Elegy for Half of Me

Elegy for Half of Me 1920 1440 Ami Hendrickson

Friday, December 2, 2016

You haven’t eaten in days. Your body is blotchy and shutting down. The brain tumors you fought for so long, cutting them out with surgical precision and blasting them with radiation, are going to win this war. It’s only a matter of time…

and time is running out.

Here is the list of the things I need to do – things to give you joy – before you go:

* Tidy the living room. Your hospital bed takes up most of the floor space, and I don’t want diapers and pills to be the last things you see, or ointments and antiseptic spray to be the last things you smell.

* Help River the WunderPit, the ugly dog with an angel’s heart, up to lay at your feet. Full of sunshine and snuffles, she adores you as much as I do.

* Brush your hair.

* Crawl into bed beside you, pressing close against you as I have done for years. I’ll say a prayer and sing songs I know you love: It is Well With My Soul (it isn’t), How Great Thou Art (thou art!), and Abide With Me.

* Kiss you.

* Tell you I love you.

And I do.

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

It is almost 10 a.m. I leave you long enough to wake our daughter (thirteen year-olds are notorious for sleeping in), let the dogs out, and start breakfast…

and you are gone.

I know immediately. The house has one less heartbeat.

You lay, gray and waxy, impossibly still. I hold you, but for the first time — ever — you cool at my touch.

As the last sparks of life leech away, the fog rolls in, numbing me with more mist than misery.

Though one of our first dates included trading increasingly awful jokes, punch lines were never your forte. For years there has been only one joke you told often and well:

I want to die peacefully, in my sleep, like my grandfather…

(slight pause for effect)

Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car.

You got your wish. No joke.

Here is the list of the things I need to do on the morning that love dies:

*  Call the funeral home. Tell them you are gone.

*  Call the hospice nurse. Tell her you are gone.

You are gone.

You are gone.

gone…

gone…

*  Put the dogs in a separate room. (River does not want to leave you. But I convince her that she must. People will soon come. And you no longer need her to keep your feet warm.)

* Tell people you are gone.

* Answer the phone; return texts; endure emails.

* Call the medical supply place.

When the hospice nurse bustles in all aflutter, the dogs bark loudly enough to wake the dead.

You do not wake.

Though you have been unable to communicate or respond for several long weeks, I have gotten in the habit of speaking to you as if you could understand everything going on. The urge to introduce you to the nurse and explain the reason she is in our house is almost overwhelming.

The nurse pronounces you dead, signs an official-looking piece of paper, then begins a seek-and-destroy mission for your meds. For the first time, I turn my back on you. As you lie behind me, I fill a ziploc bag with kitty litter and help her mix a toxic narcotic soup.

The nurse’s only concern is drug destruction. Her eyes stare at me, needle sharp, overtly suspicious that I might have designs on your meds for myself. But morphine and codeine and stadol are pain killers. I am numb with fog; I have no pain to kill.

The house fills with people – many of whom have never visited us before.

The dogs bark.

I am full of fog.

In the afternoon, a man named Bryan comes from the funeral home. He puts your body on a gurney, covering it with a black plastic body bag.

I remark on the bag’s oddly homey multi-colored quilt design.

“He didn’t strike me as a red velvet type of guy,” Bryan says.

I realize every time Bryan gets a call, he has to make a decision — red velvet or homey quilt? — about someone he has likely never met.

 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I sleep through the night under my own homey quilt – the first time in nearly a year that I do not need to get up at least once to clean you, change you, check to see that you are breathing.

River is unsettled. She sleeps at my feet and cries.

I try to cry, but fog clogs the tears.

I knew you would not last long. Thought I had prepared myself for you leaving. But I had not figured on the fog. It seeps in every crack of my consciousness, blunting every thought, blurring every emotion into an insubstantial slurry.

I am mist.

The medical supply people come and get their things – your things. In a matter of moments, the hospital bed that dominated our little living room for the past year and the wheelchair parked at our dining room table are gone. Like you.

Here is the list of things I need to do – things I must do – in the days ahead:

* Visit the Social Security offices. Tell them you are dead.

*  Close out our bank accounts. Since you were the primary account holder, I cannot keep them open, no matter how much I want to.

*  Figure out how to squeeze blood from a stone so I can pay your medical bills.

*  Take our daughter to and from school. Act as if I care whether she keeps her grades up.

*  Refrain from throttling the next boil on the butt of humanity who asks me if I am relieved that you are finally gone.

You are gone.

gone…

I am not relieved.

*  Clean out your closet. (I try to find a shirt that smells like you, intending to keep it, but all of your favorites, the ones you have worn recently, reek of sickness. The shirts you have not worn in months smell like dust.)

*  Put up the Christmas tree.

*  Decorate the house.

*  Buy fucking presents and wrap them.

*  Keep going, putting one foot in front of the other. Keep breathing. Keep moving. Fog filters everywhere. I fear nothing because I feel nothing. I must find a way through.

 

Today, 2019

You are gone, but the fog remains, insidious and apathetic. Tears do not wash it away. Few things penetrate. It nullifies everything it touches – and it touches everything. I am as numb as if I consumed a quart ziploc of kitty litter opioids.

If I felt anything, it would be surprise. I thought I was prepared for your leaving. I expected a head full of memories and a soul full of emotions: fear, anger, sorrow, joy, gratitude. But most memories of you are obscure, indistinct in the mist of misery that clouded your last year. And my soul is as empty as your closet.

I keep going, but I have not yet found my way through.

People remark on my resilience. I am so strong, they say. They don’t know how I do it.

They don’t know.

They don’t know I drink my coffee every day because I remember I liked it. Once.

They don’t know I pet River, holding her close for snuffly kisses because it makes her happy and I know it used to make me happy, too.

I laugh with our daughter because I have always been good at laughing and because she is my favorite person remaining on this planet. I know it is good to laugh.

(slight pause for effect)

No joke.

The fog won’t last forever. Eventually its time will run out. I know this because you have taught me that everything ends. However…

Here is the list of things I want to do — things that give me joy — since you’ve gone:

*

*

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Header photograph © Caroline Bardwell.

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