Day 18, Gratitude for Knowing You


sketch afte surgery

I drew his face after the surgery
and triedto memorize the freckles
on his forearm.

I am grateful for my first husband. On January 18th, 1952, in Chambersburg, PA, a baby was born to happy parents. The father was not yet feeling the disabilities he’d eventually develop from his Navy days on a PT Boat in the Pacific. He’d been sent to Nagasaki a week after the bomb. The mother was a happy, beautiful woman, who felt blessed with the birth of her second child, a son, named after his father. She didn’t know her babies harbored hidden damage: ticking bombs in their brains from their father’s war.

That baby was my first husband. I met him when I was a Marine. He was quick with a smile and stole my heart. A few years after we married, he passed out at work. He was working as a mechanic, while I went to college. He told me that he’d go to school when I was done. Once, he told me that there was no point, he wouldn’t live long. Shortly after that, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a slow-growing mass called a glial blastoma.

My wedding

My wedding picture is fading
and it feels so very much
like drowning.

Our marriage was 90% pain, hospitals and dying. He never stopped smiling, at least not until he’d had enough. After 5 failed suicide attempts, he surrendered and started smiling again. I had changed my major to Biology and worked at NIH. I was running on the thin crust on snow, that sun-melted layer of ice that covers deep snow; the stuff you can walk on as a child without breaking through –until you get too big. Between the time you can walk on the crust, until the time you break through, there is a short time that if you move quickly with a sliding step –you can go a little ways without breaking through. I was running on that thin crust. My heart felt like it had been used as a punching bag and it was often hard to breathe. I lived in fear of milestones and as I passed each one, I crumbled a little. Seven years is a long time to try to walk on that crust on snow.

Eventually, that thin ice covered dark, frigid water and not soft snow. At any moment it felt like I would break through and be lost. No one seeing my cracks thought I would make it to the end; and my husband, who no longer knew me, still needed me. And then he didn’t, and then he slipped into a coma and sucked my soul out of my chest. Then he was gone. All the support was gone too. All his doctors were replaced by bill collectors, my friends found me depressing and my family told me I was no fun any more. Get back on the horse, put it behind you, it’s not like you didn’t know it was coming… So, I sat on my little iceberg world and waited. I waited. I lost my home and all my old friends who tired of waiting for me, who were disappointed and wondered where my strength had gone. I put them all away. My dreams, friends and any thought of a future.

But, I eventually met another Capricorn and fell madly in love. It took me sixteen years to pay off all the medical bills. I worked from home, being around people confused me. I watched the families at the park, in cars, at restaurants or Walmart and remembered my dreams. I should be a grandmother now, that was what I wanted. But, it wasn’t meant to be and I try to accept it. I prayed for one thing in all that time, I only wanted someone to love me for who I am, not wish I was something else –someone who would be my best friend. My prayers were answered and I now wake each day knowing that it can be a whole lot worse but still embracing the good and wonderful surprises that make life a buffet.

IMG_3639

He wrote this in hospice, before he lost the ability to write or speak. He was embarrassed about the size of his stomach. The steroids kept his brain from swelling but caused fluid to swell his body.

I am grateful for the Marine I married so long ago and whom I helped live his last years. He gave me the ability to stare into the rising sun and feel renewed every single day. If you are one of those who know me and your first thought is “Oh, no! –not the dead husband again!” Well, I hope your path stays smooth and you never are without whatever life anesthesia you use.

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