I have had several reminders about what I was doing ten years ago. I was not writing this blog back then, I was working on another one in which I was chronicling my wife’s experiences with Pancreatic Cancer. Most of this month I have been looking back at what I wrote during the last days of June 2010. Some days brought a smile, which at times were about the irony. Most days I wipe the tears from my eyes.
Looking back through Facebook, I can see my conflicted feelings. On one day, I wrote about a man in Liberty Park asking “Where is the Taco Bell” as a light-hearted moment, and later posted “I’m tired of having to go to the hospital to see my wife.”
On 5 July 2010 I wrote
My friend, confidant, lover, cooking teacher, music student and wife died this morning at 6 AM. She was sleeping peacefully and holding my hand when she stopped breathing.
She had a very rough night, I was glad that we were in the hospital rather than at home. Her pain medications were being updated on an hourly basis. Her kidneys had failed along with her liver, the pressure from the swelling made her feel the need to urinate but her bladder was empty. At about five she looked at me and said “I can’t fight anymore” and she closed her eyes. I held her hand as she lay sleeping, telling her that the time apart would seem to her like an instant from the perspective of eternity. I quoted Bible verses and reminded her of God’s promise. At about six she stopped breathing. I kissed her and called the nurses, there was no pulse.
I was able to stay with her as I tried to call friends and family, due to the hour and the holiday weekend I mostly spoke to answering machines. I held her hand the entire time, when it came time to wash her rigor mortis had set in, her hand stiff and curled around mine. I washed her, gently caressing the body that had once been so full of life, now just an empty container. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and neck, then helped place her body into the bag and onto the gurney. I watched as she was rolled away and packed her things, including the plant she had recieved just two days earlier.
This afternoon I stopped at the funeral home and realized how little I know about her family, I had no idea of everyone’s name that would go in the obituary, and decided that a generic “well loved by her many friends and family” would be the best route. I picked out an urn, actually only narrowed it down to three, I’ll have to go back with her cousin to make the final choice.
I grabbed a sandwich and now realize that I haven’t slept in a while. I have a lot to do this evening, but I know it will all be there tomorrow.
She is still alive in all of our memories. She is still alive in God’s loving arms. She made me a better person, and I must honor her by being the best person I can be until we are reunited.
Looking through her site at the condolences, I found this. It stood out then, and I have never forgotten giving, and receiving, this advice.
Our prayers and thoughts are with you I hope your letter can be of some comfort during this difficult time.
From: Cash, K
Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 2:58 PM (Note: two days before I started Emma’s site)
To: Cash, Patricia
Grief is a denial of our knowledge that your father is beyond suffering, with our Lord, where he is destined to be.
That does not mean that you should not experience grief, it is an opportunity to reflect on your father’s service to our Lord, in works as far away as Morocco, and as near as your heart. It is an opportunity to allow his children to show their strength, to support each other, to show what your father has given to them.
Prejudice is another opportunity to see our frailty. We justify our prejudices by calling them knowledge, by insisting that we have learned from the past. God has no prejudice, and he knows the future. He loves us no matter who we are, what we have done, or what we will do. Allow your loved ones to prove any prejudices you may have to be wrong. Allow God to guide your loved ones to step up and support you and your mother. Rejoice in the example your father gave us all. Do not falter in your faith due to the failure of another to live up to your expectations. Rejoice in those that do. We think of life as a gift, yet it is eternal life for which we strive.
When I lose Emma, please remind me of these thoughts.
The results from Emma’s biopsy are in, she has stage 3 pancreatic cancer. As much as she expected it to be even worse (stage 4), the news hit her hard, as if it was out of the blue. We see the oncologist tomorrow. I don’t know how she’ll get through this, but it does seem to make her feel better to talk to you.
I stopped by her site quite a bit that year, grooming it into her book. A year later I wrote:
Tomorrow it will be one year since Emma’s death. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with everything, I’m still not.
I have completed all my “mourning steps”. I’ve recounted the events leading up to her death ad nauseam, I’m certain everyone is tired of hearing about it. So I wrote a book about it. Still, the images won’t go away.
I sit with Lieve today, I’m writing the blurb for the back cover of the book, she’s designing the front cover, using the photograph above.
A few words about guilt. I felt a certain amount of “survivor’s guilt” for living after Emma, I’ve felt some guilt for enjoying life so much with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not letting go and putting more of myself into my life with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not “doing more” for Emma. This is not me. I’ve never really believed in feeling guilty, “accept and move on” has always been my creed.
I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed by sadness a few more times this weekend, and there’s no reason to expect it to stop. Grief has no calendar. Emma was a huge part of my life, in time, in emotional attachment, in significant events. We didn’t break up. We loved each other more and more and then it was over, the film ran off the reel, white screen.
This will indeed mark the end of regular posting here. I have a life, and a wife who has been exceptionally understanding of my absent mind. There is no question that I loved Emma, and unlike a divorce, there is no reason to stop loving her. Except that she’s not here, and isn’t coming back. I could never forget Emma, but I can live a normal life, and share the love within me with someone who is here and can appreciate it.
