Two weeks ago, my husband, nearly 37 years old, lost his first grandparent.
Seemingly the most hale of his four living grandparents, his grandmother went into decline rather abruptly, with a kidney infection turning into congestive heart failure turning into pain and exhaustion that sapped her will to fight.
Her husband, a former bank president and World War II pilot, had been the one we’d all been watching. He is the one with Alzheimer’s and untreated prostate cancer. He has been the one everyone’s efforts have been concentrated upon for the last three years. Tacit agreement had it that he would be the first to go.
Yet he didn’t. He hasn’t.
Rather, his wife of more than sixty years belied expectations and, after painstaking caretaking of her husband, has left him behind, alone. Forlorn. Wishing for death.
Fortunately–although it didn’t feel that way at the time–Grandpa had already moved to the Memory Care wing of the Senior Home a couple of months ago, after he was found by a state trooper wandering down the side of the highway. So his transition out of the immediate life of Grandma (known to our kids as “GGma”) had already taken place. He was somewhat accustomed to being apart from her, down the hall, over in his new digs.
However, with daily visits and enduring devotion, they weren’t really apart. As GGma’s health became more grave, my father-in-law had to break the news to his father: “Mom is dying, Dad.”
And the Alzheimer’s? You know, that cruelest of diseases? It, of course, provided no mercy.
In this case, it meant GGpa–although unable to recall names and places–remained bitingly aware that his helpmate of decades was passing out of his life.
They had a private religious service together in her last days, led by their pastor. After it, GGpa was inconsolable.
Two days later, when GGma died–peacefully, comfortably, all wishes expressed–it was GGpa, with his unreliable brain, who sat beside her, lucidly, holding her hand, rubbing her cheek, even after she was gone.
The very image of them, there in the hospice, slices me in two.
Today, November 12th, would have been their sixty-third anniversary; yet after all that time, they were not a habit to each other. They were not one of those couples who sit in the Embers, indifferently eating their omelets, not speaking to each other, staring off into space. Rather, after sixty-three years, they had an active love for each other, feeling complete only in the other’s presence. Even GGpa’s advancing dementia couldn’t diminish their interdependence.
It is from this perspective of ongoing conscious appreciation that I greet my eighth anniversary with my groom a day after theirs, on November 13th.
He is, quite simply, my all, my everything, my favorite and my best. There are at least 4.569 reasons that add up to the way I dote on him. Here, I give you five of ’em:
1) He is unflappable and uncomplaining. This is a much-needed and -welcome counterpoint to all my complaints and flap.
2) He knows how to communicate with me in Jocespeak (woe to those who consider it a dead language!). I am, you see, a person who can get dramatically derailed during a slow bend down to tie her shoes. But with Groom giving me directions, I get it done every time. For example, when I go out to run an unknown route, he is smart enough not to tell me, “Turn right at Oneida Street,” but instead to break it down thusly: “When you see the big rock on the righthand side that looks like Richard Nixon with his cheeks waggling, turn right. After that, you’ll run for about the length of time it would take you to sing the extended dance remix of ‘Tainted Love’, and then you’ll take a left.” Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Similarly, when we were recently up the road at an important crossroads for migrating raptors (Ye Olde Birds of Prey), a place we go to often in the Fall, and he was off hiking with friends while Niblet and I hung around the main vantage point, resting our weary paws and awaiting their return, we got to witness the release of a big bird. It was tossed up into the wind above the overlook, and the whole thing was cool. When Groom and Friends returned from their hike a few minutes later, I tried to describe the bird to them. “Was it a hawk?” they asked. Weellllllll, er…..yea? I could tell them that it had parentheses-like curves around its eyes, and its beak looked rather like a bracket (<>). And, for big sure, it wasn’t an owl. So what kind of hawk had it been? “Like, not small,” I reported with authority. Groom knew then to ask, “Was it bigger than a package of Double Stuff Oreos?” “‘Bout the same size!” I reponded, gleefully. That answer, coupled with a photo I’d taken, narrowed it down. Due to his patience and bilingualism, Groom discerned, “It was a red-tailed hawk. See in the photo those red markings?” Not at all sure how they looked like my beloved Oreos, I nodded agreeably nevertheless.
3) He sighs gently and happily when I rub his wrist.
4) He raises our children with consistency and patience, yet he loves it when I point out the benefits of storing them in the freezer.
5) He has always and ever made me feel like my foibles increase my charm. Were I more perfect, he would love me less.
For all these reasons, plus twenty-thwifty kamajillion others, he leaves me agog.
In an ideal world, he and I will die together, when I’m 104, and he’s 101. We’ll be on a hammock together, eating truffles and staring at the branches up above us in the sky, when suddenly our hearts will simultaneously stop beating.
The world not being ideal, this will most likely not be the case, although I am having a truffle fridge installed at the base of our biggest tree, just as a nod to possibility.
Alternatively and more realistically, then, I wish for a death like GGma’s.
Indeed, my acute and illimitable hope is that, in fifty-six years–better yet, in sixty-six–when I am at long last diminishing and facing the Great Beyond, it will be with my constant and enduring companion sitting next to me, knowing me as no other, stroking my cheek as I exhale one last time.