My friend from Germany is flying in and staying a few days. He just asked me for the gate code, since he is renting a car at LAX and driving up the coast to Oxnard. The Caribbean folk my husband and I knew for the length of our entire marriage will arrive Friday night from Florida. Cousins from Las Vegas will spend the weekend in Los Angeles. It promises to be a festive celebration of life. I am happy to see my friends journey from faraway. I wish it would be under happier circumstances. We might have had a 30th wedding anniversary next year. We should have.
Four weeks ago my husband had surgery to replace his deteriorated left hip. His pain was an 8, on a scale of 1-10. He tried everything he could short of surgery to deal with his pain. Being a biologist, he would not take opiates for fear of addiction. Plus, he did not like the way they clouded his mind. CBD oil was his biggest disappointment.
Physical therapy brought him back quickly. First stretches and lifts, then 6 minutes on the recumbent bike, then 8. We used the handicapped shower at the gym to keep him safe. I set up his shower on a wooden chair, and rolled his walker out. We smiled and left the gym exhilarated. Oh yes, it was summer still and things were looking up.
The Thursday before last we went to Sprouts to stock up on fruit and veggies for the week. He used the heavier shopping cart to wander though the store, happy to be alive and healing, ready even to start cooking again, to nourish himself with string beans and zucchini and berries from the local fields.
We had a quick lunch with our daughter at Whole Foods before she went to work, sitting outside at a patio table in the sun. He was slightly cold, and needed his sweatshirt. I guess that was the very first sign. After an hour at the gym and a quick shower, he tried using the cane, rather than the walker. It was three weeks, after all, and he was feeling solid. On a scale of 1-10, his pain was 0.
We watched some news on CNN and a show on Netflix, drifted off to sleep. He woke me to take my glasses off, turn off the light. At 3:30 he woke, having to pee. He tried to get up and could not. Funny, since he was doing so much better, having strengthened his core so that he could rise up fine. I handed him his pee bottle and he used it all right, passing it over to me to empty, laughing since he knew I would not like it, since he usually did that himself.
What else can I do for you?, I asked him, half awake, half not. He was warmer, so he wanted his t-shirt off. He tried to lay down again but his body slipped down the side of the bed. I screamed for our daughter, since he had just had surgery and could not fall down. He managed to prop himself up against the bed. Our daughter told him he was too heavy for her to carry. He said that was true. She said she would call the paramedics and he said no, that he was quite okay. He only needed to rest. And when I asked him what else I could do, he said just "love me." And then he became unresponsive, a kind of heaviness that pressed him down. His right hand rose up involuntarily, as if struck by the animation left of his life.
Our daughter did CPR until the paramedics arrived. They put a tube in this throat, used the defib, pumped him full of drugs through the IV, spent 45 minutes trying to wake him up again. I paced the hallway in my pajamas, wondering if I would ever see my husband again. I thought I heard him several times. I guess it was wishful thinking. He would have been 77 the month after next. Our girl called her sister in Boston, the only other from the marriage before ours. She would quickly be on her way.
Such a simple last request, and yet, it had consumed our lifetime together. Of me and his daughters he was peacock proud. He devoted his life to caring for us, stood sentry, so to speak. He did not suffer, did not cry out in sorrow. He'd worried that death might be painful, and hoped that would not be the case for him. He died in the bed beside me with his daughter's hands pressed down on his heart.
They say it was a blood clot that found its way to his arteries. He'd stopped the blood thinners the week before. No way to tell, really, not without an autopsy. And that would not bring him back, so why bother. Two hours changed my life, and my girl's, and her sister's. But we are honoring his wishes. An urn, some sunlight, a good party, and most of all, love.
Somebody told me that this was the most adult story about death that she had heard. Maybe love is the adult thing, I was thinking when she said it. Maybe love is the only adult thing worth living for? All the holy books make that the case, at any rate. My husband was not a religious man, but he sure died as though he were touched by God, leaving me faith as his legacy.