Death is inevitable. We all know that whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Preparing for the end times is a wise thing to do, but what happened to me and my second husband Gerry was unexpected, to say the least, but even so, apparently something similar has happened to other people too. They just don't talk about it. Maybe they are afraid that people will think they have truly "lost it"....
Here's what happened: Gerry had always worried that he might get cancer because both of his older siblings had lost their lives to this terrible disease. I had always assured him, that it was because they lived in New York City and were exposed to different things, and since he hadn't lived there for decades, he was safe. Not to worry.
Then one day, after we'd had our yearly routine physicals, he said to me, "Maybe I should have told the doctor about the strange tapping feelings that I get in my stomach."
"Call him, and ask him about it," I said. He did, was referred to an Oncologist for tests, and that was the beginning of the end. His end. Our end.
The diagnosis was Metastatic Carcinoma of the Stomach, but even as the doctor arranged for the surgical removal of Gerry's stomach, he didn't tell us that this was a terminal illness. I found out by looking it up on the Internet. Then I had a dilemma: should I tell Gerry or not? I chose not to. As he recovered from the surgery and chemo, he was actively planning a trip to Israel where he had never been, but growing weaker by the day, he finally said, "I don't think that we can do this." He knew....
I will spare you the details of the long eighteen months from diagnosis to death. Suffice it to say, that after he was gone, I made myself, in my memories, jump over the bad parts to remember only the good times that we'd had: traveling to Spain for a wonderful and adventurous vacation, to Brazil for a conference where he was the keynote speaker, to Costa Rica, that most beautiful of countries, and to other places. Being Jewish, suddenly it seemed important to him to finally visit Israel, but it was not to be. He stopped researching and planning what would have been our last trip together.
He stopped working as a lighting consultant and offered himself as an expert witness in court cases where lighting was an issue. Doing this was less taxing than working with architectural firms to design the interior and/or exterior lighting of their buildings. Gerry was an acknowledged genius in the lighting profession, so the lawyers were glad to have him testify on behalf of their clients.
After his last hospitalization, we decided that he should enter a hospice program at home. Having been a nurse in earlier years, I felt that I could handle the oxygen, the feeding tubes, and the general everyday care. It was not easy, but my boss let me work from home half a day, so I was there most of the time. Gerry was cognitively sharp to the very end, and no decision was made without his input.
On the very last day of his life, the hospice nurse had visited, and as she left, she said to me, "I think that Gerry is actively dying." By that time he was bedridden, so after she left, I went back to the bedroom, helped him onto the commode and back into bed. He asked for morphine. I filled the eyedropper and handed it to him. For the first time ever, he was unable to find his mouth to insert the medicine. He was tapping the dropper on his nose, cheeks, and upper lips searching for his mouth. I took the eyedropper and gave him the morphine. He said, "Thank you," and fell asleep. He never woke up.
I went into tv room and called my daughter to tell her what was happening. I asked her to call each of Gerry's four grown children, because I just couldn't. I was drained. They had all come to visit him a month or so earlier when he was in the hospital, and because they all lived in California, Texas and New Mexico, it would be prohibitive for them to return to Illinois now and then again for the memorial service later. Even though we all lived so far apart, our families had blended well over the years and had developed good and respectful relationships. For that I was very grateful.
I was exhausted. Gerry was sleeping quietly that night when I crawled into bed beside him. Sometime during the night, I woke up to go to the bathroom and noticed that Gerry was very cold. Even though I knew that his body was shutting down, I covered him with a brightly colored blanket that he had gotten once on a trip to Mexico. When I awakened the next morning, he was gone. His breathing had stopped. I lay beside him and talked to him for awhile, then finally got up to do what was necessary.
While waiting for the Cremation Society to come, my son-in-law, a local policeman, came to wait with me. We watched as the men wheeled the sheet-covered gurney out of the house. "He looks so small," I said.
I was alone. The house seemed cavernous without Gerry. I went to work during the day and stayed until late in the evening, not wanting to face walking into that emptiness. Every evening was spent reorganizing our finances and trying to find all the places that Gerry had investments so that they could be placed in his now irrevocable trust. Through the years, we had been careful to keep our personal finances separate for the sake of our children's inheritance.
Then it began. About two o'clock one morning, I saw lights in the hallway that seemed to be coming from the living room. (Ours was a four-bedroom ranch with a full basement where Gerry had his lighting-consultant business.) Half asleep, I walked into the living room and saw that the lights above the fireplace mantel were on. Puzzled, I turned them off, and went back to bed.
A few nights later, the lights in the kitchen came on. Again, I got up to turn them off. The house was quiet. Nobody but me was there. Over the next few weeks, lights turned on or off at odd times of the day and night.
Then it escalated to the doorbell. We had installed a remote doorbell from Home Depot at the front door when ours had stopped working a few months before. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, the doorbell went crazy, loudly buzzing up and down. The sound was coming from the doorbell box on top of a bookcase, and it was LOUD! I couldn't shut it off, so I opened the box and took out the batteries. It continued to buzz loudly! How could that be? How could it make any sound, chimes or not, without batteries to power it??? I was mystified. Maybe there was a battery in the tiny button on the outside of the door.
I peeked out (I was in my pajamas after all) saw no one, and stepped outside. The button was attached with double-sided tape, so with some difficulty, I managed to pry it off. The doorbell box inside the living room was still buzzing loudly. I hoped the neighbors wouldn't hear it.
Bringing the button inside, I found a small screwdriver and took off the back. Sure enough, it had a tiny battery. When I removed the battery, the buzzing stopped. Thank goodness! "I can't deal with this right now," I thought, so leaving all the doorbell parts scattered about, I went back to bed.
The next morning, I put the doorbell back together, tried the button, and it chimed nicely like a good remote doorbell should. During the next few weeks, the doorbell chimed a few times by itself, but never again the horrible buzzing that had happened one night.
The lights. The doorbell... One other phenomenon made itself known: When I entered or left the small guest room next to our bedroom, I felt something like a small swirling of wind around my knees, although there was no movement of air at all. It was just a sensation that happened whenever I passed through that one doorway. Since I didn't have to go into that room very often, I noted it, but didn't let it trouble me.
I was pretty sure that these strange happenings were because Gerry was trying to get my attention. What should I do??? Until now, I had done nothing except to deal with the concrete and physical aspects of what was occurring. I loved Gerry, but I didn't understand what was happening. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I had the sense that Gerry was frightened and wanted my help, but how could I help him when we were not even in the same plane of existence anymore.
I had been a member of Common Ground for several years, and learned that there was an upcoming program about Spiritualism being given by a licensed medium. A few months ago I would have scoffed at such a program, but the situation had changed. I needed information, credible information. This is what I remember her saying:
The last time that the doorbell chimed was one afternoon when my former husband and his wife came over with their cat for me to care for when they left town for a few days. I invited them in for coffee while Mei Ling, the cat, familiarized herself with the house going room to room. While we were in the living room talking, the doorbell rang. I looked outside and saw a light dusting of snow, but no footprints. There was nobody there. I closed the door.
Maybe it had been Gerry saying goodbye.