If you follow my blog, you’ve read several stories about the illness and death of my wife, Tracie. But there’s one story you don’t know – because I’ve never told anyone about it before. Until now.
Many of you have read before that shortly before she passed away in the fall of 2004, we spent a week at the hospital. It was everything you might imagine that a week in a hospital could be – frequent visits by nurses, very infrequent visits by the doctors, a number of friends and family visiting, bad daytime TV, bland hospital food, and a cramped room with appropriately cramped and uncomfortable furniture.
I spent that whole week there. I left a few times to go pick up some lunch or dinner at some nearby restaurants. After all, there’s only so much strained carrots and boxed mashed potatoes a person can eat. But for the most part I was there – day and night. The room had one of those uncomfortable chairs that pulls out into an uncomfortable bed, but, as my grandmother used to say, it beat nothing all to pieces.
It was a difficult week. An emotional week. It was a week when the reality of the whole situation settled over me. It was during this week that the doctor recommended that my wife quit chemotherapy and start dealing with Hospice. And she agreed.
Little did we know that after we left the hospital, she had less than two weeks to live.
But there was a second visit to the hospital. It happened a couple of weeks after my wife passed away.
I’m not sure why, but I felt a need to go back to the hospital, to see the place where we had just spent a week of our lives.
So one morning, I drove over to the city where the hospital was located, and I made my way up to the patient floor.
I’m really not sure what I thought I would find. Maybe I thought I could find something I had lost there. Maybe a part of me hoped (expected?) to see my wife still in that room, still in that hospital bed.
Maybe I thought all the nurses and employees would still remember me, maybe have some words of wisdom.
And I worried what people would say when they saw some strange guy who obviously had no one to visit wandering around the patients’ floor of a hospital.
But I didn’t find any of that. Instead, there were new people in the rooms – people with their own ailments, and their own concerned family and friends.
The nurses were attending to new problems and issues. A few gave me a second look – maybe there was a slight moment of recognition, but not much, and then they were off to solve that day’s problems.
What I saw more than anything was that my wife was no longer in the bed or the room where we had been just a few weeks earlier.
What I found was that life had moved on. Was, in fact, still moving on. That while that memory was still fresh and painful in my memory, it wasn’t a memory that was shared by any of the current patients. And while all the hospital staff had been compassionate and understanding with us, had hurt with us, that they too had moved on. They were forced to by new patients who checked in each day.
Life had moved on.
And with two kids at home, with one of those just over a year old, I knew that I couldn’t afford to linger in the past either. The responsibilities of the kids and a job would be crashing around me each day.
It was a difficult realization, and one I had already partially come to realize.
I left the hospital with a sad, lonely feeling that took some time to finally overcome.