Sunday, February 6, 2011
My car is racing on the freeway the way my heart is. How can this be, I ask myself. They said he had six months, and that was no more than a month ago. They are doctors. They can’t be that off.
All these people driving on the freeway on a glorious 70-degree warm February day, probably off to do a variety of fun activities, taking full advantage of the unseasonal warm weather, makes me wonder if they know how ridiculous they look. It’s so bright out there I have to put the sunglasses on. It should be a happy day. You don’t die on a happy day. They shouldn't look so cheerful.
I pull up behind Lena’s car. She gets out and we hug each other. She comments on how fast I made it—I live three cities away. We both look like we missed something from our morning routine—either a shower or some makeup. I was working in the garage when I got the sad news. Shower will have to wait.
Jessie opens the door with glassy eyes and a surprised look. The hospice just left and the undertakers are on their way. Lena and I both decline the inquiry of seeing him. I don’t know about Lena, but I am a little scared. We don’t know what to do so we go outside and greet the dogs, who are going crazy from being blocked away in the backyard. We can’t go back in without the dogs squeezing through with us, so we have to go out the side door, circle back to the front door, and knock on the door to be let in. Jessie is talking to the undertakers and shakes her head at us. We are sufficiently embarrassed. We are supposed to comfort and support her, not adding to her burden, which is just what we end up doing.
We sit in the kitchen when they prepare the deceased for transport to the mortuary. She tells us how he was snoring all night last night and didn’t eat. He snored this morning as well. When she decided to wake him up and eat at nine o’clock or so, he was no longer breathing or having heartbeats. I take a look outside the bedroom door before they start the prep work, and his skin is in unnatural pale-yellow. His left arm freezes above his chest, reaching for something, it looks like. I wish with all my heart, and tell Jessie so, that he went peacefully; but I cannot fully convince myself. Nobody knows what happens in the last moment, and that scares me.
He is taken away in thick blanketed bag and a white car. A red rose is left on what once was his pillow. I say a silent sendoff to the gentle giant, whose three-hundred-and-eighty pound imposing physique has been ravaged to a mere one-eighty by cancer. Jessie wants breakfast—it has been a long morning and she hasn't eaten yet. We do our best to finish, but not quite successfully, all the pancakes, breads, eggs, butter and syrup. She packs up all the leftovers for the dogs, including the syrup, ignoring our advice of how bad it is for them, then back to her house.
The weather is too nice to sit inside, so the picnic table under the magnolia tree is where we sit and talk. Jessie has waves of emotions that come and go. They have been together for twenty-five years, with the last three and half fighting cancer. She wishes she had been home the day before, which would be their last day together while he was awake, when we assure her the goodbyes had been said, the love had been shared and understood, and there would have been nothing she could have done to make it better for him. We manage to add some humor to our conversation, at first tentatively, but soon freely, with Jessie being the leading lady.
When she talks about the problems of her dogs, and stops to ask her son who also has a dog: “You don’t have any anal gland problems, do you?” and we laugh until tears roll down our faces, that’s when I know. Heaven is great, but living is better. Jessie is sad and will be for a while, but she is strong, and she will be okay.
That’s what they mean by life goes on. The living has to find a way to continue.
(To Jessie, whose husband Wes passed away on 2/5/11 from throat cancer.)