Rick died six years ago today. Not always being a rational person, I decided the best way to handle this awful anniversary would be to sleep through today. That didn’t work. For one reason, my cat did not agree with the decision. For another, I know you can’t hide from grief. You need to acknowledge it – face it head on. So, instead, I played all the saddest songs I knew, and I cried it out for a couple of hours. I felt all the feelings. Then my cat and I got up and went out to enjoy a beautiful summer day. Rick’s not here to enjoy it, so I’m going to do it for him.
Exactly one year after his death, I wrote an essay in which I wondered if August 13th would ever be “just a day.” I read it this morning, and I remember that awful, raw pain. Years later, I’m just thankful to have survived it and put my life back together. But there are a few significant days that are more difficult than others, and this will always be one of them.
IT’S JUST A DAY
August 13, 2018
“It’s just a day.”
I keep telling myself that. A day has no power. A day can’t hurt you. Why did I fear waking up today, August 13th? I’ve made it this far. I made it through all the days and weeks and months after this horrible day last year, and I’ve survived.
Last year, at this very time, I remember doing something dumb. I remember staring at Rick as he lay in the hospital bed unconscious, tubes and wires hooked up to IVs and monitors and oxygen. Rick was still slumped slightly towards me, despite two days of attempts by nurses to straighten him and try to make him more comfortable. I remember staring at his face and thinking…
I won’t look at the calendar.
The hospital had one of those small square calendars on the wall to my left. The kind that has a very large number so the patients can easily see what day it is from their beds. I remember thinking, But you saw it – you saw it in your peripheral vision earlier. You know you saw it: a giant number 13. No, I told myself. I will not look. I will not see the number, and then this will be just another day. It will not be the day Rick died. The number will mean nothing, because if I don’t look, this day will have no significance. If it has no significance, it means he won’t die today.
Yup, crazy thoughts. One more idea about how to control life, to control the imminence of the awful, terrifying, horror I was facing. How many times as a child did I avoid stepping on those cracks in the sidewalk? I would not be responsible for breaking my mother’s back. Doesn’t everyone heed these superstitions? How often do we avoid breaking a mirror? Not walk under a ladder? Cross our fingers for luck? These things are proven ways to control life, aren’t they? To avoid tragedy?
If I don’t look at the calendar, Rick won’t die.
So I didn’t. It wasn’t difficult to do after a while, because I couldn’t take my eyes off Rick. I was trying to memorize him: his strong face and jaw, his slick bald head, his wide shoulders, his silver-haired chest, his muscular arms. I was staring at the hand I held in mine – the largest, strongest hand I had ever grasped. The hand that had held mine every single day since we fell in love, as we walked into and out of buildings, as we strolled along beaches, as we sat watching TV in the evenings – even as we drove in the car. I was staring at that hand as I clung desperately to him, willing him to live.
It was obvious by now that he would die today. His body was failing. So I leaned close and tried to hold him around all the medical paraphernalia. I put my lips to his ear and tried to whisper encouragement. I told him: Thank you, honey. I love you so much. Thank you for everything you have brought to my life. Thank you for loving me. Thank you, honey. You can go now. You can stop fighting. You can rest.
And then, a few minutes later, I changed my mind. I was NOT going to be adult about this! I don’t have to! I don’t want him to go! Who cares if I’m an adult woman? Who cares if I’m supposed to be mature and accept this awful fate? So, like a three-year-old stomping her foot to demand her wishes be granted, that child-woman who thought she could control the fates by not looking at a calendar took it all back. I told him, NO. I CHANGED MY MIND! NO! Don’t leave me! You can’t go! You can’t! Please stay!
And the Rick who loved me for more than twenty years, the Rick who loved me as no other man had in my life, the Rick who knew me better than anyone – if that Rick had any conscious awareness at all – that Rick wasn’t surprised by my change of heart. He was used to helping me cope with things and make difficult decisions. He was used to comforting me when life took an awful turn and I turned to him for wisdom and help. And if he was aware of his surroundings at all, deep within that unconscious state, he was smiling fondly and telling me that I had to accept this, that he was sorry that he had to go – that he had no choice.
So I held on as long as I could. Through four code blues. Through his children and the rest of his loved ones telling him goodbye. I held on through the evening, until I realized that he was still breathing, but he wasn’t really there.
And then I let go. And I looked at the calendar.
And I knew, from that moment on, it would no longer ever be “just a day,” again,