For my husband, and for what should have been your birthday this year.
My first time remembering your birthday without you. Wow. There is so much that I miss.
To be sure, I don’t miss the fear in your eyes. I don’t miss the tears that I saw you try not to cry when the pain was too great or the ones you cried when now estranged family members did something so selfishly, hatefully cruel that you could do nothing but say “why?” as you wept.
And I was going to say that I don’t miss the kitchen table looking like a pharmacy with all the bottles of medicine that kept you alive, or the heavy wheelchair that I had to carry up and down the steps and maneuver into the back of the truck to transport you to doctors and dialysis, or the oxygen tube that I swear jumped out to trip me as I walked through the room – but in actuality I do. Those things had become as much a part of you, of us and our marriage the last many months of your life as anything, as everything else.
Slowly, gradually, I had already become accustomed to missing the strong arms that would hold me when I was afraid – those arms had grown weak and frail long ago; and I could no longer be afraid – at least outwardly, because, dammit, somebody had to be strong through all of that.
The booming voice that would greet me with “Hiya, doll, I love you” in the morning had become a faint whisper by the end. The strong hands that once held mine were, at the end of your life, so bruised, so gaunt and weak that I held them in mine as tightly as I tried to hold you… if only to remember your very touch, the feel of your skin and try desperately to etch it into my mind for the time I knew was coming far too soon.
The man who could fix anything had long ago ceded the repairs and the mundane household duties to me – and that was fine. I went from being “the girl” in the relationship who just sat helpless and let the man handle things to actually figuring out how to change that recalcitrant fluorescent light in the kitchen, and I became the runner of the lawn mower, the taker out of the trash. Part and parcel of the partnership we agreed to decades ago in August when we said “I do”.
The mischievous grin, the infectious laugh of yours when something struck you funny, the wink in your steely eyes – indeed the sparkle in your eyes – they were gone the last few weeks I had here on earth with you. And those, dammit, those I miss so much.
Your moustache – oh my, that leonine splendorous ‘stache of yours – the one that made women swoon and I’ve-lost-count-of-the-men-who-ran-up-to-ask-you how long it took you to grow it (no doubt calculating in their minds if they could grow one as well) – and you painstakingly coaxed it into full glory before we’d go anywhere. Honey, you spent as much time in the bathroom getting ready as I did – no small accomplishment to pull off in a one bathroom place. At the end, even that became too much for you to deal with and you shaved it off. That was the day I knew in my heart that you’d neared the end of your years long battle. The fighter in you was ebbing. The multitudes of diseases and conditions and treatments over the years had finally, cumulatively taken their toll. There would be no turning back, no coming back.
Every year, I’d plan a special surprise for your June the 4th birthday and, even though the last few years we couldn’t do much, I miss being able to plot and plan something that would make you smile.
In a conversation with a widowed friend, I mentioned that the “first” anything after you lose a spouse is supposed to be the hardest. She said “The first? More like the first, the second, the fifth….”
Grief, I’ve come to learn, is not like a broken arm that eventually heals. It’s something that is just “there”. There are days that dealing with it are not as gut wrenching as others. And then there are days like today….
As I look out into the cul de sac beyond our kitchen window, I remember that is where we danced our first dance as husband and wife almost 23 years ago. We had our wedding reception at my dad’s and it turned into a giant block party. He’d talked some friends of his who had a band into setting up right there outside his home and they played set after set as we danced.
Most of all, I especially miss the man I danced with, romanced with. My God, how you loved to dance. You masterfully floated me across any dance floor and I felt as graceful as Ginger Rogers when I was in your arms. If there is dancing in heaven, I’d wager that you’re dancing with the best of them – pain free, strong again, handsome as ever, smiling, happy.
We will meet again… and dance again someday.
Until then, dance on, my love.
Dammit, I miss you so much.
Happy Birthday, baby.