Rick has been dead for almost four days, and I still cannot accept that he is gone, like GONE, and that he will not come back, and that there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t even make things more comfortable for him in death. I can’t make him pancakes, or rent a movie he likes, or rub his back, or hug him.
The calls and texts have trickled down. I realize that it’s exhausting to deal with someone who is crying and broken but behind closed doors far away, especially if you’re also in mourning. The hours just slip by so much more quickly, as if time doesn’t matter, because I have nothing else to do but be by myself and mourn.
The first two days were pretty much non-stop crying. Yesterday was anger and yelling, and some crying. And today is fits of crying here and there.
I spent the two days in the bedroom: the first when I just got home from the hospital, and the one afterward, staying in bed, afraid to go into the living room where he died. Yesterday, I screwed up the courage to go into the kitchen, get coffee, get a Red Bull, and get to the business of making the home less tragic-looking. Now, it just looks like it does when someone didn’t die in here.
We all die, but I was hoping his death would be twenty years from now, in his sleep, in a comfy bed in an oceanside home, reconciled with everyone, at peace with his life, having made his comeback and having once again enjoyed the fruits of success.
Now I just think about all the things we didn’t do, promises not kept, dreams that won’t come true, the things he wanted for me, the things I wanted for him, things I should have said to him, time I wasted that I could have spent with him, things I have said in anger that I didn’t mean, things I should have actually told him when he was alive.
Weirdly, I was beginning to tell him these things. I had an urge a few months back to tell him specifically why I loved him and what I loved about him, because they should be articulated. It just felt urgent that he should know, and I should know how to articulate this to him. He lets me show love by doing things for him and making his life easier. We’re comfortable with each other’s brand of vanity. He loves my cooking. He has something about him that I cannot label that makes me feel secure when I share a bed with him. He teaches me how to relax, to be less anxious, and to let go of things I can’t fix.
I’m better, but I can’t do that.
He has realized his biggest fear — death — and I have realized one of my biggest fears, which is to not be able to fix it. He, by far, has had the worst of it. I am still psychological stuck in the mode of wanting to fix things, to have a plan, to tackle the things I can solve because everything is mine now, and it is my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to maintain his dignity even after death, to keep what is private within the confines of the world we created.
I am also in quarantine for another ten days, and I cannot visit his family, or my friends, or go to the park in Evanston (which is not closed) to just be out in the sunshine.
Yesterday, I yelled at him for missing it. It was 75 degrees and gorgeous outside, and I was outside, alone, for a bit.
I yelled at him for a lot of things. I argued with him. I raged at him for dying on me. And for the first time in six years, he was silent and I got to finish my thoughts. However, I spend my nights talking to him, trying to figure things out, trying to make sense of it.
I am not his next of kin. We didn’t get to the marriage part before he died. We were talking about it a few hours before, actually. I said I would prefer to wear a pale yellow dress instead of a white dress if we get married, because I look much better in yellow. Rick said “not if. When. When we get married, you can wear anything you want.”
So that’s not going to happen, and I am not his next of kin. I could not sign the death certificate or make arrangements. In the COVID-19 crisis, there’s no funerals, and the morgue needs room, so he’s to be cremated, and I will get his ashes, which I will have to scatter. The only time Rick would talk about death is to say how much he doesn’t like it, how he does not want to be in a cemetery if he does actually die, and how he intends to live forever. So, he will be cremated, and I will be reunited with what remains of him (and I suppose I can talk to his remains rather than the chair he died in), and we will have a memorial for him when the crisis is over.
I don’t think he died of COVID, though he had shortness of breath. I think he had a heart attack. Nevertheless, his death is going to be ruled as the result of COVID complications, and we will not find out why he really died.
And there’s nothing I can do about it. They don’t do autopsies if they don’t suspect foul play, even when you’re sobbing and demanding one, because there’s going to be lots of other bodies that will need examination. They won’t do a COVID test, because tests are hard to come by, and those are for the living who have symptoms, which is why I was told by public health to quarantine for 14 days to see if I have symptoms, but they won’t test me before that.
So I cannot physically be around other people, so it’s just me, alone, in the apartment Rick died in, with the artifacts of our life, our memories, our plans that we executed, our plans that we never executed. This was a very Saturnian relationship, from the age gap to the parallel career goals to the taking care of his health problems near the end, and I always thought there was going to be more time for fun things after we made all these sacrifices.
