October 31, 2011
It’s Halloween night, but the outside lights are turned off. I don’t expect any ghosts or ghouls ringing my door bell in hopes of a treat. I’m upstairs in the study clicking away on the computer keyboard and I don’t want to be disturbed. It was this exact time last year when my world disintegrated.
As I look around the guest room, I think about my husband’s last two months living in our home. Michael wasn’t able to climb the stairs, so he stayed in the spare bedroom confined to a hospital bed. Each day he walked with the help of a walker over to the desk to use the computer. Meals were brought upstairs and set on a small blue Formica table. Six chairs were dispersed around the room for friends and family who would visit and often bring food, which became the center of our world during the last three months of his life. He’d been in the restaurant business since he graduated college and most of his friends were also restaurateurs. They’d bring him an assortment of dishes, from lox and bagels to kabob dinners; sometimes three-course gourmet meals, or a variety of sweet cakes, cookies, and ice cream.
We had an organized system as to which family members would assist during the week. Our youngest daughter made up a schedule and assigned each participant a day that worked in their personal schedules. Some of them came through and some did not. Perhaps the ones who stayed away couldn’t bear the pain of watching someone they loved die.
A friend of his, Terry, who he’s known for many years, performed the duties of a son. They met twice a week for coffee when Michael was still mobile. Later in the illness, he would often stop by the house, calling before he arrived and asking Michael what he wanted to eat or drink. He stayed with him for hours, assisting in his ambulation, helping him dress, shave, or write out responses on his computer.
I close my eyes and picture what his room looked like.
Next to the bed was an adjustable hospital tray. On top was a box of Kleenex, a baby monitor, which was used in the evening hours, a pill box, a medication log, a small RCA radio, his cell phone, two restaurant magazines, and a pitcher of water next to his favorite coffee cup. A highboy dresser with our photo is to the right of the bed. In the picture, we’re surrounded by colorful flowers as we smile lovingly at each other. The photographer took the photo two years ago during the week of Halloween on the lawn at the Biltmore Hotel. It was exactly a year after my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He wanted to give each of our children a framed photograph. I think back to that time and wonder if he knew then the outcome of his illness.
The brown shutters behind the bed were kept open during the day to let the sunlight in. A nightlight was plugged into a socket at bedtime so that Michael wouldn’t fall if he had to get up by himself. And I, like a mother of a newborn baby, sensed every move he made during the night. The monitor speaker stayed on my dresser. I heard each breath he took. I woke up when he sat up in bed, when he listened to the radio, or took a pain pill. I slept when he slept. I’d fall asleep listening to the sound of his breaths. I stayed up with him and we talked when he couldn’t sleep. These are the last memories I have of us living in our home together.
Last year’s Halloween is a distant memory. I don’t remember much about it, except that Michael was in the end stage of his disease—metastatic cancer. There were no ‘trick or treaters’ holding out their tiny hands for a treat. We were no longer living at home, but at our best friend’s house in the Biltmore Estates; a house that didn’t require going up or down stairs; a place where Michael could be wheeled into the kitchen and sit with friends and family for meals. He had a private viewing of the outside world where French doors opened wide like a theater presenting a documentary on bikers and hikers heading out for the day. The wide street surrounded by sounds and sights; landscapers with their blowers, gas mowers trimming fresh winter lawns before planting an array of colorful fall flowers. The neighbors pass by and wave as if they know us. Some walk at fast paces, racing one another, while others jog with their pets along paved pathways. We sit sipping coffee watching older couples walk hand-in-hand, stopping under the nearby willow tree to steal a kiss. It was there, in the breakfast room, at the round table, where my husband looked at life—a part of life he no longer shared.
To be continued. . . .