In a strange way, coming home from the hospital after the death of a loved one is a lot like coming home from the hospital with a new baby. Life is completely altered, for one. You'll never be the same person again.
And you cry. A lot.
Sometimes you cry for big things, like memories of the final moments. Sometimes it's little things, like the way your son raises his eyebrow the same way his dad did, or when your daughter sweetly strums her dad's guitar. Sometimes friends have to gently remind you of the realities of the past so that you don't completely lose your mind in sorrow.
I came home from Europe last month feeling like I had a clean slate on life. The only thing looming was one more divorce meeting. The topics of the meeting should have been settled on the previously scheduled hearing date, but Mr. Jones caused yet another delay. Up until then, I had maintained my composure at all of our meetings. But this case had gone on so long that even the judge was sick of seeing us. When he brought up some random issue, I lost it. In the middle of the quiet Family Law Facilitator's office, I yelled,
"WHY ARE YOU DRAGGING THIS OUT?!!"
I didn't care at the time that I was making a scene. I was pissed. Why wouldn't he just let me go? Now I wonder if he knew back then that he was as sick as he was. He hadn't yet been to the doctor, but he had to have been feeling it. I wonder if this was his way of keeping some legal attachment to me, just in case. Why not try? It worked in the past. Over and over, I had given in and given it another go.
We were assigned another court date for the end of July... a Monday just a couple of weeks after I was scheduled to return from Europe, the trip that was supposed to be my divorce celebration trip, but whatever... we'd settle everything when I got back.
Then I went on my trip and my heart just burst with life. I felt the gravity of the past several years fall away from me. I realized that I'd been living and thinking so small. It was almost as though my soul's DNA changed. When I came home, I thought, "We can do this!" We can be civil adults and maybe we can even meet for dinner and try to be those people who are divorced and still celebrate milestones and holidays and don't have to block each other's phones or Facebook accounts.
Maybe we'd be all right.
On July 31, I showed up to court, ready to have a calm discussion about the final outstanding details of our case. I had sent Mr. Jones an email going over what I thought we should be in agreement on and asked him for his feedback in order for us to have a productive meeting. I didn't hear back from him, but I was still hopeful that no response was a good response. So I was frustrated when his attorney showed up instead. To me, it was a clear sign of a fight and that was going to cause even more delays.
But then I found out that Mr. Jones wasn't looking for a fight.
His attorney explained to me, and then later the judge, that he was really sick. He'd been in the hospital for over a month, I was told. My body began trembling when he said that. I knew what that meant. After a few procedural updates in court and some head shaking from the judge, we walked out into the hallway with a new date in September.
"I'm not a bad person."
Tears just flowed as I rambled to his attorney that this was what I had long feared. This was what all the "nagging" was about... hoping to get him to see that he needed help... this is why we were getting a divorce. Because I finally gave up trying to fix him and decided to focus on the kids and myself instead. I didn't want to split our family apart. But I needed to save him or us.
I chose us.
By the next day, we had spoken to his mom and were set to visit. I was going to let the kids go in first, but I was worried about what they might see, so I decided to go in ahead of them, asking them to wait in the hallway.
Oh my husband... my big strong husband... to see Mr. Jones as a skeleton of himself was just heartbreaking. He looked so helpless lying there, being washed by a nurse because he couldn't get out of bed. But his smile... his smile was still the same. His eyes lit up as I came toward him. I hugged him as best I could with his back firmly planted on his uprighted hospital bed. I cried and buried my face into his neck.
"I'm so sorry," I blubbered.
"Why? It's not your fault."
His voice was calm and sweet and almost reassuring. The kids came in moments later and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the adventures we'd all had together and catching him up on the life the kids now lead. When it seemed like he was tiring a couple of hours later, we started to say our goodbyes. I hugged him last. As I pulled away, he whispered,
"Don't leave me."
So I stayed. For the rest of the week, I stayed. I spent one night at home, when it looked like things were improving, but I came back the next morning to keep feeding and comforting him. We spent hours that week, talking about life or just sitting on his bed holding hands. I'd lay my head on his chest and just let the tears flow.
"We didn't quite have enough time, did we Larry?"
At some point in our last week together, we were moved to a room on the other side of the floor. His test results were improving slightly and he was eating better. This was good! We started talking about how I would be his caretaker and we would just toss out that stupid divorce and what long term nursing facilities I'd need to go tour...
And then reality hit us.
Early Sunday morning, we woke up to an emergency. Mr. Jones was moved to ICU within the hour. I was sobbing into my phone, telling my friend Michelle the whole story and freaking out that this was bad... this was really bad. I called my mother-in-law to update her. As I was sharing the details of the situation, I saw the binder that was Mr. Jones' chart. It was inches thick. I'd only ever seen in open in the hands of the attending doctors and nurses. But this time, it was closed and I could see the cover with his name on it... and the neon sticker with large block letters: DNR.
Do. Not. Resuscitate.
My heart stopped. For a moment, I considered pulling the sticker off... a desperate thought at the eleventh hour. But that sticker told me all I needed to know about Mr. Jones' intentions at that point. I had to honor them.
We spent a long night saying goodbye, with the kids holding his hands, telling him how much we all loved him... our hearts breaking through the tears. The next morning, August 7, after a long night of breathing through the pain together, Mr. Jones was given relief, and while I held his hand and rubbed his head, he quietly slipped away. I laid my head on his chest for another hour. I couldn't get up. I just kept hearing,
"Don't leave me."
We were going to retire to Baja. We were going to spend our afternoons under a palapa. We were going to sail the Sea of Cortez. We were going to grow old together. That was the plan when we first got married. That was the plan before we last split up. But instead of lying on the sand together, we were there, in the ICU... and there was never going to be anything more for us.
No more laughs. No more hugs. No more smiles.
My only solace is that in the end, there was forgiveness and understanding. There are still messes to clean up and realities of past hurts, but those seem to pale in the light of all the love and compassion that we shared that last week and in those final hours.
I'm so numb most days. I was going to be the divorced wife of a pilot. Now I'm his widow. I was over all the pain and hurt and was starting life with a fresh, clean slate. Now I'm processing the hurt all over again, but to a more profound degree. At a time that I was supposed to be celebrating new beginnings, I'm grieving final endings.
Grief, I was told, is love without a place to go. It's the only description that has made sense to me. It comes in waves, crashing into me when I least expect it. So many feelings were unexpected. I didn't expect to feel love for him again. I didn't expect to hope again. I didn't expect to feel this pain again.
And I just can't seem to stop crying...