We were only starting to reap the rewards of rebuilding our lives together from the ground up. It was upward. We just filed a great case that night, in fact, and he was looking forward to litigating it. We were looking forward to getting married, to moving to the Loop, to going on a nice vacation.
So now I will have to go on vacation to scatter his ashes in Hawaii, his most favorite place in the world. We didn’t get to do that, either, which is sad because I was joking about how we should go now because the tickets are so cheap, and we were 100% telecommuting, so no one would know if we were mindful of the time zones.
But I will scatter them in Hawaii, and Chicago, and I will keep some for myself so I can take him with me wherever I go until I’m ready to let go.
There’s an entire market of cremation jewelry. It doesn’t even look macabre. It doesn’t give any indication that there’s the ashes of a dead being inside. And that’s good, because Rick would find that gauche and creepy. But something like this? I could wear this every day. Rick’s favorite color was green. My favorite color is green. I could carry him with me everywhere, surrounded by shades of green, because I still want that.
People ask me what I want and what I need. I can’t ask for those things. I need Ricky. I want someone else to deal with all of this.
This is the hard part of a soul mate passing: the very person you would lean on and seek out for comfort and perspective is the one who is not here, and it’s their loss that is causing all the pain that they can’t shield you from.
The night is the hardest. During the day, I can focus on the material implications of him passing without having any of his affairs in order and me in a free fall. When the sun goes down, I replay his death in my mind.
Because I saw him die, and when I say that, I was looking in his eyes and saw the moment they went blank because his essence left his body. I didn’t believe it; I performed cpr. I screamed for the paramedics to hurry. I know they thought I was just being dramatic because they did not hurry. Did they let him die? Possibly. He was already dead when they arrived, but they did not do much to attempt to revive him. Am I going to sue? There is no “failure to revive” tort, and the City of Chicago is immune to negligence claims. I also have no standing because I am not next of kin.
But I will tell you this: if you are in Rogers Park and someone you love is having a heart attack, don’t hold out a lot of hope. Perhaps the paramedics were exhausted. We are having a pandemic. But I only have one world.
I am now unable to recall photographically the last few moments of his life. My mind is blocking out the hardest of it. I remember some things. I remember him turning purple, and slinking down in the chair, him waving for me to get out of the way or hang up on 9/11, him trying to say something to me, his body going lax and falling back into the chair. The rest I can recall intellectually because I have described it so much, but my mind is now blocking out chunks of the most terrifying parts.
I remember the sensation of giving him mouth to mouth, and I remember giving him chest compressions, and I remember how weird it was to feel for a pulse and a heartbeat and find none and yet not even have it register that he was dead. Even with his eyes open, staring into space, I still thought he was going to be brought back from the brink.
But a mouth full of my breath and my insistence that his heart keep beating because I wanted it to beat just didn’t work, even though it never occurred to me that I couldn’t fix this. At least the paramedics could take over and bring him back. Ricky was the most stubborn human I knew, and I knew how much he didn’t want to die, and if he did die, I thought he would acquiesce only under the most extraordinary (perhaps rewarding) of circumstances.
Maybe that’s what happened: maybe I couldn’t offer him a better deal.
He was trying to say something to me when he died. His eyes went wide, and he stared straight forward, his body stiff. I thought he was saying “just,” over and over again, but it sounded like it could be “gist,” or “juice.”
Last night, as I was laying awake all night, too terrified to turn out the lights, talking to him, I realized something.
He was saying “Jesus.” He was saying “Jesus” until he died. He didn’t see me anymore when his eyes widened like that; he was facing Jesus and saying “Jesus.” Was he recognizing Jesus, telling me he saw Jesus? Was he trying to draw Jesus close to him?
So I wonder: did he see Jesus? Rick and I were atheists who had both grown up Catholic. Catholics actually have a surprisingly merciful outlook on judgment and eternity. They have purgatory, intercessory prayer, prayers for the dead (purgatory thing), and their own spiritual physics laws that apply to God, such as a sincere prayer now for a sinner in the present counts in the past, because God isn’t bound by linear time the way humans are. They also have a belief that even if the sinner has not repented, they can have a shot at salvation through the intercessory prayer of others, such that Jesus (or Mary, or the saints) will intervene on the sinner’s behalf to ask for God’s mercy. It’s still up to the sinner ultimately to convert. Catholics also believe that if you pray for the souls in purgatory, they will pray for you when they get to Heaven, because Catholics also believe that saints can pray for you (a saint is anyone human soul in Heaven).
