My husband Jim’s diagnosis hit us along with summer’s pulverizing heat. Coming out of the air-conditioned hospital to lean against a cement pillar and weep was like stepping through a portal onto the tarmac in San Cristobal.
For me the summer was a whirlwind: physicians, surgical procedures, hospitals, chemotherapy, pharmacies and prescriptions, paperwork, imaging and re-imaging.
It was exhaustion–not pain or nausea, nor even a side-effect that made drinking cold liquid feel like swallowing crushed glass–that most distressed my husband as he endured the worst of the treatment attempts: having to sleep for so long meant to him a day slipping through his fingers, among precious few seasons of such days.
The arduous portion of his treatment ended while the Northeast was ushering in an autumn of unparalleled light and color.
As autumn segued into winter, both Jim and I independently were drawn to taking pictures of the transitions between seasons.
On his last birthday, in early December, my co-Saggitarian husband went on a hike with our friend Bob and brought back what he had seen:
Almost exactly three seasons passed between my husband’s diagnosis and his death. We all knew the winter would be his last.
Either Jupiter says
This coming winter is not
After all going to be
The last winter you have,
Or else Jupiter says
This winter that’s coming soon,
Eating away the cliffs
Along the Tyrrhenian Sea,
Is going to be the final
Winter of all. Be mindful.
Take good care of your household.
The time we have is short.
Cut short your hopes for longer.
In holding on to each one of these days, as summer turned to fall; autumn to winter; and winter to the first day of Spring, my husband, paradoxically, made it possible for us to let him go.
Jim had the skills and temperament to trick the seasons–much more than I possess the talent to trick time. We abandoned the customary New England white Christmas and spent the day on the other side of the equator (where I assume the water is always greener), with white sand and ancient cacti and merrily bronchitic barking baby sea lions.
There, we arrived at the wavering cusp of an entirely different kind of season than those to which we were accustomed: rain season, foretold by fleeting squalls of mist lighter than the teal ocean spray around us.
We returned home to bountiful blizzards and held an ersatz Christmas before Jim settled into the winter season of an illness that never broke his spirit.
As his last winter came to a close Jim made us able, if not willing, to “[c]ut short [our] hopes for longer.”
My husband died at home on the first full day of spring. The day before had brought an unexpected snowfall to New Hampshire, and he got to see that, too.
I always have felt my husband’s wink in how he chose to spend and to end his last three mortal seasons.
It’s as if he thought, when all reasonable hope to forestall his affliction’s end was gone, “Something I never would have chosen is happening. I never wanted to leave you, but I’m ready to let go now that it’s Spring and you’ll be able to get back to school and be with your friends, and be outside to walk and hike or lie on my hammock looking up at the same sky, or just sit still and feel the sun again and know that’s what I want for you. I don’t want you inside a cold, dark house grieving.”
How it ages when you’re away
And spring blooms and you find a love that’s true . . . .
And all you see is where else you could be when you’re at home
And out on the street are so many possibilities to not be alone”
Jim didn’t see that spring, which emerged sunny and nearly in full-bloom in time for his memorial service only days later.
We’re circling around again. Birds and butterflies–some tentatively, mystified by the mercurial weather–are fleeing south for the impending winter.
Jim wouldn’t want us dwelling in the white winter when his symptoms took hold; he would want us in that other parallel season–the flip-side sunny season on the other side of the globe, where the occasional kiss of light rain on our faces was just a taste of the storms ahead.