Yes, that death. That thing that comes at the end of life. That thing that causes a person to stop breathing, to stop being alive, to end up buried in the ground or turned into ashes. That thing that modern Americans, at least, barely talk about, let alone think about.
If you’re religious, maybe doesn’t feel quite so final. If you believe your dead loved one is in heaven, still thinking about you and caring for you, in some ethereal way, and that you will see each other again once you die yourself, perhaps death doesn’t feel so final. So like a thick wall banging down between you and the person you loved and lived with for 50+ years.
My husband, Jack, died last year, on January 5. He had recently been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He’d been in the hospital for a month, disabled for the previous two years after a fall, in moderately ill health for the 16 years before that from a clotting disorder and multiple complications. For years, he continued to say, “I can live with this.” On the last day of 2015, he said, “I can’t live with this.” Hospice, then death.
Those are the facts. But what do they mean? How do they feel? How do I accept the finality of Jack’s being gone, forever? I have no religion, I don’t believe there’s some nonmaterial existence where he might still be. I can only hold onto the Jewish belief that dead people live on in the memories of those still alive. But my memory is weak where my memories of Jack are.
I feel like I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels like I need his physical presence to remember. I miss his body, his differentness, his unique thoughts and feelings. I don’t miss the fights we had over my saving things – or maybe I do miss them. In one of my few dreams about him, I was showing off the bookcases I’d emptied, and he laughed because I’d waited until after he died to do that.
Why haven’t I dreamed of him more? Why is he dying out of my dreams as well as my life? As he lay dying, I told him, “From now on, your story will be my story. Is that okay?” And he nodded. But it’s not okay.