I could not help but reminisce about our old times. Sitting at his bedside I still pictured the young, handsome face I fell in love with so many years ago. It seemed like an eternity had passed, yet at the same time it could’ve been yesterday. Decades long gone in my twenties, everyone told me time would fly by like sand blowing in the wind; of course I didn’t listen to them. Now look at me? I wanted so badly to believe the mirror in front of me was lying but the fact remained I had aged, barely acknowledging the time that had past. My eyes were darker, surrounded by the inevitable crow’s feet and grey consumed my once glistening blonde mane. After spending years taking care of my dying husband, it now showed I never took the time to care for myself. Chapped lips to the point of virtually bleeding, frayed hair which I never conditioned, dry skin never moisturized and tattered clothing that hadn’t been replaced in years; this was the reflection starring back at me from the bathroom mirror. I jolted off my chair, shocked out of my self-indulgent state by the shrieking scream of his life support monitor.
“Doctor! Nurse! Please… he needs you.” Thankfully my urgent calls combined with the skin crawling siren of hospital technology created the attention my husband so desperately needed. I watched them resuscitate him for the second time that afternoon and I began to drift into nostalgia yet again. In the blink of an eye I felt as if my ears closed shut and only the faintest sound could squeak through the invisible barrier, allowing me to venture off into my dreamland, undisturbed.
The aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, the sound of laptop keys being tapped at a rapid speed and the presence of the love of my life overwhelmed me. These were the staples of our life. We lived the way we wanted to live and didn’t regret a single day of it. I love you’s were not a rare commodity in our home; they were in abundance, as was everything. Movie nights snuggled in each other’s arms, long drives listening to our favorite music, trips around the world and the everyday small gestures that make a marriage are what made our bond so strong after fifty years. The moment I laid eyes on him, a nineteen year old girl, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we were made for each other. Not to say we didn’t go through tough times during the years but it is this foundation of love that always pulled us through to the other side where happiness waited. Within all of this, one particular moment in our lives remained as vivid as it was moments after it happened.
“He’s stable now Mrs.Abbot. Call us if you need anything.” This nurse’s shift proved much more efficient than the others I had encountered over the past few weeks. You quickly learn a lot about the care of a medical facility when you sleep in a bedside chair night after night for days at a time. He’d been sick for years but over the last few months the frequency of the strokes escalated, his diabetes became so unmanageable thanks to his array of medications that I could no longer handle his care on my own. I settled back into my seat next to him and grabbed his hand tightly. “Your hand always did smother mine, didn’t it?” I got a slight smile out of him, speech had become impossible at this point. It didn’t matter anyway. We had spent a good portion of our union in a comfortable silence, a silence that makes most people decisively uncomfortable. His eyes told the story words never would be able to articulate. He was dying and his emotions running wild. Of course with all his suffering death may in fact be the release he needed but leaving me was tearing him up inside. His eyes began to slowly close, I took a deep breath and I continued where I left off. Costa Rica.
The serene sounds of the waterfalls, the unforgettable view of a lava flowing volcano and the sensation of the natural hot springs left a mark on my soul never to be erased. The perfume of incense filled my nostrils as if someone was burning it right there in the hospital room. Chirping of exotic birds and calling of strange animals could be heard anywhere in the grasp of the rainforest and through the holes in its ceiling of trees millions of stars glowed with radiance. Never had there been such a beautiful night. We swam together in the hot springs and starred into each other’s eyes, as we often did. Even in the beginning of our relationship words were not always necessary to thoroughly enjoy the company of one another. We held each other and allowed the warmth of the water to engulf us listening to couples whispering, children laughing and strange creatures making their presence known through loud calls; music to my ears.
“Will you marry me” Broke the tropical silence. After seven years together I had completely written off the idea of marriage for us. The pit of my stomach filled with shock and my eyes brimmed with tears. As he starred into my eyes with a look of love and adoration, I welled up with excitement and emotion. This was all he needed; we were engaged and committed to spend the rest of our lives together. Hours continued to pass as we held each other in the lava warmed waters as the volcano above us began to spit glowing rocks. Even when the rain began to pour down on us it only added another element to an already pristine moment in life. A moment and feeling that after fifty years I still recall on a regular basis.
