Genre: Love Story
When Sally Brown died, her husband John, my neighbor retreated into himself. His grief he faced bravely and privately, even though he wore it on his face. They had been married for 42 years and he would probably be alone for the rest of his life.
Benji and I shared a fence, a jasmine and the occasional hello with him. Once or twice I tried to invite him over but he just smiled a smile that never reached his eyes and shook his head. We left it that way.
“I’m sorry Benji, its positive” my world stopped turning. Benji had lung cancer and I couldn’t bear to face it. “How long?” I whispered.
“6 months at most, its inoperable. We can try chemo and radiation…” Benji held up his hand with a gentle smile. We both knew he couldn’t fight this, he was already weak. He had known for a long time. He lost his brother and mother to cancer, he knew the signs. They had both fought and lost. He watched them suffer under the effects of chemo and swore he would not do the same.
When the anger set it, it really took me by surprise. I wanted to blame God, the tobacco companies, pollution, Benji, myself, everything and everyone. At the worst of the temper tantrums even if I was raging at him he would cuddle me and stroke my hair.
“There, there Amy”.
“Don’t talk to me like a child!” I would stamp my foot, proving him right but he never said so. That gentle smile would make me cry and he would cuddle me again.
The cancer moved rapidly, causing tremendous pain that I couldn’t do anything about. It nearly killed me watching him in agony. When animals are hurt we put them out of their misery, so why do humans have to endure this suffering? Throughout those terrible weeks I nursed my husband. I bathed him, dressed him and loved him every second of the day that we had left. I brought Benji his tea and mashed up fruit or soft oats. He couldn’t eat or manage more than a few sips or bites. I watched this lovely, vital man that I adored turn into a dry husk of himself. My heart was shattered.
On a bright Tuesday morning he died at home.
He slipped into a coma, I called the family. Each one took their time loving and saying goodbye to this beautiful, no longer suffering soul. It was amazing to see this small group of people, who cared so much. We were all standing around when he breathed his last ragged, agonizing breath. The wave of grief took me by surprise. I knew he was going to die. I knew the morphine was no longer working. Now I knew I would be alone for the rest of my life. I would give anything to let him draw breath again.
It started to rain. The doctor came, the funeral home people came. Family came and went. Close friends too. I was hugged and kissed until I couldn’t remember who was who. It was a blur. Birds could be singing, bombs could be falling and I wouldn’t know. Or care. My Benji was gone. That was all I knew. My daughter made me tea, held my hand and spoke comforting words, that flowed over and around me keeping me warm. And probably sane.
That night she ran me a bath, tried to get me to eat something and then tucked me into bed. I put my hand out and felt the dent where Benji should be. The tears came and stayed. Eventually I cried myself to sleep.
Thank God for my family, they arranged everything. Taking the time to give me much-needed cuddles, they also never allowed me to sink too low and I adore them for that. The funeral was arranged and as funds were tight, we arranged to have tea at home afterwards. It was chaos. Food, people, noise. Craziness.
Suddenly I noticed John coming in the back door, arms full of logs for the fire. I had forgotten to get! I watched him come in, nod to everyone and place the logs in place, all ready to be lit. I stared at him wondering how he could have known. He finished, stood up, nodded to me again and left. Most of the people in the house didn’t even see him.
I followed him outside to thank him and stopped. He had swept the porch, trimmed the roses, cut the grass and cleaned the yard. Quietly, without ceremony. In a little pot to the side of the door was a Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant. The card read: “Time does ease the pain.” It was from John.
This kind man, who had been through this himself realized that in the last few weeks of Benji’s life, he couldn’t tend to the garden, which he had been so proud of. John had done it for us. Tears flowed down my face at this simple act of kindness that meant so much. Picking up the lovely plant, I held it to my face taking a deep breath of the heady perfume.
Maybe, just maybe I would be ok.