When I decided about two and a half years out that I really was becoming fond of someone else, I started to feel long waves of grief about Laura. On reflection, I realized that it wasn’t actually Laura about whom I was grieving; rather, I was grieving the loss of my status as the forlorn widower. Once I saw that, the waves of grief changed. Now I still miss Laura and cry when something reminds me of her, but that’s the way I have been since I got over my funk at the time of the second anniversary of her death. I don’t feel any contradiction between my feelings for someone else and my grief for Laura. Laura is gone. If I believed in any sort of afterlife of the individual, I would be bothered that Laura might feel hurt. We never talked about what would happen if one of us died, even after we knew it was over.
Aphasia robbed us of the long talks C.S. Lewis had with his wife “after all hope was gone.” (1961, 12-13) As clear as it was to me that Laura was thinking all the time about how Anne Mei and I would fare after she died, we never were able to have even the “standard” talk where she would ask me to take care of Anne Mei. In her last weeks, I did tell her many times, over and over, that Anne Mei and I would be ok. I never got any response.
In many ways, Laura died twice, first when aphasia robbed us of her literate, conversant self after all treatments had failed; then, when she stopped breathing. She grieved the first death, and became resigned to the second, both with no little anger and resentment always about to burst out, particularly when someone said something stupid that was supposed to be a comfort. Most notably, there was the time she yelled “Shut the fuck up!” to a relative who still kept nattering inanities after being told “That’s preposterous.” This incident occurred just two months before Laura died, at time when she had become more and more impaired. As the resident told her in the first exam at the neuro-oncology center, anger brings those words back.
More frequently she would just give me a sidelong glance to tell me to get them out, or a glare when it was I who did something stupid. I’ll always remember the morning I brought in a friend for a last visit. Laura wasn’t in hospice yet, but was spending most of her days in bed. She was propped up on pillows this time, but not sitting up. As her friend, who had let us down a few times, approached Laura’s side of the bed, Laura gave me a quick glare across the room, as if to ask “What the hell is she doing here? And why are you inflicting this on me?” It was a brief visit.
Yet, I don’t want to give the impression that it was all anger towards the end, nor that just anger brought back the words. A few days after the STFU incident, her friend Carlos Escartin traveled down from Boston to see Laura while she was still alive. Carlos is a poet as well as an attorney. When he was young, Laura had stayed with his family in Spain while doing her graduate studies. By accident I took short videos of Laura laughing as Carlos showed her videos of his children on his phone. I had the camera on the “wrong” setting and was taking videos instead of still shots. When I went to print the pictures, I found that now we still have the sound of Laura’s joyful laughter and of her saying, “I love it!”
Interestingly, in most of my social interactions since Laura died, I have been the one who talks about her illness and death or about my writing. Many people seem to become quite uncomfortable when I walk into unsafe places. I don’t feel as though I’m a “death’s head,” a reminder that they will die, as Lewis felt at times. But that’s probably because I’m too dense and wrapped up in wanting to talk about our experiences. I have felt at times though that I’ve become an embarrassment. Lewis (1961)10