His skin is yellow. A result of the damage to his liver. His hair is thinner than when I first met him, seven and a half years ago. The result of the chemotherapy. His face and body are skeletal. A body that served him well for nearly 36 years. A body that held me close, kept me warm, and excited me. A body that is now in the process of shutting down. A body that bounced back time and again. But it would not bounce back now. Not this time. The doctor said the disease was terminal, "Didn't anyone tell you?" he asked. No, we weren't prepared for this. I am not prepared for this.
My Mom is here, too, helping. I am holding his hand, Mom's doing dishes, and I hear a sound from Bob that I'd not heard before. "It's time," I call out to her, knowing we are at the end. We are both holding a hand, telling him "It's okay. You can leave whenever you're ready."
I say, "It's okay, honey," but I don't mean it. He knows. In the moment of that last breath, the one I would remember, that would haunt my dreams, he squeezes our hands as we hear one final gasp. Is it a sign that he is okay with this? Is it a sign to give us strength when we would need it most? Is it a sign of pain? Is it the last-ditch effort of a dying man grasping to take something with him? Or is he trying to hold onto this world and to us?
Then it is over. His grip relaxes on our hands. His eyes stare heavenward.
I’ve now learned that death is not peaceful.
For a moment, it is only me, my Mother, and Bob. Silent. Tears stream down my face, my body is wracked with grief, a mewling sound I'd never heard escapes my mouth, and then an instantaneous numbing to what is occurring around me. I’m aware of my Mother’s crying. She brings me a glass of wine to help calm me. It won't be the last. I know she is hurting, too, I just can't seem to get beyond my own pain, my own disbelief, to help comfort her. I need to make phone calls. I know that if I stop for just a second, I won't be able to pick myself up.
I’m thankful when the visiting nurse arrives. She and Mom are in the bathroom with all of the medication, flushing the toilet. I hear this, but I don't. Bob's cousin arrives. We hug, we cry. She had been so helpful over the last five months -- just about as long as I had known her. She helped my Mom take care of Bob during the final three weeks of his life. All of our friends, his friends, visited, saying goodbye. We laughed and cried together, and, for a time, it actually seemed that Bob was getting better. Could a miracle be on the way? Will he live and be cured? The events of today tell me "no." In fact, it was a false hope but we needed something to believe in. I tried God. He didn't answer as I thought He should. How could He let Bob suffer like that? What was this I heard about a merciful and loving God? I couldn't believe it true. The God I know wouldn't allow people to suffer like this.
"You can't have a rose without thorns," Father David Carriere says four days later, presiding over the memorial service. I am still numb. I hear the words but don't. Soon, I will have to speak. I have asked David Blackmore and Gillian Wilson, two of Bob's oldest friends, to speak. I asked Jack, our new neighbor in the house we bought less than a year ago. Jack and Bob became quick friends. Jack and Tere, his wife, and their daughters, Christine and Cynthia, invited us to their home for Easter. We enjoyed their company; we enjoyed playing games with their kids in our front yard. They were each drawn to Bob, as I was, for his wit and ability to make us laugh. There was just something about him that made him get along with anyone and everyone. He had a way of putting a person at ease, of making one feel comfortable in his presence. Some "Christians" would say that Bob and I got what we deserved for the supposed sin of loving each other. I don't remember hate being taught by Christ.
Father David is almost finished. I know I will have to hear David, Gill, and Jack speak before I get up and say what I need to say. Or, more likely, what I think I should say for the 75 or so people gathered here to remember him, to offer me comfort, to let me comfort them. I’m not sure I can handle it, but the numbness, the shock of it all, will get me through this.
I am also upset that Bob's only brother didn't make it. He’s always been a flake. I know the stress he caused his father and his brother. I am also upset that only one member of Bob's family came. My entire family is here. Even my brother, with whom I’ve been estranged for some time. And friends that neither of us had seen in awhile. Even some of my co-workers and Bob's co-workers are here. Why couldn't his family be here? This is for Bob as much as it is for me. Fellowship in man and all that.
Father David is wrapping up. As I write this, I no longer remember who is first, Jack, David, or Gill. I only know that soon I will speak. I hear the music I chose to be played as the speakers eulogize. This was the music Bob was listening to as he died. A cut from the Saltimbanco CD by Cirque du Soleil. Somewhere in my mind, removed from reality, I hear Gillian speak of Bob's journey in life and into the next. I hear her say that there is a thread that holds us together, "Bob hasn't dropped his end, he has just taken it around the corner."
Oh, God, what am I doing here?!? Why am I here? Soon, I will speak, I will ask that another song be played when I am done. A song that, to this day, brings tears to my eyes and touches something deep inside me. If it weren't for this song, we would be holding the memorial services at a Catholic Church. I'm not sure why, but holding the service in Church is something Bob had asked for but didn't insist on. I told him I wanted this song played.
After his death, Mom and I went to the funeral director and told him what we wanted for the service, including music. He tried with the church, but they wouldn't allow any "non-liturgical music with no meaning" played. They insisted that we have an organist, even though I didn't want one. I was crushed. Screw the church, I thought. Let's have the service here at the Funeral Home.
I guess it's time for me to speak now. I squeeze my Mother's hand, my rock ever near, and paste a smile on my face. I wander up to the podium with my notes in hand. Am I going to be able to do this? My hands are trembling. God, there are so many people here. I know how to do public speaking, but this is different. I clear my throat. I unfold my notes. I begin...