This is the first Valentine’s Day since 1986 that I’ll spend without my wife Rita. She passed into eternity on November 25th after a 13-day hospitalization in an attempt to treat a devastating non-Covid related illness. Once she was hospitalized, I never was able to see her due to health restrictions. I spoke to her by phone the night she went into the emergency room and the morning after her admission. She was placed in ICU the second day after her admission. Her health condition deteriorated rapidly thereafter.
My expectations had to change quickly. Initially, the admitting physician said she would need to be hospitalized for three days, but by the third day, an ICU doctor told me that the survival probability of people with her degree of complications was at best 50%. She was not among the more fortunate half.
November 13th was a fateful day for me. My wife called me shortly after noon saying she was ill and had stomach pains. An hour later, she called again, more distressed, asking if I could come home and take her to the doctor. I told her that I would be getting off early from work and would take her to the clinic if she was still sick later in the afternoon. My sin was not taking her call seriously enough, thinking it was one of her many bouts with indigestion that usually resolved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, my wife couldn’t wait any longer, so shortly after her second call, she summoned an ambulance. After a few hours had passed with no other calls, I assumed everything was all right, until I received a call from the hospital late that afternoon. If I had come home at her request, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but I would have at least been there when she needed me most.
When I spoke with her the following morning, she was heavily sedated, but coherent. I apologized to her for not taking her situation as urgent enough. I then explained that I was eating the chicken soup she made the day before, that I had notified her daughters, and that I had watered her plants. She responded by saying, “That’s good.” Our brief call ended with each of us saying, “Love you” to the other. It would be our last communication in this life. Perhaps even this was a measure of grace accorded me. Neither of her daughters ever reached her, as the telephone in the room just rang when they called. By late that night, she was transferred to ICU, and the only communication was with the nursing staff.
That began some of the most stressful days of my life. Day after day went on with little progress. A family meeting was called for November 25th, but the day before, the hospital chaplain called me up, delicately explaining that the time had come that we should seriously consider ending the life support measures. The following day, the three of us, myself and her two daughters, were allowed to see her. As soon as we had visual contact, all three of us quickly realized that the end had come. The life support measures were terminated and her passing came less than four hours later. During this time, we held her hand, spoke encouraging affirmations to her, sang songs, and prayed.
On December 5th, we had a wonderful funeral for her at our church. Our pastor returned from Arizona to officiate her funeral. It was heavily attended by extended family and friends despite the Covid-19 scare. I had a number of DVDs of the event recorded to send out to those unable to attend. I performed the eulogy and shared stories about the night we met, our first date, and also the trip we made to Washington State in 1995, where she met her biological father for the first time, as well as two half-sisters and a half-brother.
I neglected to mention our Las Vegas wedding in October of 1991. We were waiting for the limo to take us to the wedding chapel. I had to zip up Rita’s dress from the back, but some material got caught in the zipper, and it was stuck. Rita was getting impatient with me and somehow, I managed to get the thing unstuck and finish the job. I then asked her what we should do about money. I didn’t want to go with a bulky wallet when pictures were being taken. She said to leave the wallet behind and just put some bills in my pocket. The limo arrived and as soon as we got in the back, I pointed to a sign that stated the driver was provided, but his tip was extra. When we got to the chapel, it was the same routine with the clergyman, who handed us an envelope for his gratuity. Finally, a photographer came in snapping pictures, and I said, “Let me guess, the photographs are provided as part of the package, however your compensation is extra.” She laughed and said that she was a paid employee. I told her that was a good thing since I had given my last 50 bucks to the preacher.
But I’ll say this. I remember the basic message that clergyman conveyed. He said to remember that Jesus will not be present in a household where he’s not invited. That notion was useful to me throughout the years I was married. There were some difficult times when I questioned whether I had made the right choice. Now that I’m widowed, I can tell you being single again has not been fun. I’ve only lived alone for a few years of my adult life and the solitude is sometimes too much to bear.
On December the 13th, I had to work. The business establishment where we met was along the route home. Though it was closed, I paused there to peer into the window at the very seat she was sitting in on the night I met her, 34 years before to the day. So I met her on the 13th, she was admitted to the hospital on the 13th, and she was a patient for 13 days.
In this difficult time, many people have been gracious and have reached out to me. The message I have going forward is that people, especially those who are married, should cherish their time together. So quickly it can come to an end. The plans Rita and I had for the future that were once in reach, perished swiftly on the trash heap of unrequited dreams. My faith tradition teaches that loved ones are now in the love, rest, and comfort of God. Many people console me to rejoice in that thought. And yet I must admit that I miss Rita dearly in the here and now. We are always deluded into believing we have more time. I’m haunted by the great memories forged by our 34 years together. Personal items, such as her computer, patiently sit idle, awaiting her return, even though it won’t come.
My final thought expressed during the eulogy was similar to what I said at my Father’s funeral in 2013. Given the fragility and unpredictability of this life, we have nothing more than the promises of God during our highest mountain-top moments of exhilaration. Yet we have nothing less than that in our deepest valleys of despair.
During Rita’s ordeal, I remembered a song by Bobby Goldsboro from the spring of 1968. I was in third grade and would come home from school to hear it on the radio in our kitchen. It was about a man sadly reminiscing about his wife who passed away. I always cried when I heard the song. For some reason, I thought of it, singing the chorus to Rita over the phone while she was incapacitated and not conscious: “Honey I miss you, and I’m being good. I’d love to be with you if only I could.”
How I wish I could.© Robert Meyer
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