Your grandfather lived to be 103 years old. He did not die of an illness. He just wore out. I think I always assumed that it would be the same longevity with you. After all, you were never sick! Your first hospital stay was in your mid 60’s after your son ran over your foot with a forklift in our plant and you sacrificed one- and one-half toes. We had visions and plans of growing old together and taking care of each other until the bitter end. In our plans, the bitter end saw us as 100 years old together and finally dying in each other’s arms. It did not turn out that way.
Your funeral services were on Holy Saturday. The next day was Easter. I had to drag myself to Easter Mass, but God and I needed to have a talk. As I look back now, I have very little memory of that time period. I do not know how I got to church. I do not remember getting dressed or even having coffee. One thing about that day, however, is etched into my memory.
It should have been a glorious day with pastel dresses and Easter eggs. We should have gathered for our traditional family feast with the children hunting multicolored plastic eggs filled with candy and coins. It should have been a crisp Spring day with the daffodils just peaking out of the ground to be the first blossoms to celebrate the beginning of a fresh renewed season of growth. We should have washed chocolate off of smiling young faces and warned them not to fill up on candy before dinner. We should have held hands and thanked God together for the meal we were about to share. None of that happened on that Easter Day.
I sat in the pew and prayed to God and to you. I prayed for God to welcome you into Paradise. You were a good man. You earned this. For me, I prayed for the strength and guidance to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life now. You, my constant companion for 35 years, were gone and I think that I have forgotten how to be me without you. My reality on that day was that I really did not want to be me without you. Who do I have to share my goals with? Who do I have to share my nonsensical night dreams with and who will laugh with me about my unconscious talking and singing? Who will sit next to me on the couch during college football games and yell like we are insane at the stupid calls and amazing touchdowns? Who will hold me when I laugh and who will embrace me when I cry? Who will hold my hand as I get old?
There was a part of me on that day, I think, that believed that you would walk from the altar to my pew take me by the hand and answer all of these questions. I watched and waited and, of course, that did not happen. The tears poured out of my eyes and there was no way to stop them. It was all too new and just too raw. All I wanted was to have you back.
And then I saw them. They looked to be well over 90. They slowly walked to the front pew with matching walkers. He politely stepped aside and motioned to her to enter the pew first. She smiled at him and proceeded to her seat. I assume it was their son who moved both of the walkers away and joined his parents in the handicapped front row of the church. They sat side by side and he sweetly took her hand. She turned her face to him, and they exchanged the intimate look that comes with 60 years of marriage. No need to speak. They both knew.
I noticed the hearing aids. Her aids were tucked under her hair and he wore his proudly. New models. Shiny and silver. He touched the volume to accommodate the background noise in the church. They sat together like that had for decades. Secure in their partnership. Secure in their dependence on each other. Secure that if she needed to rise that he would rise first to hold out his weathered hand and invite her to lean on him. No words. Just a familiar knowing.
As I watched them, my heart broke as I realized that we will never have this. We won’t share walkers or hearing aids. We will no longer have the knowing looks and taken for granted companionship. We talked about growing old together and the things we planned to do. Travel the world. Sell our business. Spoil our grand kids. Being together. Dying together. Instead, less than 24 hours before, I kissed you goodbye for the last time.
Looking at this beautiful couple reminded me so vividly of what the next phase of my life was to be. More questions than answers. More confusion than peace. More loneliness than the comfort of your presence. Me. Alone. Without you. Exactly what we never wanted.
Now 17 months have gone by and my petitions to God are still the same. I ask for the courage and for guidance from the Almighty to lead me into what my life is to be now that He decided that He needed you more than I do. This is a journey I never wanted to take alone, but here I am and after 17 months of missing you and have many more questions than answers. One thing that I do know is that I was blessed with a husband of honor and integrity who I could depend on any time of day to reach out his hand to me and always be prepared for me to lean on him.
I miss you