The children were here, advising about a new address. “You need to move, start over.” Friends have said the same, including a few who’ve left the apartment or house where their spouse died.
I’ve thought so much, written so much, about a change-of-scenery cure, knowing my mind, and all its memories, and my heart, with all its feelings, travel with me. I can leave this condo and never walk the hall leading to the bedrooms again. But I always will see my husband with what medically is called poverty of movement—the rigidity or frozen position of his arms, his legs plodding along, feet shuffling, as he tottered down this hallway to get in bed, especially that last walk on the day he died.
I can move the sofa to a new house or apartment. I can discard the sofa and replace it. But I still will look at any sofa in any condo or house where I live and see him sitting there. “Miss, come and watch Jeopardy!,” I will hear him say. Always.
Flashback (1980s): We were living in Baltimore, and Jeopardy! was aired twice a day, maybe, two hours apart. The second was a repeat of the first. One afternoon, I watched the earlier, wrote the questions on paper, and studied them, cramming for the exam. When Charles came home and we sat in front of the TV after dinner, I shouted the correct responses immediately. “You should be a contestant,” he said. And I laughed so much he knew I’d contrived a splendid trick.
After Charles died, I couldn’t watch Jeopardy! for at least a year. But one evening, I powered the set and sat on the sofa. As the answers were shown, I’d look at the space beside me and say, “You’d have known that one.” And then, “Can I get you something to drink while I’m up? Do you want water, milk?” On and on, I talked to a ghost. Still do, occasionally. Most often now it’s, “Where are you?” I look out the balcony, see the leaves dancing, and think: “That’s you. You’re the wind.”
A couple of weeks ago, I ordered Kathleen Christison’s book, It’s All Right, I’m Only Crying, a tribute to her late husband Bill who died June 13, 2010. The two were CIA analysts for years before becoming peace and justice activists, outspoken critics of US foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel. When the book arrived, I opened it and for some reason turned to the end to see a poem, “The Dead,” by Billy Collins. I read each line and began to cry, tears that became sobs. A little later, I ran my palm across the book’s blue cover, a picture of clouds catching sunlight. And then I lifted it gently as if I were holding a newborn. I read the paragraph on page 3 in which Kathleen describes “the beginning of the end,” when Bill fell the first time.
Again, I cried tears that became heaving sobs.
Charles was the most energetic person I’ve ever known. He always bounded up stairways, never taking an elevator. When I noticed certain signs, I became an observer, a listener, and often a denier. But I could not disregard postural changes and the shuffling. I did a Google search of gait disorders and was assaulted by frightening diagnoses.
A week before we moved to Baltimore, Charles approached a colleague at NYU School of Medicine. Told him he wanted to schedule an appointment. The physician said he’d been wondering who was treating Charles’ Parkinson’s. “Nothing will ever be the same,” I thought. Later, three Baltimore neurologists discussed other possibilities: Lewy body dementia and multiple system atrophy were among the considerations. There was no exactitude except an MRI that revealed adult hydrocephalus. Shunt surgery offered hope. Charles had the procedure with no abatement of symptoms. And I thought, “Nothing will ever be the same.” It wasn’t. I read this in Kathleen’s paragraph on page 3. “Nothing will ever be the same.” My mind had battled these words for months as I watched Charles deteriorate, refused to believe, watched, and refused to accept, until I no longer had the luxury of denial.
I understand intimately the loss and pain expressed so exquisitely on the few pages I’ve been able to read in Kathleen’s book. But I cannot see through tears. Maybe I should say that what I see through these tears is too much for me to bear. I hope eventually to treat Kathleen Christison’s love story to Bill with the grace it deserves.
Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org