We were only married 28 years, not even a blink of the cosmic eye. Our wedding did seem like yesterday, until she died last July. Each day of the last six months has seemed an eternity plus a month of Sundays. Melanoma, caused by her love to suntan killed her, but not before I had to watch her beautiful face eaten away. The last time I was able to watch her dressings changed, I saw her molars and her naked jawbone. I know Ginny's with the Lord. As the old expression goes, we both did our time in hell. But mine endures, when she died, my soul was sundered. So intertwined were we, that the 'me' I was, doesn't exist anymore.
I know that life continued, I ate, slept, I went to work, watched TV, I even went to my beloved Texas home football games down in Austin. But if I didn't have the ticket stubs, I would swear I hadn't even watched them on TV.
I know I visited with friends and that family came to see me. But for the last six months, I retreated into a deep place where light has never been. If only, if only suicide wasn't a mortal sin--but like that old 60s song Last Kiss.
"She's gone to heaven so I got to be good
So I can see my baby when I leave this world."
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and I don't know how I'm going to make it through tomorrow. I've just returned from our midnight candlelight service at church. As we sang endless Christmas carols, something shattered. When my little candle was lit, it illuminated the dark cave of my life.
I was singing one of Ginny's favorites, and when I couldn't hear Ginny's powerful, but always off-key, voice, my voice became husky. I lost the tune while the tears I'd never shed rolled down my cheeks. I saw our friends from the Sunday School class Ginny and I had attended faithfully for the last twenty-five years. I saw our two children, one on either side of me. Each of their spouses sitting beyond their set of my darling grandchildren. I saw everything except my other half.
My daughter was sitting on my left, my son on my right. Kristin, ever a "daddy's girl" saw me crying first. Reaching behind me she poked her younger brother, and in a stage whisper urged, "We have to get Daddy home, now!"
I was too overcome to protest, but the last thing I wanted was to go back to my empty house. Somehow, the two families hustled me out of the pew and through the church's back door before Silent Night, always the last song, was started.
I drove my car to our little neighborhood church, but my son-in-law drove me home. Everyone else followed in the other two cars. For the first time I was aware of all the decorated houses with their lawn ornaments. A vain attempt to match the majesty of billions of stars on this clear, cold, moonless night.
When we got to my house, I was shocked. It was decked out in all its Christmas finery. How had I hung those lights? I'd always needed Ginny's help to do them. Where had I found the crèche that Ginny's mother had as a little girl? All the lights on the tree were blinking. I must have spent hours finding burned out bulbs, when had I found the time, or the energy?
I know I'd done it, but the doing was vague, distant. All our married life, my one job was to hang the lights, outside and on the tree. Could I have done all this? I know Ginny had left a detailed list of careful instructions of what I was to do, but getting the house to look as it always did when Ginny decorated, was a fragmented memory, like one from early childhood. The kind where you're never sure if you remember the incident or are remembering an earlier memory, a memory of a memory.
My son supported me with his normal vigor as we walked through the leaded glass front doors into our living room. "The tree is perfect Dad, just the way Mom always decorated it. We all want to stay, but Mom gave us strict orders not to come over until after we celebrated our own family trees in the morning. She said she wanted you to open her gift alone. Kristin and John will bring breakfast for you, Jessie and I will bring the fixings for dinner."
"Dad, are you going to be okay? Mom insisted that we take you to the candlelight service like always, and that we leave you alone tonight, but if you want..."
Reality sucks. I wished I could retreat back into my cocoon, but my bubble had dissolved and I knew I couldn't live there anymore. I interrupted him, "No, I'm going to be fine. I just miss your mother..." I struggled not to break down. "More than I can say, but I need some time to absorb all this. Don't come too early in the morning. I'll probably stay up a while and sleep in."
He gave me a firm hug and left without another word. I looked around the house. I hadn't been able to remove a single thing of Ginny's, except the medical stuff we needed at the end. If she were to walk in right now, everything would be like she wanted it.
I sat in my recliner, and I looked over at her empty chair. I pictured her there laughing at the absurdity of a TV show. I could smell the Sand and Sable perfume she loved. A grin almost cracked my face. The kids always called it Sand of the Stable and it was her annual gift from both of them as they grew up. A distant part of me noted it was the first time I'd thought of Ginny and didn't want to cry. Oh precious Lord, I miss her so, she made life fun!
I don't want to sound metaphysical, I don't believe in ghosts, but at that instant, I felt a warmth flush my chest. As if my lungs had been bathed in warm water. If it had continued much longer I might have worried about a heart attack, but it lasted only a few seconds and it was gone. I will always believe that it was Ginny's spirit saying she loved me too. It left me at peace. It also left me resolved and terribly fatigued. I was motivated to begin the process of disposing of her things; it had been too long, but not tonight. Tonight I wanted to savor memories and cherish what we had built together.
When I finally went to bed, I must have been asleep before my head hit the pillow and awoke feeling more rested than I could remember being in years. Donning my ratty old robe, I practiced my one culinary art, the only thing I'd been allowed by Ginny to do in HER kitchen. I prepared a mug of Prince of Wales tea. To achieve my masterwork I use two heaping teaspoons of Sugar Raw, a brand of turbinado sugar, and three of half & half. Folks have made fun of my persnicketiness in making tea, but every one always asks for it instead of coffee. One of my private joys had been to fix tea for Ginny every morning for the last fifteen years. I always used a little yellow teapot; it was the perfect size for two cups. This morning, for the first time since she died, I didn't use it. It should have felt odd, but it didn't.
I never eat breakfast. I know, a terrible habit, but I never have more than my tea. I carried my cup into the living room, sat in my chair, and looked at the presents piled under the tree. There was a large heavy box in garish paper that clashed with all the other presents for my kids and their kids. It had arrived yesterday morning via Federal Express overnight service.
There was a card on it in Ginny's distinctive handwriting that said, "To my loving husband." I wasn't surprised that I had a Christmas gift from Ginny six months after she'd died. Ginny was one of those people who did their Christmas shopping early, like at the after-Christmas sales. I was a little surprised that she'd ordered something to be delivered Christmas Eve, but my major surprise was how anxious I was to open it.
.... There is more of this story ...