As my wife’s cancer progressed, as her prognosis dwindled from months to weeks, she slept sixteen, eighteen hours a day. One evening, toward sunset, as Mary dozed, I lay beside her, wondering what in the world would happen next.
I scanned the bedroom. Everything was different. There were new things, hospice things, what they used to call “sick room” things. Nothing was the same, the same as before. Mary’s favorite cabinet, the one with five drawers, the one she refinished, was way off in the corner, not along the wall where it had been before. And I started to think about how the bedroom would be down the line, when the hospice things were gone. And I knew what that implied. It implied that Mary would be gone, too. And I didn’t want to go there.
But I kept coming back to how things had been before and how they would be afterward. That cabinet, the one Mary liked so much, I bet that would look fine centered under those two paintings, the one being the portrait of Mary at fifteen, the age we were when we met, the painting they tell me the artist got her blue eyes just right. Was there room for the cabinet there, where I could clear the cedar chest at the foot of the bed without cracking my shins?
So, I began putting the bedroom together again. How about that chair? That table? Was there room along that wall? In that corner? I slid off the bed, careful not to disturb Mary, and fetched my yardstick from the other end of the apartment. My yardstick, the one with the bump dots at twelve and twenty-four inches, the one I can measure height, width and depth to an accuracy of plus or minus two inches without being able to see a thing.
Now, I’m measuring wall space and floor space and I’m sliding the yardstick up and down and left and right and now I think, am I doing the right thing here? Am I disrespecting Mary? Am I an insensitive monster or what? And I have this vision that Mary is lying there, with one eye open, just, well, regarding me. Yes, regarding me. So, I look over my shoulder and, of course, I can’t see whether she’s got one eye open or not. So I wait for her to say something. Something like, “Jeff, are you going to measure me, too? See how much space you’ll have when I’m out of here?”
And if Mary had been awake, if she had been regarding me, if she had said what I think she would have said, then we would have laughed. We would have laughed fit to burst. And we would have traded stories about the old western movies where there’s gonna be a hanging at sunrise and the undertaker measures the outlaw the night before so they’ll saw the coffin boards long enough to fit him. And then we’d tell more stories and laugh some more. And then Mary would have fallen asleep again.
Laughter, that’s what we had. At the end of Mary’s life, we didn’t have a lot more than that. So we made that be enough.
“Amoreena,” by Elton John, from the album, “Tumbleweed Connection”
“Waiting in the Weeds,” by Eagles, from the album, “Long Road out of Eden”