My friend Jo sent me a Facebook memory. Three years ago today, I was with Rick on the Florida gulf. We were sitting with Jo watching a gorgeous sunset in Rick’s favorite spot on Madeira Beach. I sat staring at the photo, unable to remember exactly how I felt that evening. Despite the beauty of the sunset, I know I wasn’t feeling pure bliss. I know my mind was at war with itself, constantly battling to enjoy the moment, carpe diem and all that.
We had learned only months before that the odds were he wouldn’t be here much longer. He had just finished his chemo and radiation treatments and we celebrated by driving to Florida. Knowing that this was about the best and happiest thing we could do together, that part was good. Perfect. And I smiled at him, and we held hands, and we kept telling each other everything would be fine. But we both knew in our hearts that it wouldn’t be.
The doctors said even if they got the tumors the first time, they’d be back. They said he had about a ten percent chance after that. Maybe 9 to 12 months? Maybe more. Maybe less. But no matter how good their predictions, no matter how positive we tried to be about his chances, we knew that we had a finite amount of time left. That we had to make the most of the days or months we had. And we did.
So there we were, exactly three years ago today, enjoying one of our last sunsets together. And six months later, he was gone.
And I look at this picture with such mixed feelings. Such joy that we had each other for as long as we did. Happiness that I met him at all – as a 30-something spinster who never thought she’d find true love. Thrilled that he loved me back, maybe even more than I loved him. Lucky that we had the twenty years we enjoyed together, playing and fighting and loving, until he was gone and I was grieving. But, wow, those years were fantastic!
And then my mood fluctuated, and I started to cry, and to be honest, a few seconds later, I grew angrier than I have in a long time, and I yelled out loud, FUCK CANCER! How dare you steal my happiness from me! It isn’t fair! And I felt powerless against my rage as I sat here alone in our house – even after three years, even after coming to terms with my loss a long time ago.
Seven months after Rick died, I drove to our favorite spot by myself. It was kind of a dare to myself, I think. Can I handle life without him? Can I enjoy all the things we did together by myself? So I packed up the car and started out one morning on the route we often took, trying to convince myself I could handle the 17-hour trip alone. And, physically, I was alone in the car – I thought. But after driving more than a day, I was a bit depressed when one of his favorite songs came on the radio – Walking in Memphis. I started to sing along. I could almost hear him in my head belting out one of the lines of the song, and I started to cry. And at that exact moment, the passenger seat belt light came on. And, as crazy as it might be, I knew then that he was with me.
When I finally arrived in Treasure Island at our favorite motel, I made it just before sunset. It took all my nerve to drive to the beach by myself to watch the sunset alone. And then I remembered that I wasn’t. So that first night in Florida, as I sat in my beach chair, I made it through the grief by talking to him quietly as the sun faded into the west. And I haven’t stopped talking to him since.
I will never stop missing him and I will never stop loving him. I will never ever forget his love for me. I hope he’s on a beach somewhere now. I hope he’s enjoying an eternity of sunsets, because I know every time I see one, I think of him. I always will.
And now, three years later, I’m still not sure if I’m going back alone again this year. The motel said my usual room is available. The lease car has more than enough miles left. I have plenty of vacation time open at work. But it’s just not the same without him joking with me on the drive down, or visiting our favorite spots, or hanging out in the sun without him by my side. So, the days continue to creep by as I put off the decision. Do I go back to our old haunts? Or do I make all new memories? And in the coming days, I’ll finally decide. But no matter what I decide, I’ll always have the memories of those sunsets we shared on the Florida gulf, and I’ll have the love we shared for eternity.