The calendar confirms that today is June 1st. Anticipating June’s arrival, I feel like a veritable human rollercoaster about to take a stomach-churning plunge.
Our Wedding Anniversary
Lee and I were married in June. By then we were both middle aged, however, it was Lee’s first marriage. She happily planned every detail of our small but sumptuous celebration. I was happy to be along for the ride.
On our wedding day, Lee’s father was still alive. You could observe he was a big man when he slowly pushed himself upright from his wheelchair to stand alongside his little girl. My tiny Lee positively beamed. She gently held his hand to steady him. I glanced to see my dad, who was sitting quietly next to my sister in the front row. I noticed that he was weeping. I understood he was shedding these tears for his wife of more than fifty years –my mother—who died six months earlier. She had been the first to predict that Lee was the one. Today, she was sorely missed.
A mutual friend of ours, then a federal magistrate judge, presided over a short but heartfelt ceremony. When Lee and I exchanged vows, we meant every word.
With each passing year I made a point of presenting Lee with a traditional wedding anniversary gift of paper, cotton and so forth. Silly and sentimental, I know, nevertheless, when our anniversary date rolls around it saddens me that this practice died with Lee. We’ll never approach, let alone duplicate, our respective parents’ enviable longevity in marriage.
However, despite my sadness, I can’t help but smile whenever I recall our wonderful marriage celebration, surrounded by family and friends, punctuated by the sounds of laughter, homemade music, and replete with good food, good drink, true love, and romance in the air!
My birthday falls in late June. I share this day with my mother. I don’t know where she got them, but mom always managed to find cards “for the two of us” to mark the happy coincidence of identical birthdays.
Growing up, especially as a teenager, sometimes I felt this was a curse. After all, who would choose to celebrate their birthday with their mother and other adult relatives when they might be partying with their friends instead?
This year on my birthday Robyn and I have primetime reservations for dinner on the patio of my favorite Italian restaurant. My birthday is going to provide me with a good excuse to dress up a bit (in contrast to Robyn, who always dresses sharp and looks good to me). As happens when we’re together, I am expecting that we will enjoy another marvelous evening.
However, the truth is I have never been a big fan of birthday celebrations. Getting birthday cards or gifts often leaves me feeling slightly embarrassed. I can’t explain why I feel so ambivalent about my birthday.
Regardless of explanations, a combination of advancing age and the fact my mom, dad, sister, and Lee are gone makes this approaching birthday feel less relevant than ever. When it does arrive, I will spend some time thinking about my dead, reflecting on the significant events in my life, and temporarily feeling sadder for this effort. Fortunately, there is nothing like spending time with Robyn, breaking bread and sharing a good bottle of wine to shake the doldrums.
Lee’s Last Days
June was Lee’s last full month of life. She began the month still in the hospital. To this day I remain certain that had we not insisted on leaving the place when we did, Lee would have remained in the hospital until she was as dead and cold as a mackerel, given her medical team’s penchant for recommending additional pointless, intrusive and painful procedures when Lee’s outcome no longer felt much in doubt.
My memories of our last days together at home unwind slowly. These memories are so vivid that sometimes I can forget she did not last months or even weeks before death took her from me. One specific image that I revisit in my mind finds Lee alone, sitting in a chair in her garden. Our garden is a place of calm and beauty in the heart of the city. Lee built it from scratch, lovingly tended to it season after season, year upon year, so that now it is restored annually with little effort on my part.
On this particular day Lee has a good vantage point to observe the colorful June flowers, green perennials and native grasses that today still fill the place. It is a perfect day in late June. As Lee basks under the warm sun a few majestic white puffers float past overhead. The large clouds are like painted objects against a backdrop of pure azure sky. They are being pushed along, slowly, by a steady, gentle breeze. The sweet smell of honeysuckles is thick in the air.
I watch Lee from a distance. Suddenly, the question pops into mind: How would I feel on this extraordinary day if it was my last day on Earth?
This profound question shakes me. My sense of utter helplessness to prevent her death is nearly overwhelming. I feel numb. Finally, the deepest sorrow that I feel for my brave wife’s predicament swells to the surface. For it is only now, near the end, that I finally understand that her imminent passage from life ultimately is the personal and private one-way journey we all must experience. I hide away my tears, unable to say a single word.