Even in Death
"For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave." Song of Solomon 8:6
Just past midnight, you passed, with surprising ease, from this world and away from me. We exchanged no final words, neither heartfelt nor commonplace, for there would always come another day, another chance. Now, God help me, I have lost that chance. I was at your side, listening so intently that I heard your final breath, the only witness to the sundering that is God's mysterious will.
I averted my tired eyes, so as not to see yours glaze over and lose their light. For your forgetting of this world I envy you, for surely, Heaven will reunite you with those souls beloved and long-departed. All will be made right; all will be understood.
I beseeched Him silently, the first true prayer my heart had sent forth for a long while: please, call me, too. I have wished it before, and as before, although my motives are pure and earnest, my wish remains unheeded, unfulfilled.
Prayers for you would come later.
White-clad figures, forgettable and nameless but efficient, came to carry out their last tending tasks, to remove you, to gently evict me from that room and that corridor, so long haunted. Home was where I belonged, Corinne assured me I'd feel better, once I returned there. To my wonderment, she treated me with patience and care, almost with tenderness, as if I was far too fragile to survive this long-anticipated severance.
"Home?" I repeated, lost, doubting the importance of that place, and its ability to comfort.
Corinne's eyes filled with sympathy, with the shimmering tears I had not yet shed, for a standard of conduct must be maintained.
She, too, had lost a husband, and knew what was required; she would stay and attend to the loose ends; she slipped your ring into the pocket of my skirt.
"Oh, Mother." she sobbed, making of grief a travesty, and a pretty spectacle, as well. "Mother, let Bart drive you home."
I believe that until this day, Corinne believed herself the only one to have known true sorrow and joy, the sweet relief of yielding to passion, the beauty of flowers, or one's child's hand, reaching out with complete trust. Such joy and sadness, though consuming passions, are far from unique. I believed I had isolated my heart, and was beyond sentiment, but I, too, was mistaken.
I did not expect ever to see this day; I did not truly believe that such an omniscient presence as yours could vanish. I lacked the foresight that would have revealed this irrevocable and cataclysmic shift, rendering my world in permanent imbalance ever after, all heartaches condensed into this one, so reminiscent of those other two which so scarred my life. You see, I am proficient in the art of denial, in some cases; it is a facility my daughter and I share and at which we excel.
It's possible my memories are nothing but peculiar hallucinations. I am told I fainted; I received this information with shame, remembering, unexpectedly, Alicia's inability to control her despair at Garland's passing.
"End your grieving; stop wasting the life God gave you."
I know now how insensitive and harsh had been my advice to Alicia, that same advice given to Corinne, following Christopher's death, advice so easy to bestow, in the days when I'd been so certain that the loss of a husband could not possibly wound one as deeply as the loss of children.
How sure I was, back then, that the loss of you would never harm me.
Superficial and heartfelt condolences are extended by mail, by telephone, by courageous personal gesture, and I accept them all as graciously and somberly as expected, and wonder at this new phase of life into which I have been thrust. For days, my demeanor stoic, I cannot accept the change that has occurred. I have anticipated this passage for many years, without knowing it would matter. It is a change people understand, unlike the loss of children, and so they feel free to extend sympathy to Malcolm Foxworth's widow. Even in death, you overshadow me. Even in death, you have a claim, and that claim makes of me an object of pity.
Even Corinne, much to my surprise, appears to feel some genuine sorrow on my behalf. She is experienced enough in life's unforeseen twists to know that heartache can catch us by surprise. I cherish this gift, Corinne's sympathy, and your words from years ago, a gift offered when twenty-five years together and often apart, emotionally, seemed a great accomplishment for a life fashioned on compromise.
"Don't be alone." you once said to me, your few words demonstrating that you had never been as unaware of my needs as I'd thought.
"If I don't leave this hospital," began your unexpected entreaty, after your heart attack, when finally you regained the facility of speech, "find Corinne, and bring her home. Don't be alone."
We'd passed through the worst of our troubled times, and I'd begun to convince myself that our marriage was not the trial I'd once believed it to be. Of course, I still had a superfluity of feelings, and youth enough to think they mattered.
But you were wiser than I; you budgeted emotion, and that served as your shield from most of life's disappointments-or so I believed, until I saw how you grieved for our missing son, our Joel. I loved you then, a latent, fragile love unspoken, whose existence I'd forgotten, and it must have endured, waiting to revive-waiting, until you'd gone.