Dear Dead Husband,
I had to put Gabbie down in October. I remember how we looked at each other all those years ago and thought we would lose our minds with this awkward, long-limbed rescue, with her chewing and separation anxiety and social ineptitude, but she ended up being such an amazing dog.
I have to laugh a little at the absurdity of it all. Less than 10 years later, and you are both gone: You to a brain tumor at 31, her to a spinal tumor at 9. Sometimes I whisper to myself on repeat: No more neurological tumors allowed. Then sometimes I plead: No more. No more. Please.
The vet came to the house, and Gabbie died on the couch by my side as I rubbed her ears and told her over and over how much she was loved. This, of course, brought flashbacks of you dying in the bedroom down the hall, where I told you that I loved you over and over but also said that it was okay to go. I don’t think you were aware, but Gabbie did not want to leave your side during those last days.
Our daughter said goodbye to Gabbie that morning before she got on the bus to school. The vet came that afternoon. We buried her just beyond the apple trees, with the other pets of years past.
Speaking of the apple trees, after nine springs there were finally apples last fall. One tree was girdled by rodents last winter, but remarkably, it is holding on. I thought the trees’ bark was tough enough, that they were old enough, but I was wrong. I’m still angry and bitter that you never got to see them bloom, or taste their sweetness.
Our daughter has lost two teeth and is learning to read. She is in kindergarten now. She is so tall, and she swims like a fish.
Your grandmother died the year after you, in the summer. Your favorite author of such lovely Vermont stories, Howard Frank Mosher, died this winter. Our dear friend Wally succumbed to cancer the following month, not long after our last visit.
Our daughter is 6 now. On the way home from swim lessons the other night, she recounted all of her loved ones who have died, marking them off on her fingers as she went. I worry that she is becoming too accustomed to death.
My boyfriend and I have a baby on the way, due near the end of June. It was unexpected and we weren’t ready and I never thought I’d have an accidental pregnancy at 32, but here we are. Now that the shock has worn off, and a small bit of the chaos, I cannot wait to hold this baby in my arms.
You and my boyfriend are so different in almost every way. He and I love each other dearly and, so importantly, he is not threatened by the love that still exists for you, by your presence in our home or by the grief that will never entirely subside, even with new love and new life.
After you died, our daughter begged me for a baby brother or sister, and it eviscerated me every time. She was so little; she didn’t understand. And now this.
Sometimes when I feel the little girl in my belly kick, I think about how much we wanted another baby together, and how we did everything and nothing worked, and how now, against absolutely colossal odds, there is this.
It felt like all of the work I did to grieve your death — to grieve the second child we would never have; to grieve the knowledge that I would raise our daughter alone; to grieve the fact that I believed I would never be a parent again and the effort it took to be at peace with that; to grieve, grieve, grieve — was undone in an instant.
I am trying to steel myself to leave this house, which will soon be much too small, and this land, and that is another level of grief: the marsh, the asparagus bed, those apple trees.
After you died, we planted a cherry tree here for you, a hardy, northern variety. Our daughter watered her “Daddy” tree all that summer and we watched for it to leaf out the following spring, but it did not survive the winter. Without explanation, like so many things.
When my breath gets caught in my chest and I start to panic, I try to remember the ease with which you handled everything. I try to remember holding you as you died in my arms, because there are few things in this world more important than that.
Life is hard and sad and uncanny at times, but you taught me to watch for the trees baring the undersides of their leaves to the sky to tell of approaching rain: A storm and trauma and essential life-giving water all at once, and I am trying to hold on to that truth.
Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a writer who lives in central Maine. You can find her work at sarahkilchgaffney.com.
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