When memories are all you have...

Immediately after my husband died, I began to notice how many things reminded me of him. Apart from the physical reminders, many days, hours, minutes, places, songs, smells, all kinds of things, make me think of him. It wasn’t like that before he died, right? No, it wasn't’. Not even a little bit. That’s because I didn’t need anything to remind me in those days, the better, happier days. He was here with us. His very presence in the air made me content, even when we were arguing. Not anymore. Death does its best to ruin everything for the living. There were reminders I could do without, such as the hospital bed that he slept in, the lift that helped me get him into his wheelchair, not to mention the wheelchair itself. Those things practically went flying out of the house two days after he died, as my near hysterical voice screamed at someone to come get this crap out of my house. Yes, I was done with my memories of those things. But these memories and many others linger and sometimes, I honestly don’t know what to do with them. On the drive to work, my route takes me past the hospital he was in so often. The one he died in. I had gotten so used to that routine that two years later, lost in thought, I found myself getting off at the exit and driving right up to where I would always park. I stopped just short of getting out of the car and going in. Why did that even happen? So weird. But not really, if you really think about it. And boy, did I, all day long. I hadn’t been there in over two years and all of a sudden, I felt like driving there to visit, because I was thinking I hadn’t seen him for a while. Then there's the grocery I shop, I see the things he liked. Catfish, spaghetti, steak, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Sometimes I have one of those moments where I actually pick up those disgusting Little Debbie things and throw it in my cart. Then I have to remove them and put them back on the shelf. No one else eats those. Are memories like this reflexes that we have to teach ourselves to stop doing? The mind says yes,, but the heart rebels and says NO. Because if you do that, you’ve lost him completely. People say, “You have such wonderful memories of him. Keep sharing them.” I do, but I also have terrible memories that blend with the good ones… Like the first (and last) cruise we took. Such a wonderful time, but then I remember it was exactly six months later that he was first diagnosed. There’s a picture of us, taken at the hospital while we attending transplant informational meetings. He is making his crazy, silly face and I am smiling quite contently. I was with my love and we were getting good news. I was so happy then. I had no idea that two months later he would suddenly start suffering from seizures which would cause his health take such a horrible turn that the transplant team would call me and tell me he’d have to stay out of the hospital for six straight months. That never happen, so he never had a chance. Another memory of that time is of actor Nick Cannon being diagnosed with lupus and kidney disease, just like my husband and how everyone was doing everything in the power to help him. He, in fact, fully recovered. My husband did not. Another terrible memory that won’t go away. Other memories, such as sitting for hours next to my comatose husband, willing him to wake up. Listening to doctor after doctor tell me this and that will help his mental status while they throw everything including the kitchen sink at him to make him better. Memories of me getting angry for not doing enough, yet treating him like a pincushion. A good memory of those times: hearing one of the doctors say, “Oh no, his wife’s here. She’s scary.” Hmm, I think I’ll keep that memory. Why do these memories stay in the forefront of my grieving psyche? Why can’t the good memories take over these terrible ones? I find myself having to look at pictures of him and our family to actually bring up the good memories and hope that they overrule the bad ones. I do NOT want to remember my Tony and our lives together as the last three years of his, because frankly, those years were just awful. Wait. Let’s consider that statement. They weren’t completely terrible. I got to see my husband’s strength of will in the flesh. I always knew he was strong, but not too many people I know could have survived all of the things he did and still keep punching to the very end. Remembering all of the days I would visit him after he had a rough time and seeing that brilliant smile and hearing him say, “Hey Babe!” Just like it was any typical day in our lives. His smile always made me smile. The memory of it still does. Such a handsome man... I watched my boys learn what it is to be men from their Dad. They learned to be strong and independent. Some nights when I dragged myself home from a day of working and an evening of watching over Tony, I came home to find our place clean and neat, both boys bathed, homework done and a small plate of something for me to eat in the microwave. I love that memory. My oldest boy took on a great deal of responsibility with taking care of his little brother. He also was a help to me by taking care of Tony while I worked, or helping boost him in and out of his wheelchair. He would also take care of some of the “man” chores for Tony, like giving him a shave or cutting his hair. I have pictures of some of these moments, both in my mind’s eye and in actual photos. You could almost forget that Tony was bedridden while he and my oldest chuckled and talked quietly together as my oldest worked. It was almost like old times. My youngest became the sunshine in our home. He always had a smile and a kiss for me when I came home. He missed his father so much that when Tony was home and in the hospital bed, my little boy would bring his blankets, books and even the Xbox out to the living room to spend quality time with his Dad. He even slept on the couch and alerted me when Tony needed something, or got it himself to allow me to sleep. My memories of after Tony’s death are also bittersweet. The sight of my oldest telling Tony at his funeral that he would look out for me and my little boy always brings tears to my eyes. It was just a brief and private moment, but one that brings to mind how much he loved his dad, and how loved his memories of his dad’s caring for him and our family. For the months after his death, when grief waves came fast and furious, my youngest was always there to give me hugs and kisses. Remembering that the gift of our youngest son was left with me not only to care for, but also to be comforting gives me the warmest feeling. My youngest’s loving nature mirrors his father’s. I have discovered that memories, good and bad, are a gift left to us by our loves. With that thought in mind, I’ve decided not to fight with my memories anymore. I need them to help me heal and to keep my beloved in my heart and mind forever.

By Cheryl Barnes


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