It was time. I walked in, your wife, your best friend, your lover. You had been cleaned up, tubes removed, hair combed, fresh gown. I was able to hold you and kiss you, to say goodbye. To ask your forgiveness for letting you go. To tell you how much I loved you and always would. To tell you about everything good and wonderful we had together, and to talk of all we had done, and what we had meant to each other. I did all the talking; I don’t know if you were aware of my voice or were able to hear what I said, or even know I was there and feel my arms around you and be aware of my presence. Were you present or were you already gone to whatever next plane of existence does, or does not, exist? An hour went by, the longest and worst hour of my life. At the end of that hour, I walked out, your widow.
This is the core, the key moment that changed my life, but it cannot stand alone. Other moments in the chain of our life need to be told.
You turned toward me and grinned; a rakish, sexy grin, as you suddenly leaned in and kissed me. We were walking to my car on the way to a ballgame. It was our third date, and you had not yet made a move. I had, giving you a big hug after our first date, holding hands on date two and even trying for a kiss you adroitly, suavely, managed to elude. I had resigned myself to being just friends until you gave me that sweet, unexpected first kiss.
Mid-December; a time of year I would come to realize was your low point. Memories of family members who were gone, of disappointments and failures haunted you every year at this time. We stood in my kitchen. You were depressed and feeling low. I was giving you a hug. You turned toward me and said something to the effect of how I really did care, and how we were good for each other. I agreed, saying we were a team, a unit, a partnership. You said to me “Who knows how much time we’ll have. Let’s be together, always, for whatever time we do have.”
It was spring, the sun was shining, and we sat on the couch making plans for the day. The sun shone through the window and I realized that you were glowing in the light; glowing yellow; glowing a color that was not right, that no healthy person should be. You had been acting oddly, feeling poorly for some time, going to the doctor for the last 2 years, having tests, being checked for different things, but never with any real diagnosis. You were tired all the time, less active and not as interested in doing things. That morning, I realized that there was something seriously wrong with you, and that our lives were going to be massively changed.
Late May, early in the morning as we were getting dressed, I saw you in profile. You were gaunt and skeletal. Your legs had lost their musculature, and skin was hanging loose where only a few months ago there had been sleek and shapely muscles. You had to lean on the wall to put your pants on. You looked like a ghost, 20 years older than your age, like a man who was fast approaching death. I had a sudden chill and the hair on my arms rose up; I had a premonition, not a guess, but a moment of sure clarity, and I knew with absolute certainty that you were dying.
The Phone Call
You were in the hospital, having arrived there a week earlier via ambulance. Don’t worry, the doctors said. This happens, it’s treatable, and we can adjust medications so it’s less likely to happen again. The physical therapist came by every day to work with you on standing up, walking, balance, things that had been normal 2 weeks ago. Recovery, release, rehabilitation; those were our new words. I had just gotten home after spending all afternoon with you. The phone rang. It was the nurse: “there’s been an accident,” she said; you had been found on the floor, unresponsive. That night you were moved to Intensive Care; there was evidence of a small stroke, and you were far less responsive than you had been earlier that day.
That was the first time the phrase “circling the drain” started repeating itself in my head. That was when the conversations with doctors started to shift. There was no more talk of rehabilitation, recovery, release; I started hearing about transplants and timelines. There was no more inevitability regarding your getting better.
I knew the answer before they said a word, before they entered the room, from 10 feet back. The grim faces, the apprehensive look, the hesitation; I knew. The transplant committee had met, and their decision was to turn you down. There was no other option; you were dying. No deus ex machina would rescue us; no 11th hour reprieve was possible. You were going to die. I would be a widow. It would be soon.