It’s been 10 years since that night I left Ian’s basketball game at halftime because I knew I needed to go to the nursing home to see Steve. Driving through snow and bitter cold because I knew that was where I was supposed to be.
When I walked in, he wasn’t responsive, but I’ve been around death enough to know that he wasn’t actively dying. I sat by his side and held his hand and said all of the things that had been left unsaid since our divorce and in his dying process.
I talked about the good times and the laughter. I even sang “Muskrat Love” to him — because for reasons I can’t even begin to comprehend even now — I sang that song to him on our first date. During the years we were married, when he’d look at me when I said or did something crazy, I’d always say, “I sang ‘Muskrat Love’ to you on our first date. You were forewarned.”
I also talked about the hard times. Even as he asked me to walk with him as he died, it wasn’t easy. There were times when I stormed out of his hospital room in anger. Even now, I’m not proud of that. But I asked for forgiveness and I told him I forgave him, for all of it; that I wasn’t going to hold on to the ugly parts; and that even though we’d been divorced for seven years, I still loved him. And I knew I always would. I had divorced a disease but I never quit loving the person consumed by it. As I talked to him, a tear formed in his eye and I wiped it away.
As it got later and I knew that the wind was getting stronger and the hour drive home would be rough, I said to him, “You’ve always been a Canis Lupus and I know you like to be alone, but if you want to die with me here, I’ll stay until 8.”
After a few minutes, he started getting restless so I told him I would go check on when he was due for his next shot of morphine. I returned and said they would be there in a few minutes to give him his morphine and I would stay a little after that, just to make sure he was resting easily.
After I told him they were coming with the morphine, and held his hand, he took three breaths and then he died. No protracted vigil. On his own terms. In his own way. Chemical-free and at peace at last.
I will always hold on to the gift he gave to our sons. That in spite of it all, their dad died holding their mom’s hand. That for all of the pain, the brokenness and the detritus left in the wake of addiction, our story was ultimately defined by forgiveness and love.