Eighteen Months Ago…

My life as planned stopped nearly a year and a half ago, when Rick died suddenly of an unexpected heart attack, in the wee hours of Christmas morning… at least, that is when I believe he died. He had just laid his head back on my shoulder, and closed his eyes for the last time, finally able to rest without pain. The doctors didn’t sign a death certificate until four hours later, in another state, after a valiant effort to bring him back. But I know, in truth: he left this earth in that moment, from our forever home. He left us all so suddenly.

He and I often joked about which of us would die first … we had both accumulated a lot of treasures – his were of wood and metal, primarily housed in the shop at the end of our driveway. Mine were of fabric and paper, some in the shop, some in the house. Both collections were so large they had become overwhelming, and he had added on to the tractor shed out back to hold even more. We knew there would be a day of reckoning for one of us, when the other had passed. We both believed quietly that it would be me who would go first … me, with all the diagnoses … I could recite them as a sing song litany … multiple sclerosis, mild scoliosis, osteoporosis, hyperhidrosis, malignant melanoma, squamous carcinoma, basal cell cancer … and for some reason, depression and anxiety…

His strength, compassion and love carried me through and over all of those maladies, through tests, and labels, and so called treatments … He was my partner, my love, my caretaker … my best friend. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it did.

Some of the labels I’ve acquired have diminished in their importance; hyperhidrosis no longer reduces me to a dehydrated weakness. As a child, my aunt upstairs had suggested that, perhaps when I became a woman, my body would adjust and stop sweating profusely. She was almost right – rather than altering at menses, though, it was menopause decades later that finally brought relief from that syndrome. But by then MS and Melanoma had taken charge of my focus … damaging prescribed drugs and repeated surgeries took control of my schedule and my health. Rick, though, continued to be well, continued to encourage me to pursue my dreams, my teaching, my writing, my quilting. When I had to retire because of the MS cognitive symptoms, we made sure my pension was set up with a surviving spouse allotment. We didn’t do that with his pension, as, if for some unforseen reason I survived him, my pension would increase in his absence. And then the unforseen happened, decades before either of us had ever forseen.

The first season without him was winter …  but we had prepared for that, as he would be laid up after the shoulder surgery. We knew Rob would come over to help with the new snowblower … we had enough firewood stockpiled close to the back door … we had a new refrigerator, a well maintained furnace in the house, and we closed the shop for the winter and planned to take it easy and do some day trip travels. I made it through that winter surrounded by friends and family.

Spring of 2017 was a depressing season rather than a respite from winter … the cold continued, the snow continued, and my inner debate about what to do with the shops continued until warmth finally returned in April and I opened the quilt shop. Again, friends and family were supportive and the shop occupied my time and attention. Summer came on, the quilt shop’s number of customers began to dwindle, and the long sunny days belabored the lack of business receipts. And then fall arrived. I had not yet been able to successfully have the shop furnace repaired or replaced, and know Rick could have done so by then … I felt badly about failing to do that, and to do other things that we had wanted to do together by then. But by then, I had begun seeking more sleep and fewer social events. I didn’t want to fail at anything else, and sleep seemed the safest way to spend the late fall…

I had survived all four seasons without Rick at my side. Rather than feeling accomplished, I began to realize that he was truly gone, and could not come back to me. And I began longing to be with him, and needing to be with him. And on December 21st, the first day of the fifth season without him, I did my best to join him, but I failed. I did not think I’d done anything wrong in trying to join him. I wanted to be with him at peace in our happily ever after eternity. I did not want to stay here for another round of seasons without him. But my effort failed, and instead of giving my friends and family the gift of happy, peaceful memories and reassuring thoughts of Rick and I reunited, I inadvertently gave them worries and concern.

And so I am still here … still unsure of who I am supposed to be, here without Rick. i am still the one with all the labels … the melanoma and squamous have reappeared … the familiar characters, dermatologist and skin surgeon, are again part of my schedule. There is a new therapist with whom I meet bi-weekly now, and she has set goals for me, for our sessions. One goal is that I will find new paths to joy, and one is that I will no longer have suicidal thoughts. Of course, trying not to think of something causes one to think of that very thing. So I try not to think at all …

My psychiatrist remains on my calendar each month. He knew me and Rick together, and is saddened by Rick’s death, and having known him, and having known us as a couple, understands the depth of my grief. His suggestion to help me find my way through this complicated grief is to open up and talk to my friends and family as I talk with him, sharing my longings and wishes to be with Rick, helping them understand why I did what I did. I told him I didn’t want to add to their worries. He told me they are already worried, and that they need to hear my honest thoughts.  I trust his advice; that is why I am writing this, now. It is hard to vocalize my feelings and longings without tears, and I cannot hold an intelligible conversation through tears.

I continue to turn to music from the days when Rick and I were first together, trying to recapture the optimism and dreams that we shared. I try not to remember the music of the sad years, those in which we were most often stressed beyond our max, taking care of our elderly parents while continuing to be parents and grandparents ourselves. I continue to want to listen to Christmas music, as that was a constant in all the years of our lives together … but that holiday’s music is no longer a path to joy for me. He left me on Christmas morning. I cannot fathom that.

So I will go on, as an automaton … making quilts … offering fabrics and notions to those who join me in making quilts, or selling it reasonably to those who stop into the shop to share the love of fabrics and creativity. I will learn to do all of the medical self care that this century demands … all of the things Rick so capably did for me. And I will try not to ideate about death, though i will continue to long for his company, and wonder when I will be allowed to enjoy that again.

I’ll end this post with an appropriate song, sung by a young singer who, shortly after this was recorded, passed away of malignant melanoma. Wishing her a well earned happily ever after…


1 Comment

  1. creekergirl61

    My dear Terry ~ It makes me happy that you have shared your deepest thoughts and circumstances with those of us who have come to care about you. I write this with tears in my eyes as you touched me deeply with your words of love and loss. wish for you, many happy, blessed seasons to come my friend. You are making much progress. Sending love your way…

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