I've started this column dozens of times, mostly from my lonely bed around three or four in the morning. This is the first daytime attempt, though, and my major goal is not to allow tears to flood the keyboard. I still don't know a way to begin other than with those sentences that I've begun and then rejected during my mind's midnight rambles. The computer says that the last column I wrote was April 13, and my beloved Hubby died on April 19. It will have been more than a month by the time that you read this, and I nonetheless melt down regularly.
I know my ancestors would have been stronger – or at least would have repressed themselves to appear stronger – but in the long term of humanity, that's a good thing, isn't it? It demonstrates that we have created a culture that is much more openly loving and caring than in the past. That is especially true for men. A generation ago, men were required to hide their tears, to show no emotional crisis – but now they are free to grieve openly. In contrast, women were required to publicly grieve in the past, wearing black for at least a year and perhaps for the rest of their lives.
This evolution towards the middle, towards a genuine humanity without so much gender distinction, is something that the professional philosopher in Hubby would acknowledge and appreciate. He might be surprised – as I am – that in just two paragraphs, I went from the highly personal to the abstract, but then again, he might not be surprised. That's the way we lived in the life of our minds. After 54 years of marriage and three years of dating prior to that, we knew each other's thoughts -- even unexpressed thoughts -- and could pick up in the middle, knowing what the ending will be. I feel cut in half and miss him so much.
"A PERFECT STRANGER"
I was going to say more about death in the time of coronavirus and other aspects of VA hospitalization since December 10, but find that I can't make my mind redial. Maybe later, if you want to know. I'm also too sorrowful to work up much anger, but I think that within a week or two, I shall find the righteous indignation to publicly curse Florida Blue and the Republican-run Florida Retirement System, which have made my hell more than a bit more hellish. For now, let's just say their CEOs should be in prison, or perhaps hell itself.
Meanwhile, thanks to the many, many of you who have sent food, flowers, monetary memorials, cards, e-mails, and made phone calls – some late at night when you knew I would be lonely. I shall never forget your kindnesses. I particularly want to thank someone whose voice mail said she was "a perfect stranger." This was before Hubby died, and she said that she could tell through my written words that we loved each other very much and she was praying for us. That is indeed a perfect stranger, isn't it? I was able to tell Hubby about this message, and I think he understood.
He understood most things I told him, although his once-mighty brain varied tremendously from day to day and hour to hour. As I've said earlier, he became very paranoid and frightened near the end, and especially after everyone began wearing masks, he was convinced that they were out to torture him. The difference between his rational mind and his emotional perception could be amazing. Within two sentences, he would go from telling the doctors that he was in Canada and being chased by a spy named Jim -- to responding to my request that he tell them the name of his first book ("Philosophical Foundations of Probability Theory").
Of course his fear worsened when, because of the pandemic, I was no longer allowed to come to the hospital. Early in the epidemic, I got a physician to write a letter stating that my presence was essential to his recovery, but finally I no longer could argue my way past the screeners. For eight days, the nurses and I tried to communicate with him via phone, but because a tracheotomy had left him unable to speak, we never really knew if he knew what was going on. My greatest pain was the possibility that he thought I had abandoned him.
THE LAST WORD
So I was joyful when the nurse manager called and said she had authorized me to enter the hospital. I suppose I should have realized that they were doing this because he was at the end of life, but I didn't. I was hopeful again, even as he continued to swing from rationality to delirium. I think, though, that he grasped what was happening when the longtime lead physician, a young woman from the USF College of Medicine, advised me to call our daughter.
She arrived less than 24 hours later. He had no trouble at all recognizing her, and with his speaker valve adjusted, talked with us fairly serenely. We sat on opposite side of his bed that evening, and the next morning, I finally gave permission for him to be moved to the VA's hospice unit. I expected that he would be there a while, but instead I spent just two nights sleeping on the sofa. On the second morning, the nurses watching his monitors woke me to say that he was gone.
The wonderful staff in ICU had told us that they were sedating him for the move to hospice so that he wouldn't be anxious – and that there was a good chance he would not come out of the sedation. As we waited to be checked for coronavirus before entering that wing, our daughter said, "I love you, Dad." He said, "Good." In a life of words, that was his last. Good.
THE BEST INVESTMENT
Hubby's problems started while he was in the Army Security Agency, and someone brought tuberculosis back from Vietnam. His job was to decode Soviet communications, and he worked in an extremely secure, almost airless, underground facility that was ideal for promoting germs. After he was diagnosed at the Army's Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, they sent him to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where the Army had a TB unit that kept contagious patients away from everyone else. He was there from October to February.
Meanwhile, I was working at US News & World Report magazine. I'm naturally frugal, and Hubby couldn't spend much money. There were no online purchases or even credit cards in those days, and the TB folks got to go to the post-exchange (Army convenience store) only once a week. Our savings mounted, and by the time we went back to civilian life, we were 24-year olds who were oddly financially comfortable. We went back to Massachusetts, and while he returned to graduate school, I taught at a regional high school.
We both had summers off, and in 1970, we went up to New Hampshire, where the sales tax was low, and bought a travel trailer. RVs still were quite new, and ours, with a tiny kitchen and bath, could sleep six. This was long before GPS or any electronic devices, and we used books to plan our route. We went up to Canada, then down to Minnesota, where my family lived, across the Rockies to California, and finally through the Southwest and Southeast. We got back to New England just a few days before school started in the fall.
I was so excited that I finished the packing the night before the last day of school, and Hubby picked me up there. Many teachers tramped out to the parking lot to see us off, and it was a festive atmosphere. I was shocked when a favorite colleague – a middle-aged English teacher – sat down and began to sob. She explained that she and her husband always had intended to do something similar, and now he was dead and she never would do it without him. Hubby and I decided right then and there that the best investment is memories. They never can be taken away, and I am so glad to have them now that I'm alone. Live your dreams!