I have absolute belief people were praying for him in the past and praying for him in the present. I know his mother was very religious.
So I wonder if Jesus actually appeared to Ricky in my living room, along with whomever else was in my living room that I couldn’t see. Remember I wrote that he waved me aside? He was waving at me as if to step aside or go away just before he was about to die. At first, I thought he wanted me to cancel the ambulance. The day after his death, I thought maybe he saw his parents, both of whom are long deceased, and I was blocking his view of them, because I can’t think of who else he’d want to see to ease his mind, and who he would want me to step aside for. But Jesus? I don’t know if he saw the Jesus, or if he hallucinated that I was Jesus, because he had been looking me in the eye before his eyes widened to take in eternity.
I know that Catholics believe that saints like St. Joseph will come to escort folks to the after life, and many of those saints have long hair and a beard. However, I’d like to think that there would be some divine intuition and decorum to save Ricky from embarrassment by confusing names. I mean, if a person meets Jesus, wouldn’t it be undeniable that it’s Jesus, just as person meeting something they call God wouldn’t confuse the being for something else, especially since Jesus is God? You would know divinity if you were bathed in it’s light, right?
So, I think Ricky saw Jesus, and the only way he was confused was if he mistook me for Jesus. My hair? Maybe. But I don’t have the beard.
Maybe he was hallucinating the entire thing, and Jesus still held a place in his mind as a being of comfort that can allay his fears and give him peace.
While I am not changing my mind, while I am not becoming a theist, I have to wonder:
If Jesus himself would show up to comfort an atheist and a prolific sinner at the moment of death, then isn’t God merciful, and doesn’t God care more about the good in us and in love than in merely being recognized for what it is?
Because I never understood the idea that “all you have to do is believe” in God to go to Heaven. Because that’s weird. Because even humans who aren’t completely narcissistic don’t demand everyone merely believe in them for no reason. Fuck: there’s people like me all over the world who work behind the scenes to ensure things are better for people, that the court is merciful on them, and we don’t ask clients to tell us that they believe in us before we’ll represent them. We’re attorneys for a reason, and it’s not because a bunch of people merely believe that we are attorneys. In fact, if that were to happen, if a bunch of people merely believed you were an attorney and you conducted yourself as if you were an attorney based on that, you’d be committing criminal impersonation.
When asked who he was on the day of his condemnation, Jesus replied “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Not I was. This is clearly Jesus identifying himself as the living god, the great I AM who identified himself to Abraham as “I am that I am.” Interestingly, Jesus would heal the innocent and the sinners alike, the Hebrews and the gentiles. There must have been some atheists in that mix, too.
So am I wrong to wonder if maybe Jesus was there to take my Ricky to the afterlife? Is it easier for me to fathom that than the idea of his essence disappearing into oblivion, or sitting in dark places waiting to be reborn?
Or do I need to believe this because I cannot forget him, because I love him, so I can’t fathom the idea of his soul, his essence, ceasing to exist?
He tapped me on the shoulder this morning. I asked for a sign that he’s okay. Someone strong tapped me on the shoulder this morning, but I am now living alone. Ricky would do this juvenile thing where he’d reach around and tap me on the shoulder while pretending he was looking straight ahead. He’d be standing to my left and tap my right shoulder to trick me into looking to the right.
It never worked. I have good peripheral vision and when he did this, he was either the only other person in the room, or he was standing close enough to me to know that no stranger had touched me (because people don’t tap women they don’t know on the shoulder when accompanied by a man standing 6’3”).
Someone strong tapped my right shoulder this morning, and looked to the right. I asked “is that you, Ricky?”
But he was probably standing to my left, which means that after six years, this stupid prank actually worked, and maybe now he can rest in peace.
But I’m not ready to wish him peace. I want him to come back to me and to the chaos and wonder that we call life. There was still so much work to do.
Four days. He’s never been away from me this long before.
I really wish I could have fixed this. I really wish I could have beat Jesus to the finish line here. I wish I could have brought him back to life.
But I suppose that wasn’t God’s will, right?
Please, Jesus: be real and take care of him.