two years have been agony for me. I know there was no way he could have continued to live considering the vast extent of the tumors. I know death was the only way to set him free from his excruciating pain. When he died, I truly was relieved. And yet . . . he was my best friend, my playmate, my business partner, my life companion. He was the one person who listened to me, who was always there for me. (As I was for him.) Even though I can see the necesssity of his death, I hate that he’s gone from this earth.
Not one of the previous 731 days have passed without my missing him. Even as I go on with my life, even as he and my grief recede further from me, I will continue to miss him. He was a good man. The earth is poorer for his death.