I’ll stop by and post updates on the book’s availability, but there’s nothing left to say about Blake and Emma, she found peace, and now so should I.
What have I done since then?
Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know. I married again far too soon, and re-learned something Emma had told me; I am hard to Love. In the last ten years I have had four meaningful relationships, the first three echoed those words. Each woman looked me in the eyes and said those words. I expect Janice will someday as well, she’s in touch with her feelings more than most; she’s also a great deal more honest. I accept my complexities, I wouldn’t want to only see one point of view at a time. I could never be “normal.”
I spent a fair amount of time in Belgium, which led to gaining forty pounds. Later, I visited Mazzo’s, the Lebanese restaurant where Emma was one of the family. Mama kept saying “If Emma could see you! You look so healthy!” I learned a new language (Flemish) and was ever so close to emigrating, then at the very last minute had a change of circumstances.
I’ve moved from South Philly. I still drive by our old place whenever I’m in the area. I still go to Termini Brothers occasionally, and find other reasons to be in South Philly. The first few months, while I was still working, I found myself in and around the hospital far too often. First I went to Princeton, where I found the need for a driver’s license, then eventually to Elkins Park Pennsylvania, where I bought a condominium.
I’ve had my own medical issues, the ankle I twisted before Emma’s surgery persisted in getting twisted for at least two years, and halfway through the decade I broke my brain in a fall. That was spectacular. I wrote about it with the details, if you know me you know the intense detail with which I remember crises. The dispassionate way I write about tragedy did not originate with Emma. She hadn’t liked my fiction, but I hope she enjoyed the book I wrote about her.
Our cat, Autumn, has become an old lady. I believe she is fifteen or sixteen years old now, last year she beat cancer; which was traumatic for me more than her I think. Now she has a playmate, Janice’s cat Flash, who is only three and wants to play. Autumn has maintained her dignity; when she wants she and Flash will chase each other, when she doesn’t want to play she gives Flash a look and he backs down. Very little hissing or fighting.
I had a psychotic break last fall and loved it almost as much as I loved going to jail. Really, it was incredibly instructional. Who would have thought a mental hospital could be so calming. I learned a lot about myself, and how my brain does and doesn’t work. I realized I was still grieving Emma. Nine years on and I had not found balance; I was just pretending.
I no longer work. In the months following Emma’s death I developed the idea that if I couldn’t fix pancreatic cancer I couldn’t fix anything. Confidence is eighty percent of a technician’s skill, so I retired. Ended up needing income a few years later and worked at Amazon, then L’Oreal, then I broke my brain and have been on disability ever since.
I don’t know if I would have been a writer had Emma survived. I did collect a journal of her cancer, but I don’t think I would have been moved to have it published had she survived. I’m pretty sure I would not get much screen time, we always found better things to do. When I started this blog in 2013 I was writing no less than a thousand words a day, seven days a week. Now sometimes I miss an entire month.
I wonder what she would think about the President. I’m sure she would have voted for him, but she voted for Obama and hated him six months later. Emma told a story about running into Donald Trump and Michael Jackson in a hotel in Atlantic City. Michael said “Don’t you want my autograph?” and Emma replied “No, I want his (indicating Trump).”
Emma teased me about my sexuality, sometimes using it to start an argument, sometimes using it to turn herself on. That portion of my life has become far more open than it had been, with unexpected repercussions and benefits.
I did finally figure out which band was playing on her last night, it was The Roots, performing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I’ve met some of the members of the band who also play with David Uosikkinen of The Hooters, who also played with Buddy Cash, who played at a restaurant called Tom and Jerry’s where Emma used to work. Everything intersects, is it any surprise I wander through multiple universes?
At some point late next year she will have been gone longer than we were together. Probably around Nouveau day, the day we met. I have no expectations of “healing,” the scars will last forever. The memories are softer now, I know she could be harsh but I can’t remember her being harsh. Emma and I are at peace, happy for each other. The vision I remember best is her lips in an “O” when she was excited.
My latest relationship has all the indications of being my last, Janice is a forever person. It is a good time in life to gather the wisdom of all the lives I’ve led over the last sixty one years and create something solid. The mother of Janice’s late husband lives with us, as does his brother. Janice’s daughter sometimes spends the evening, so we’re about at capacity. It feels warm.
I think of her every day. Part of that is because her shrine has traveled every step of my journey at my side. Sometimes I need to look at something, sometimes I need to touch it. Every now and then something will suddenly appear, a card or something she wrote will be in a stack of papers. Those are weird. I still look at Emma’s personal ad, through which we met.
I’m in a healthy relationship. I’m building a family. I’m surviving. That’s what she asked me to do. But sometimes I feel like the character “Griffin” in the film MIB3. Seeing everything and everywhere at once, knowing possible outcomes but having no control of his path. Then I remember I had a TBI and a psychotic break, so maybe I’m just crazy. Doesn’t bother me a bit.
But 4 July stopped being celebratory ten years ago, so I’m posting this today, it will be ten years tomorrow at 0600 EST, I’ll be awake.