It happened to me again this week, out of the blue. I was in a meeting at work, a Skype meeting with thirty-some people at various locations in the U.S. (including ten in the conference room with me). Suddenly, I pictured Rick at work in his home office, working on the website he helped me build for my department. I pictured walking into his office and seeing him at his computer, staring at the screen, no shirt on, comfortable doing his favorite thing to do: designing websites.
I imagined myself walking up behind him to peer over his shoulder at what he had on the screen. I pictured him from behind – his massive shoulders and upper arms, and the back of his smooth bald head – just as he looked a thousand times in our marriage. He was caught up in his work, in his element, mind somewhere else, probably not even realizing I was behind him.
And, as I did every time I came upon him this way, I snuggled up behind his back, reached forward and placed a hand on each shoulder. I stroked him from the crook of his neck, over the shoulders, down his arms, enjoying the feel of his warm skin, his muscular upper arms. I leaned forward and snuggled my face into his neck, right in the crevice where his neck met his shoulders and I kissed him, and I nuzzled his neck, and I savored his smell and his warmth.
And then, suddenly, I was back in the conference room, again. And there was no Rick. There hasn’t been for more than a year – 16 months to be exact. But the muscle memories, the years and years of caressing this man I loved – the memories of those times don’t stop. They sneak up when I least expect it, then disappear in an instant, and I am left jarred and stunned by what has just occurred – often suddenly back in some public place, with those around me unaware of the emotional voyage from which I just returned.
Most nights, I go to bed and I’m slightly sad that he’s not there snoring away, waiting for me to join him in our king size bed. On those nights, after waiting until I can barely keep my eyes open to even enter the bedroom, I distract myself from the silent bed by reading a book, or checking out the latest Facebook posts from my friends – anything to distract me from the quiet, quiet, quiet, room until I’m ready to nod off. Each night, I find some attempt at distraction, something to drown out the silence, the void left because there is no soft, gentle snoring coming from Rick’s side of the bed.
But some nights, I lie down on my side, pull the covers around me, and put out the light, and I sense him there. It’s not a conscious decision; it just happens. I feel him scooch over next to me from behind and pull me to him, and snuggle up against me. I feel the cocoon of his love, as if he’s really there. It occured to me last night that it’s probably much like a person who’s lost a limb and the phantom pains that come throughout the years, despite its absence. In my case, it’s a phantom embrace, an embrace that was a nightly part of my life, something I enjoyed for two decades, yet now it’s gone.
Unlike the phantom pains, which I can only imagine are actual pain, these embraces are bittersweet – pain mixed with a bit of pleasure. For a few minutes, I close my eyes and pretend it’s real, and I feel the comfort again: the love, the intimacy, the peace that I was engulfed in with each of Rick’s embraces. But then reality strikes, and I miss him – and the love he bestowed upon me with those giant comforting hugs – all the more.
I often wonder how long I’ll have these phantom memories and embraces. Months? Years? Decades? Until the day I die? And I also wonder how that even makes me feel. I wonder a lot about this grieving process – how one minute I’m a technical writer surrounded by my coworkers, functioning and capable in my “new normal” role, then suddenly, some unknown trigger arises, and I’m in the midst of a cherished moment with Rick. But, since these phantom embraces are the only kind I have now, I guess I’ll just cherish each one and be grateful to have experienced such love.