Bill had three more good years, but near the end of the last one he had a brain hemorrhage, and his vascular dementia deepened. This resulted in his being difficult at times because he would have irrational rages. His dreams became real. “Why were you struggling to get out of bed?” I asked when he had fallen and hit his head. He said, “You were brawling with two burly men.” His life dwindled down to a precious few—precious few days and precious few joys. I lost my patience with him, insulted him, swore like the proverbial trooper--using the f word, not previously in my working vocabulary. Gradually I was having those fits when I myself was being irrational. Sometimes if he slept longer than usual I would think, Maybe he has had a massive stroke and has died. The thought gave me momentary relief. But then I would think, How am I going to feel when he really does die?
He developed colon cancer, and because he was in such a weakened condition there was nothing they could do for him, no chance of an operation or chemotherapy. On the night of June 11, 2010 the palliative care nurse phoned me to say she had seen signs that the end was near. “Come early in the morning.”
My daughter Grace, son John, and I were with him at the moment of his death. The nurse came in, looked at him and said, “It’s going to be soon.” We each got up, kissed him, held his hand, sat back down to wait, stared at him for perhaps two minutes. Then the nurse said, “He’s gone.” One second he was alive though barely, the next second he was dead. Those two minutes were mystifying: the veil between life and death was so thin, but we couldn’t do anything to save him. “I’ll get a stethoscope,” the nurse said. But she was sure; she had seen so many at the moment of death. What did she see that we couldn’t? I’ve gone over and over those two minutes but still can’t make sense of them. A terrible regret: why hadn’t I continued to hold his hand?
I’m troubled that the Presence wasn’t in the room then and hasn’t been here for me at home either. Now that I am old, the Presence comes rarely. “The other” is something I long for. But the strange thing is that for many months Bill’s presence was everywhere, not as everyone hopes for, a message from beyond the grave telling me that there is an afterlife or that he was happy. But it was unmistakably his presence. One night I felt a hug. Twice I had a daydream scene in my head, at first not with him present, but then he popped into it, a wicked smile on his face. It was as if at the movies, a giant but real face appeared from behind the screen at the top. Nearly everything I did was with him in mind: grocery shopping, getting gas, making lunch.