the night before you died, i said it was going to be clowns.
“i’ve been mourning him for years,” i said. “but i think this is the year. it’ll be something random like clowns that finally takes him out. not his heart. not his lungs. clowns.”
and then i went to bed.
i locked the door, saw your light was still on downstairs and decided to go to bed instead of giving you a hug goodnight. i’d been telling myself for weeks to spend more time with you. the end was near. i could feel it. but i went to bed.
the next morning, i was so cranky. not at you, but around you. unfortunately, probably also to you. you couldn’t breathe and that irritated me because … take your inhaler! that’s what it’s for! use it!
and you did. and you felt better. better enough to try and help me with diaper changes and morning irritations. you made a joke. i didn’t laugh. you asked me a favor. i was cranky about it. i moved your car because you needed me to because you were too weak to make the walk up the six stairs and to the car and back. and instead of handing you your keys back, i tossed them downstairs and let the youngest take them to you.
then i left for work. i didn’t say goodbye.
“he loves when i give him hugs. he always comes up for goodbye hugs.”
but i left for work. i didn’t say goodbye.
you were dead less than three hours later.
they tried. i got the same call with you that i got with mom, which makes sense since you died from the same thing that got mom. turns out it was your heart. and your lungs. they tried, too.
when i got to you, you were still warm.
“i have some bad news,” she said.
but i already knew. they took me to a private room and they wouldn’t tell me where you were and they shut the curtains and i knew. how do you not know?
“what kind of bad news?” i asked, sobbing, knowing. refusing to look at her face because i didn’t want to remember her face.
they tried everything, which they always say, and probably do. but your heart stopped on the way to the hospital and cpr and intubation just didn’t do it this time. your defibrillator didn’t kick in or notice that it was needed. i don’t know. the outcome is that you died on a wednesday morning and in a way, so did i.
how do you stop holding hands? how do you decide, “that’s enough. i’ve held his hand enough,” and get up and leave your body forever? how? you just do. everything since that morning has been a long series of, “you just do.”
you just pack up your clothes and have your husband take care of everything those first several days because you can’t stop screaming and sobbing. you just keep everything you can in the closed closet downstairs so you have a space to smell your scent when things get too hard. you just sell your car to someone you think will take good care of it and honor your penchant for loud music and wind in your hair.
you just keep going to the bank to close accounts and settle disputes. you just keep showing copies of the death certificate to everyone who needs it. you just keep crying in the bathroom at work when you need to and hope your eyes don’t betray you. you just keep desperately searching for meaning and moments where MAYBE HE IS TELLING YOU HE LOVES YOU through the song on the radio or the cardinals in flight.
and you just start to see the patterns in the way you were loved and the way you were raised that will carry you through this horrible pain and shocking loss and deep cavern left in your wake. the lessons you taught me are getting me through. like when you would endlessly talk about your job and i’d half listen for years and then in college, i was able to lift those words and solve problems i had no right to know how to because you taught me even if i wasn’t trying to learn.
so i take it one day at a time. one minute at a time. i hear your voice constantly. i feel how deeply you loved me. that doesn’t die. they can’t take that away from me. you left that for me. that’s mine.
and i wrap it around me when i feel like i can’t move without you and slowly … slowly … start to notice not LESS what i loss, but MORE of the things i still have. i still have my memories. i still have my foundation. i still have your voice in my head and the feel of your hands on my head and the sound of your, “i love you, kid” and that’s not enough. but it’s more than anyone has the right to have, just like your love of me.
you died on a wednesday in the ambulance on the highway, with me 10 miles south on the same road coming to you. i didn’t make it. you didn’t make it.
but i’m trying to make it now. i won’t let you down.