Dear Rusty….

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahlil Gibran

September 15, 2014 – 1:36 p.m.

How on earth was I not prepared for this day?  We had known since February 6, 2014 what we were facing.  I know that they told us it was early and that you were going to have surgery, but after our visit at the end of April when they took the surgery off the table, we both knew the reality of the situation. I guess I was either too optimistic or naive when I somehow thought that we would come through this and that in the end, you would be fine and you would be here with me to grow old together.

I never thought you would only be in the hospice for only one day and I never thought it would actually be you who made the decision of when it was time to go there.  I know that we had so many talks about the “whens” and “what ifs”, but it still doesn’t seem like we had enough time to talk.  When we finally arrived at hospice on Sunday afternoon, you didn’t speak much after we got there, other than to tell me how you hated the place and that I should ask Joe to get the car keys.  I don’t think you hated the place because, in fact, it was a really nice place and I still don’t know who Joe is, even though I asked you a few times who you meant.

John and Anthony came around 5 p.m. that day and they were able to finally calm you down.  Before their visit, you kept trying to get out of bed, but you were so unsteady and weak that I had to call for the nurses.  They had to put an alarm on your bed so that they would know when you were trying to get up.  Even though you would look at me, I know that you did not see me. You were looking right through me and when I think about that now, it breaks my heart.

You slept through the night with the help of the pain medicines.  I was in the chair next to your bed and tried really hard not to leave your side, rushing back from each bathroom trip.  My sister, Denise, stayed in the room the hospice provided for your family.  I guess she didn’t want me to be alone.  I told the kids to go home; that I would be there with you and that I would call if I needed them.  I wonder now if I should have asked that they stay with me so that they could be with you.  They came back early the next morning and we were all together with you.

The last time you were awake was around 6 a.m. — if you could call it that.  They made you comfortable with pain medicine because you were grimacing. They were giving you morphine every two hours at that point but at 11 a.m. I realized that you had not received anything in almost five hours and that you were not grimacing any longer.  I mentioned this to the nurse when she came in to check on you.  She checked your vital signs and looked at your legs and said that it appeared that the “process” had not yet begun.  I asked her why she looked at your legs and she explained that the extremities become mottled and bluish when the dying process begins, but you still looked okay.  A little while later I was sitting on your right side and noticed that your breathing wasn’t like it had been.  You seemed to be taking more time between breaths, but you seemed comfortable.  The nurse brought everyone in who had been in the waiting area.

You were surrounded by people who love you.  I was there with our children.  Your mom and dad were there with your sisters.  My mother and sisters were there.  Anthony Vitale had come by to see how you were doing and was there with us, too,  for the last hours you were with us.

When it was apparent to the nurses that you were dying, there was alot of crying and they asked your sisters to take your mom and dad out of the room.  They broke my heart and all I could remember was how you would tell me over and over again “this is going to kill my mother and father.”

I held your hand and the kids were all around your bed.  As hard as it was to let you go, I knew that I needed to tell you it was okay for you to leave.  I told you that the kids and I would be fine, that it was okay for you to go.  I promised you that I would okay and that we would always be a family and that we would always stay together.  At 1:36 p.m., the nurse told us you were gone.  You left us calmly and didn’t seem to be in any pain or suffering.  I wish I could tell you that some peace came over me and that I was relieved you were no longer sick and suffering, but that would be a lie.  I wanted to scream.  I did not want to let you leave.  You took a part of me with you.

I did almost everything you asked.  I had the wake at Corsentino’s, but at the last minute, your mom asked me not to put you “in the ground” (as she put it) and offered up the two crypts that she and your dad had purchased for themselves so many years ago.  I took ownership for the crypts from them and that’s where I had them place you. Our little granddaughter, Kate, placed some rose petals she was holding into the crypt next to your casket before the workers sealed the granite back on the front.  I was standing there with her and all I could think of is how happy that would have made you. I know how much you loved that little girl and our two grandsons.

I hope that being with the Harris family was not that important to you because you are not with them.  However,  we will both be close to your parents’ final resting place because a few days after your funeral, they bought two more crypts close by.

You would not have believed the wake.  I don’t think you would have had more visitors had you been the mayor of Elizabeth.  People lined up outside for blocks, waiting over two hours to get in to pay their respects to you and your family.  I remember making jokes all those years ago how I was going to have to get the armory for your wake if you ever died before me.  The reality is that I probably could have filled that place with all the people who came.  I am not sure if you would have liked being the center of all that attention, but I think you would have been touched by the amount of people who came because they loved and respected you and our family.

The funeral Mass was held at Assumption of course.  The Church was as crowded as on a holiday.  I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by Father Jim and how he acted at Communion.  He specifically asked those who were not Catholic or had not recently been to confession to refrain from partaking in Holy Communion.  I just remember sitting there during your Mass thinking that your father is probably one of the most Christian, kind and caring people anyone could ever meet and to ask that he not receive Communion at his own son’s funeral Mass was a sin.  I asked afterward whether or not your Dad received and I was told that he did and for that, I was happy.

We had the repast at Costa’s.  I know you would have wanted me to have it there.  You wanted every party we had to be held there.  I believe 115 people showed up.  Nicola was his usual generous and respectful self, and, of course, he took care of me when it came time to pay the bill.  I think you would have been happy.

I think I wandered around in a deep, dense fog over the next weeks.  I alternated between being absolutely hysterical and strangely calm.  I stayed out of work until October when I felt that I could and should return to work.  It gave me some time to finish whatever paperwork was involved when someone dies and it also gave me a chance to be home when our house was sided.  Ironically, the contractors who told us that the job would not be done until September called me on the day of your wake and wanted to start the job the next day, which would have been the day of your funeral.  I asked them to wait a day or two more.  It took them almost three weeks to finish the job, but I think you would have really liked it.  The house looks beautiful and I can’t help but get really emotional when I think about how you suggested that we do the work after all the years of going back and forth on how it would change the character of the house.  I know that you wanted it done for me — so that I would no longer have to worry about painting and outside maintenance on the house.  We had already replaced the roof and windows, so the siding was all it needed.  I did get two new doors.  I am not sure if you would have wanted to spend the extra money, but they do look beautiful.

I want you to know that I have been going to grief counseling through the hospice.  The group meets on Thursday nights and is made up of mostly people like me — people who are trying to go on with life after losing someone they loved and lived with for years.  I cry every time I am asked to share, but everyone there is so understanding and patient and do their share of crying at one time or another, too. I’ve also been seeing someone privately.  That helps, too. Would you believe that it turns out she lives two blocks from us?  I never laid eyes on her before my first appointment and she has lived there for 27 years — almost just as long as us.

Bottom line is this, babe….I am trying so hard to adjust to life without you.  I can’t see how I ever will, but I am trying.  I’ve dreamed of you a few times.  During the first few dreams, you looked like your old self.  You were smiling and healthy.  I felt so good during the dreams and disappointed when I woke up.  Last week, I had another dream and you looked like you did the last few days you were here.  In the dream, you were in bed with me.  I was on my knees and asked where you went when you left me.  You answered, “middle school.”  I don’t know what that was supposed to mean, but when I thought about it in the morning, I realized that it was in “middle school” when we met.  I had a crush on you from the moment I saw you.  I’ve loved you more than 50 years of my life and will continue to love you for the rest of it.

Someone gave me a saying that I printed out and keep hanging on the wall of my cubicle.  It reads, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.  I weep at the same time I dig deep for the strength to move ahead with my life.”

I know I promised you I would be okay and that I would be strong, but the truth is I am not okay without you, but I am trying.  It is harder than hard.

Love,

Me