The tears start at the back of the eye. I suppress all thoughts of death and blink several times. They retreat. I press my face into the pillow and the tears return.
On my side, in the king-sized bed I share with husband Fred in our Louisville home, I stretch my bare top leg across the body pillow and with arms and leg pull the pillow tightly to my chest. With my other leg, I push the creased top sheet away from my body and feel the slight breeze on my exposed skin from the slow movement of the ceiling fan in the night. From here I can see the fingers of pine pressed against the window, illuminated by the street light as clouds shuffle in the night sky beyond, trading places with dim stars.
My father has been in hospice care for nine weeks, my mother for seven. Each night for nine weeks, as I lay down to sleep, the tears come, forming at first at the back of my eyes. Then if I allow, which I rarely do, they grow and swallow me. In that very moment, my upper body contracts, my breathing stops, and I feel a blow to my chest. It is a punch, a fastball into the catcher’s mitt, the crunch of steel as cars collide. Bone, muscle, flesh, and vein carry the blow to my heart, and I think that I won’t breathe ever again.
I turn, flipping the body pillow as I do, now facing my husband. Fred sleeps on his side facing me, his arms in an embrace across his chest. I can’t see the details of his face, pressed into the pillow and engulfed in the darkness. But I see those crossed arms, as if a hug. If only I could flatten bone and flesh to slip into that embrace. If only I could suppress thought, memory, and self, and live in this moment. This moment only. To know Fred’s embrace, the shifting air from the fan, the streetlight through the window. To know the soft snore of the hound dog on his pad, the tap of raindrops on the metal roof.
But now the tears will not be suppressed. Now after seven weeks, my mother has died. My dad has outlived her by an hour, as he wished, as he told everyone he would. And now he also nears death. That is the only reality, and it robs me of breath.
Sleep eludes me. I lay still in the dark night, grasping the pillow to my chest, bearing 58 years of thought and memory and self in these fragile, grieving bones.