My husband turned 78 in the spring and as the weather warmed and the garden burst into bloom he got weaker and weaker. He was a man of great accomplishment.
He was illegitimate, born to a poor orphan who often couldn't take care of him and so would leave him with her older sister. Then she married an angry alcoholic who beat her and her children.
My husband longed for his real father to come save him from his poverty, from his loving but incompetent mother, from his shame at being a bastard, but to this day we don't know if his father even knew he was born.
So my husband battled his circumstances and used his sharp intelligence and his strength of character to drive himself through college and graduate school and into the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.
But his family history took its toll, and he was a heavy smoker and at times a compulsive eater. After two sons and a divorce, he decided to take a diet drug that ended up damaging one of his heart valves. And so began over 20 years of surgeries and worsening health.
Almost 10 major and minor surgeries and steadily worsening COPD and heart symptoms led to many hospitalizations and even more trips to the emergency department over the years. He started using oxygen all the time. His judgment showed some deterioration.
He refused home health care. He refused to discuss hospice. He hid worsening symptoms from me and his doctors. He developed occasional incontinence. Then he began to fall.
He wouldn't use a cane, much less a walker. "I don't want to look like some poor old guy", he said.
"But you ARE a poor old guy", I replied. He was not amused.
So he fell, and fell, and never hurt himself much until one night he hit his back on a wall on his way down. He had dreadful pain, but wouldn't go to urgent care until over 24 hours later when he just couldn't stand it any more.
We were the last ones in urgent care when they took him to be x-rayed and by then all the offices were closed. I sat in that huge waiting area watching a housekeeper empty trash and wipe off tables in front of the various departments. And I thought about what was coming.
I try not to cry in public. But I put my face in my hands and wept in that empty, echoing room. I tried not to make much noise so the housekeeper wouldn't know, but when she got close to me she said, "Señora, you ok?".
I answered her, saying for the first time, "My husband is dying". A few minutes later a man came by and asked if he could help me. I told him no, my husband was going to die a miserable death from COPD. He said that I was probably right.
My husband and I went home that evening and I tried to help him get comfortable in bed. The doctors would not give him any opiates for the pain of his broken vertebrae because they might adversely affect his breathing.
And so he suffered, and I suffered, and after two more ER visits he ended up in a nursing home, terrified that he would be neglected. But they took very good care of him there, fortunately. And I went to see him twice a day. He never wanted me to stay long.
He had another ER and ICU stay while he was in the nursing home, and then went back. In less than a week he called me saying he had begun to bleed rectally. I told him I would meet him at the ER.
As I stood outside the entrance waiting for him, I heard sirens as they drove up with him. They had never used them on any of his other ambulance trips. I stood aside as they unloaded him and told him I would see him inside.
Ten hours later he was dead.
EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.