What We Didn’t Know

We always knew this would end badly; there were no good solutions and never the promise of a cure.

What we didn’t know was how it would come about or when the end might be.

Death is tricky, and even in days of waning health and absolute signs of what was to come, strength can arrive from seemingly nowhere and final days sometimes become final months.

We knew it would be hard, knew it would be painful, knew it would release feelings that had been buried for years, and recognized that we didn’t know what else might erupt.

What we didn’t know was just how much it really would hurt.

We knew it was for the best. There were too many years filled with too much suffering, too many tears – his and, of course, ours – the pain of his illness and our collective loss, of seeing a life taken away from all that he loved. We wanted to ease his pain, perhaps to ease our own.

We just didn’t know how hard it would be to say goodbye to someone who left us so long ago.

What we really didn’t know, didn’t even suspect, was that with his death, John would suddenly become himself again – the person we knew so well, missed so much and hadn’t seen in so many years.

When someone is sick, like he was, for such a long time, life becomes reactive, a series of phone calls, medical and managed care facilities, emails, solving problems, taking care of needs, dealing with issues and never feeling like you can ever possibly do enough. Mostly because you can’t. So you do what you can and take care of what’s in front of you and all the best parts of a life you once lived become background noise, seldom listened to, examined even less, because it hurts too much and there is too much in the present to attend to.

What we didn’t know is that in the end, there was nothing else to focus on, except the life we once lived – together – and the memories, and the pictures; so many pictures, bringing back sensations and smiles and the recognition of a life once lived with joy, with a lot of love, lots of laughter and the chaos of many kids and too little time. Yet we didn’t know then how little time we really had, but even if we did, I don’t think we could have cherished it any more than we once did.

We knew once John was gone, we could finally begin to grieve, but we didn’t know what form that grief might take. So tonight, out of nowhere, I wept in earnest, the first time with no restraint, for the husband that’s gone, the life we led, the family we had together and the father and grandfather that would have loved it all so. I miss him so much and have for so long.

What we didn’t know, although we thought we did, was that somewhere inside of us, we clung to the hope that someday he’d be back, be part of our family again, even if we had to have known it would never be. Illness can delude you, give you a glimpse now and then of the person still there. It’s brief and it’s painful because it offers hope where none should really be.

We knew we had lots of love surrounding us – from family, friends that feel like family and even people we barely know well. We could feel it, even before this, and it magnified as the days blended into one.

And as that last day began to come and we finally knew that this was really it, not an illusion or one more close call, what we didn’t know was that almost 20 years would somehow melt away and the worst of it all didn’t matter anymore. Here we were all these years later, remembering decades ago as if they were yesterday.

In death, John became ours again. In life, we’ll miss him every day.