Monday, December 13, 2010

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

As much as I love the winter holidays, December is always a little sad for me.

I married my husband Tom in late November, 1996, and we always celebrated our anniversary by taking a vacation during the week following Thanksgiving.  For our seventh anniversary we drove from Arizona to California.  We toured Hearst Castle, drove up the coast highway, rode the Wine Train in Napa Valley, and ate dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  Unfortunately, Tom’s enjoyment of the trip was marred by back pain and intermittent queasiness.  He didn’t even feel up to having Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista, one of his favorite things to do in San Francisco.

The back pain started a month or so before our trip.  He assumed it was just the disk he had ruptured as a young man, and although he originally scheduled a doctor’s exam at my urging, he canceled it at the last minute.  During our trip, however, the pain increased exponentially, and so did his nausea.  After we returned he finally saw two different doctors, the second of whom sent him for a CT scan and then an MRI.  By Christmas he was in such pain that he was spending all day every day sitting as quietly as possible in his recliner.  On Christmas Day he decided not to go to our family celebration, which he usually loved; he didn’t think his back or his stomach could handle the big dinner.

Right after Christmas we learned that the back pain was due to a tumor wrapped around his spine, and that something funny was also going on in his liver.  He went into the hospital immediately to start chemo, but it wasn’t successful and he died on January 18, leaving me shocked and bereft.

So, to a part of me, December will always be the month that he was slipping away and I didn’t even know it.  He was normally the sunniest-tempered person I’ve ever known, but that month he was uncharacteristically crabby and demanding, and I felt resentful and put-upon.  In my defense, because Tom was normally disgustingly healthy, he always acted as if he were dying when he wasn’t well; I had no way to know that this time he actually was seriously ill.  At least I had time before he was gone to tell him how much he meant to me, which might not have been the case if he had suffered a heart attack.  

Life doesn’t let us have do-overs, but when Barry is sick and grumpy I try very hard to bite my tongue instead of snapping back at him.  We never know just how long we will have with the people we love.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." ~ Dr. Seuss


  1. How very true. It's so easy, sometimes, to take those we love for granted, until something totally unexpected cruelly teaches us the impermanence of life. I can't imagine how awful this must have been for you, and how the thought of that canceled appointment must torture you with questions such as 'what if?'
    My deepest sympathies during this bitter-sweet season.
    You've been blessed with a second chance at love, so give Barry an extra big smooch under the mistletoe this year, and remember, even if he's occasionally a scrooge, he's YOUR scrooge, and beneath all the grumbling I'm sure he cherishes you as well!
    Be well ...

  2. Thank you so much, Nina, for your kind thoughts. I will definitely give Barry that smooch; it will help with the de-Scrooging process!