I buried my sweetheart two years ago. Actually, I lie. I didn’t. He’s in a cookie jar on top of the piano, his beautiful body reduced to ashes.
There was a moment when his dying became real to me. I was watching from my nest of blankets on the hospice cot as he shuffled around his bed one morning. Suddenly he was kneeling, then crawling toward the bathroom. When I got to him, I realized we needed help.
At that point, Paul had been in hospice for seven weeks, but until then he’d been as independent as one can be in a place like that. The nurses had tried to stay behind the scenes. That changed. They helped him into the bathroom, stripped the bed and stripped away his independence. On top of fresh sheets, they placed pads used to position people who are bedridden. He was told no more getting up on his own. That afternoon, he sat huddled on the bed and would not rest.
Earlier in the week, unable to speak, Paul had written the doctor a note. “On the home stretch,” it said. The doctor agreed and explained that as the end nears, patients slip into a deep sleep. Within days, that sleep found him.
Friends visited. When his music pals had last seen him a month before, he demonstrated his signature chord progressions for songs they were planning to play at a tribute to Paul and his music. These last visits were much quieter with Paul essentially in a coma. Many of these rockers pulled out sunglasses as they left the room, hiding their tears. Paul died the day before the tribute show.
A year later, I came to awareness as I stepped off the elevator. Something wasn’t right. Key in hand, I stared at the number. 405. I don’t live in 405 or on the fourth floor at all. How had I arrived here? I had no recollection of coming inside, waiting for the elevator.
Grief manifests in different ways. Some days it’s a lump in my solar plexus, like a fist that landed and stayed. I have been surprised by this, smacked down by its intensity even still. Every so often, I remember to deepen my breath, to breathe through it. As I do, the fist begins to loosen, but I can’t keep it up.
I realized: joy and sorrow are not opposites. They are here together.
I spent last Canada Day on a west coast island with views looking over the water, perfect summer weather, and foxglove and daisies everywhere. In the midst of all that beauty, I realized: joy and sorrow are not opposites. They are here together companionably having tea, inviting me to sit and drink in both the gladness and anguish because both speak to what is precious.
So, what is precious in life? Thirty plus years of muddling through together. Our child grown into a lovely young man. The music Paul shared and continues to share through recordings. Memories of lying with him, skin to skin, drinking in his scent.
And gratitude. That he was here and we were lucky to be here with him. That we walked that final journey together, surrounded in love, supported by family, friends and even strangers. His ashes beckon me to embrace more precious life. Because while Paul has vanished into a new journey, I continue mine here, bereft but blessed.
This story first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “What is Precious in Life?” For more of Broadview’s award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today.