One Year Later
November \ 2011
On a Monday afternoon, November 8, 2010, an ambulance attendant pulled into the circular driveway to bring my husband, Michael, to the Coronado House, an inpatient facility for end-of-life comfort measures. I knew when I waved goodbye that my husband would not be coming home.
In a little more than a week after his admission, Michael was dead from esophageal cancer that had metastasized to his liver, spine, and bones. He died peacefully, surrounded by family, with the hint of a smile on his face. During his 25 month illness, I continued to write, publish essays, and take photographs. Toward the end of his life, the constant flash of my camera continued as I recorded a part of human existence that is seldom talked about or documented—the dying process. And I, as the grieving spouse, soon to be widow, chose to record what I sometimes couldn’t bear to accept.
Thinking back to the night of his admission to hospice, and subsequent nights and days as phantom pains stabbed in my chest, shoulders, and legs, I despaired that his edematous, seeping legs might never return to their normal state and that when my husband died, I would be utterly bereft; far better for me to die with him than to survive alone. At such times, I didn’t think of myself as a writer, or a registered nurse, but as a wife, who dreaded any thought of becoming a widow.
November 8, 2011. There is an hour, a minute—you will remember forever—when you know instinctively on the basis of the most inconsequential evidence, that something is very wrong. What you don’t figure into this equation is that this is the first of a series of “wrongful” events that will contribute to the utter devastation of your life as you have known it.
The first wrong thing to occur on that Monday was the willingness of my husband to be admitted into an inpatient hospice facility. I remember him calling me from his cell phone an hour or so later and saying, “I’m lying flat in a bed now.” This was not a surprising statement in of itself, however the missing information is this: My husband hadn’t been able to sleep in a bed for the last five months. His comfort was limited to a lift recliner, which only gave minimal relief to the excruciating back pain. All other attempts at home to place him in a supine position failed, so this news was initially placating, but the fact that he never got out of the bed was the disturbing part—another sign that the end was near.
And so, here it is, one year after his death, and I sit clicking on the keyboard, writing essays about widowhood. I absentmindedly begin typing: Of the widow’s countless death-duties, there is really just one that matter’s; on the first anniversary of a spouse’s death the widow should focus on the positive—I’m still alive and my life is moving forward.