With a slight squeeze of my hand I once again was forced back to the present moment. “Awe my love. I’m still here. Just dazing off into space, you know me!” Doing my best to remain calm and loving in tone, so as not to make him worry. To be honest I was furious with life. With everything falling down around me, seventy-four years old is too young to die, this isn’t enough time together; no amount of time would ever be enough. I know everyone goes through losing a loved one at one point or another but it is something that can’t be described to you. You see the most important person in your life breathing through tubes that enter through their nose and mouth. You wonder if they even know you are there, if they understand you. You ask yourself if they are in pain, if they are ready to accept the fate before them.
“Am I holding you back love?” A received another squeeze and wondered if he meant “yes” or “no”. Did it really matter? I have no idea but the thought of him suffering for my sake certainly made my heart break that much more. At this moment I realized how selfish I’d been acting. He was dying, dying before my eyes and all I could think about was what I would be losing not the fear and sadness he must be experiencing. Always a much better person than me, even to the end.
The memories I will be flooded with from now on will include the distinct sterile odor of a hospital, the sounds of respirators running, the beeping that tells you your loved one is still alive or even worse the long beep that tells you they have left you forever. After fifty years together and nothing but memories full of love, romance and adventures, I would now be forced to live out the rest of my life not only alone but with the agonizing memories of what I must live without.
“Where was I? I lost my train of thought again.”
“Just take your time. You were about to finish telling me how dad passed away.” As I opened my eyes fully for what seemed like the first time, I saw the faint outline of a young woman sitting by my bedside.
“Where am I? Why am I in here? Get me out of here!” I screamed so loud the fear in my voice reverberated off the walls and no doubt through the entire facility. Thrashing around in my bed I began to feel intense pain throughout my face, arms and entire lower body. The pain worsened with my movement. I gradually regained my composure and looked down at my body. Shriveled; a shell of a woman was all that remained of me. The agony running through me came from IV needles and leads being ripped from my skin as I struggled violently. The blood didn’t bother me as much as what I saw when my eyes reached my lower extremities.
“Mom calm down. Shush, you’re okay. You are in the intensive care ward of the hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have been here with you for the last month. You just keep telling the story about dad over and over again.”
“What happened to me?” I couldn’t take my eyes off my body to meet my daughter’s gaze but her hesitation said enough.
“Remember they amputated your legs because of the infection. It’s okay mom just relax. I’m here to take care of you. I know it must be frightening not to remember but you don’t have to, that’s what I’m here for.” She gave me a big smile, a smile I recognized all too well; not only as my daughter’s but as my late husbands. His smile was the first thing I noticed about him when we first met, so many long years ago.
She held my hand and as I began to relax again she too started telling her favorite stories about her father. Although we lived many years without him, we always kept his memory alive through our recollections and stories of him. Most of the tales were heart-warming and funny, some more serious but the point of all of them was to keep him with us in spirit, our memories kept him alive in our hearts.
With a deep breath, something in me changed.
“I can smell incense burning. Can you dear?” I said in a whisper.
“I don’t smell anything.” My daughter responded mechanically, implying this was not the first time I had made this statement.
“The water. The water cascading down the side of the mountain is deafening isn’t it? It is heading right into the springs. The sound is so clear to me, I can almost feel the warmth of the water embracing me.” As sweat began to pour down my face my daughter began wiping it away for me as she struggled to understand what was happening to me; although deep down I think she knew.
I was suddenly full of a sensation I once could not live without; the excitement of love and utter peace. We were back at the hot springs where nearly fifty-five years ago I was proposed to by the man of my dreams. Together again and for the first time in fifteen years I felt like myself with him by my side. Even in this state, seemingly taking my last few breaths on earth, I was ready once again for a new adventure as long as we were together again.
“Goodbye dear. I’ve had the time of my life; make sure you can say the same when it’s your time to lay here.”
Closing my eyes the smells and sounds of my favorite moment intensified and I was there, I was home with him; finally.