The clock is ticking and all I smell is disinfectant. Nurses stream
in and out of the room until the doctor enters to turn off the medication drip. It will not be long now. I know I need to be here, but I haven’t experienced a passing since my father died several years earlier. After about 15 minutes the silence breaks.
“Suzanne, can you hear me dear? Please, go be with your mom,” Doug pleads. “You don’t need to worry; we are all fine and it won’t be long until we are together again. You know how much I love you.”
Doug, my husband’s brother, speaks with resolve as he strokes Suzanne’s hand gently, sitting by her side. Their children, Jason and Elizabeth, stand together with their spouses along the bedside and the rest of us around the perimeter of the room. Except for Doug’s few words and Suzanne’s gasps, the deafening silence returns.
The whole scene is surreal. Suzanne’s fight with primary pulmonary hypertension is being lost, and as I watch her struggle to breathe, I come face to face with my own mortality. She will fly away soon, and I cannot help but admire her fight to hold onto life even in death.
“Oh, Momma. Momma.” Her daughter Elizabeth whimpers with her eyes closed and tissue clenched as if it was her only defense to the inevitable.
Jill, my sister-in-law, steps forward reaching for my hand. She begins praying like a trumpet call for God to send His angels to carry our sweet Suzanne to her final rest and bring Doug and her kids grace. She admits to God we aren’t wanting her to leave. We will long to see her face and hear her laugh, but we know her body cannot manage anymore life. With her “amen”, she nods to me with her head down. The signal for me to continue. My prayer is a quieter song, pleading for mercy, entreating God to end her suffering, and acknowledging that in a blink we will stepping across this same great divide.
As I pray from my heart openly, my mind drifts back to visions of Suzanne drinking in every day with her children and grandchildren, treasuring her experiences. My mind focuses on our last vacation day at a theme park a few months back and some of her final words to me.
“Denise, go with me on the Tower of Doom. You know you want to ride it.”
“Suzanne, Jan’s daughters said they got off that ride and immediately lost their lunch. They are young, so I know it’s too intense for me.” Inwardly, I wonder if it is too intense for someone who needs a heart and lung transplant. Suzanne drops going on the ride and our group opts for an animal show as a means of sitting and getting out of the Florida heat. As we focus on the lightheartedness of the animal performances, Suzanne slips away. None of us notice until the lights come up. As we walk out to scan the park for her, she appears walking towards us. All she could talk about was the exhilaration of riding the infamous Tower of Doom twice. I want to remember her face aglow with the taste of triumph, not as she is right now.
The buzzer sounds on my stove. I jump. The bread is done and I am daydreaming. I rush for my mitts and lift the pan from the oven. As I return to the salad, I hear the key jiggling in the door knob. I brace myself for this intrusion, because I know what is coming. Greg enters dumping his architectural plans, a myriad of electronics, and other paraphernalia on our bar-top. He immediately scoops me up for a long hug, holding me like a man holds a woman. Being a man of few words, he uses affection to convey his deep need for connection. He is adamant about these daily, rather ordinary exchanges.
This daily rendezvous with Greg is a picture of what I need more of in my life: time and space to stop, to just breathe, to feel I am not alone in this fight called life and God’s purpose. Without Greg’s insistence I would never give up time to enjoy this embrace. Life easily slips into rote. I am about the immediate tasks at hand namely dinner, dishes and a general cleaning of the house before I can pull out my book or laptop. I fill a 24-hour day with way more activity than any sane person would consider. By this time in the evening, I have spent many hours actively listening to a long list of clients. I love my work because counseling is my passion. But the reality is, as I stand in my kitchen preparing our dinner with Greg’s arms wrapped around me, I am emotionally “touched” out. This is what my poor husband faces as he opens our door.
Demanding my undivided attention, Greg pulls me closer and in the midst of our swaying, I know this should be our time. He feels my desire to cut it short.
“Denise, take a minute!”
I lay down my knife and try to become present. I go limp in the tightness of his squeeze, knowing he is waiting to take the weight of my day if only I will let him.
“Come on…surely that’s a long enough.” I squirm a bit and show protest, but he persists.
“No, never. Just let me hold you.” Greg’s grasp feels relentless.
Since empty nesting, we have an evening rhythm. We eat dinner together and then retire to separate spaces in the house. I head to the spare room with my cup of coffee and laptop to peck out words on my latest piece, scan social media or read a blog or book, though my early rising and the emotional intensity of my day make it hard to stay awake. Greg opts for the living room. With the door ajar I can see him relaxing in his comfy chair as he reads his tablet and listens to a show for background noise. We speak back and forth until I fall asleep. Graciously, he closes the door until he goes to bed.
Greg releases his grasp and we stand facing each other over the counter. “Denise, remember the other night when I came into the spare room just to watch you sleeping?”
“Yeah, why? Was I drooling?” I make light of the question.
“No. You were perfect and for once quiet and still, no wrangling you to get a simple hug. Can’t I just look at you?”
“Yeah. It’s just a little creepy to me.” I respond though in my heart I value his love. Greg has a way of making me most vulnerable, and while I am safest with him, at times I’d rather hide.
“All of my thoughts are good. Promise.” Greg reassures me patting my hand.
For the past several years Greg and I have been renovating our home, a project that is taking much longer than we ever anticipated. The work is never ending. Living with these phases of renovation breaks me down and lessening my expectations brings me to a place of managing the harder parts. Still at times, the pressure of the unfinished mess builds within me and Greg arrives home to an onslaught of frustration. My rant begins as he opens the door.
“I am done with this house. All I am asking for is a clean closet, an organized pantry and central air. This dust is disgusting and the August heat stifling. Are you listening to me?”
He retorts, “I don’t like it when you say “done” Denise. I know it’s taking forever. Are you “done” with me? Do I get lumped in with the house?”
“Well, I guess I’ll keep you.” I crack a smile. “I guess I’m trying to say let’s ditch this broken-down heap.”
“And just where would we go?” He stands with that smirk he gets.
As we look at each other, we both know we aren’t going anywhere. This is me venting to release the pressure of my typical stressors. We both laugh and try to come to terms with how we are feeling.
Tonight, I comfort myself knowing the work is nearly two-thirds complete with the worst behind us with a project we thought would take a few years quickly stretching into five plus. As I watch Greg settle back into his chair waiting on his dinner, Suzanne’s homegoing returns to my thoughts. I stare into the prepared salad bowls, my eyes wet with sentiment. I miss her zest for life. I try to adjust my poor attitude in my current lot here. Afterall, I am alive, and my moments in this unfinished house are worth savoring.