My FOFriend, Kate, isn’t going to be happy with this blog because it’s not about a happy subject, but write it I must because it’s about one of my oldest friends, Lara (I’ve changed her name to protect her privacy), who is going through the most distressing time of her life as her husband lay dying. I don’t think he’s yet 60.
Lara and Matt (not his real name, either) have been together since college, and he is the love of her life. Indeed, they’ve had a rich life together. When Lara’s dad died prematurely, she and Matt took over his publishing business, which thrived under their direction. They’ve lived in awesome homes in wonderful places. Although they don’t have children, they are extremely close with their nieces and nephews. And they adore their dogs. When Lara left publishing, she learned to design jewelry. It’s exquisite jewelry that she sells at private events. Designing is another of her passions.
As with any life, Lara has had her share of grief. Besides the loss of her young father, she lost her treasured home to firestorms in the Canyons of Southern California years ago. And she lost a baby when she was pregnant. Her intelligence, grace and sensibility have always helped her weather the storms, literally and figuratively. Not to mention Matt’s deep love.
Lara has been keeping us informed about Matt’s progressing cancer through a website called caringbridge.com, which lets people like them communicate privately with their network of family and close friends. I am privileged and blessed to be part of Lara and Matt’s “inner circle.”
I wanted to share Lara’s latest communication because it is one of the most moving essays about loss that I’ve ever read. Lara is a marvelous writer, but it is her emotions behind her words that go to my heart.
The real Lara and Matt many, many years ago
“Just the whirl of the overhead fan. Earlier, Matt raised his head up and stared at our two windows and said, ‘Are those our TV thingies?’ I can’t say I quite have this down, but I said, ‘No, there’s our TV over there. Those are our windows, there out that window are our aspens, and out that window is our creek. Would you like to go out and breathe and see your mountain?’ So we toddled out there wrapped in throws. I listened hard, to the creek, the birds, the aspens, the crickets. Matt’s eyelids flickered up and down, not really focusing on anything. I tried to point out the mountain. He lifted his eyes up. I was thinking he didn’t comprehend. Then I said, ‘Would you like to lay your head on my shoulder?’ And he did. It was such a huge gift. All afternoon I wasn’t sure he knew who I was. He’s so hard to understand, with the residual weakness in this voice from the head and neck cancer, and the whisper now that’s his voice. Each of us leans close, and just maybe, gleans some word he or she recognizes, some way to understand him, to provide him with what he wants, with understanding what he needs to say.
“Earlier, I saw nephew, Todd, hurry out the front door, head down. I know his body language. I know he was holding in big tears, or sobs. Later, I came in to the bedroom and saw Rob, head bent, holding Matt’s hand, shoulders speaking a thousand words, starting with hopelessness, surrender. Pam, Barb, Anna, Jan and I waited in the living room, each taking our turn at going in quietly just so he is not alone.
“I think I can outrun loss. I think I can outmaneuver grief. I am a fool. I spent the summer we came back after Matt’s head and neck cancer cleaning out every drawer and cupboard, roaring through the house and every outbuilding. In therapy, I acknowledged that it was my attempt to control an uncontrollable universe. I’ve done it again, well, done it since: A shed full of barn sale books, and bric-a-brac and furniture. I’ve spent this summer trying to outrun this cancer, outrun the separation that faces me. Matt and Lara. Lara and Matt.
“Today, I dragged Pam into town on a one-hour mission, a two-day accomplishment. I transformed my office and Matt’s into bedrooms. Justified by having to hold others in our house. But really, keeping myself at such a pace I cannot think about loss, grief cannot find me. I have banished every personal item in both offices, stacked them in the mudroom, the garage, moved much of Matt’s and my paperwork into the master, knowing that that will be my island. When grief catches up with me, that is where I will hole up.
“I took Jan upstairs to Matt’s office, which from this am to this pm has been transformed. Stripped of Matt. We both cry.
I admit that I have failed. I have failed to hide from grief, hide from loss.
That even taking away every little corner that could bring me to tears after he’s gone, even before he’s left, I have failed miserably. Stupidly. This, then, is a therapy session. This is an admission of not sitting quietly in the advent of loss, the coming of grief.
“I saw this room devoid of Matt; I told Jan it was creepy and if she didn’t want to stay there, she could sleep on the living room sofa. I’d try to strip my heart of caring. When I saw that I couldn’t, I came and crawled in next to Matt and cried. And cried. There is no way to ever put back Matt into that room, no matter if I took every item of his back to its place. There is no way that my office will ever be Lara’s office again, no matter what. The space around us shifts, I have shifted it, the vortex of it all here in the bedroom, on our island, where soon I will be alone. Lara. Please, please bring Matt back. Please, please make this not real. Make this not true. Please.”
PS. I just this minute learned that Matt died moments ago. This is from Lara:
“Matt left us this morning just as the sun begins to creep up over Jughandle Mountain, his special place. He is at peace. Everyone spent the night, was around him, holding him, holding his hand, off and on all night. Misty bounded up on the bed early this morning and gave him her half a dozen good morning kisses. And we all kissed and held him.
“His hands, his body, with my arms wrapped around him, were still warm. I must have just dozed off, and woke suddenly to the absence of his labored breathing.
“Our darling Matt is on his next journey. We are much calmer than I thought, because he is finally at peace.”
Rest in Peace, Matt.