Saturday, March 26, 2011


At dinner with A . . . our memories of our husbands are part of our lives, so something might come up about J . . . and then she may say, if only I had known . . . I would have . . . or, they didn’t tell me . . . I should have . . . 
J died almost 7 years ago. 
I understand. I was haunted by remorse after Dan died—horrified by what I hadn’t realized, what I hadn’t known, and how my stupidity and lack of information might have affected his care, his last few months on this earth. 
I would remind myself that I had done a couple of things right. I persuaded the oncologist to let me bring our dogs, two basenjis, to the hospital to visit Dan, even though they weren’t official therapy dogs. I made sure he always had the window bed, a constant struggle for three months with medical personnel who seemed to consider their patients not people but pieces of furniture.
But if only, if only . . . I should have done more research, I should have done this or that with our money . . . I should have . . . 
And then, three months after Dan died, I got a mailing from the local hospice agency. In general I had found hospice too little too late for him, but I didn’t blame them, I blamed me, I should have told them this or insisted on that; exhausted as I was with trying to deal with bureaucracies, I should have made one more Herculean, or Debbyan, effort for him. 
And in general I found hospice literature a little insipid and perhaps more helpful to those without a religion or spiritual practice. But writers are readers. I pick up all the free newspapers, I read ID tags, and if the diner placemat has ads on it, I probably read them. When hospice sent me something, I would read it, before throwing it away or filing it so carefully that it was permanently lost. 
Now hospice sent me a brochure that was going to tell me how I would feel the first year after the death of my loved one, and I said humph, but eventually I sat down to read it. 
One of the first things it said was that feelings of remorse were natural and normal and most survivors felt them. 
Oh, I thought, they do?
And hospice said yes, they do. Perhaps you’re feeling guilty or sad about the last months of your loved one, but the fact is, you did the best you could. It is not your fault . . . don’t beat up on yourself and if you can’t stop, talk to someone about it. 
To learn that remorse was normal, not unique to me, was a new concept and a great comfort. 
I had done what I could. For three months I made the 45-minute drive to the Albany Medical Center every evening after work. If I had known that Dan would live for only three months, I would have taken an unpaid leave from my job, but he was so strong, and so stubborn, I figured he would last for as long as he wanted to. I didn’t know if I could afford our house by myself, and I certainly couldn’t without my job. 
I should have done more research, found someone who would have given me a realistic assessment of his chances and made me listen to it. I should have organized our money better . . . 
See how it happens?
It’s over, that horrible three months in the hospital, and it was a relatively short time on our continuum. In terminal illness, you take your good fortune where you can find it. The light rises, then fades. The dogs curl up on the bed. Now he rests in the wooded cemetery at the Zen Mountain Monastery. In the trees, birds rustle; down the road, the traffic hums, so he doesn’t forget us. 
Dan and Cooper were readers too.


  1. Debby, A moving piece of writing. Sounds like you are paying the love forward by listening to A.
    All the best,

  2. You were actually incredible when D was so sick--I admire you SO much for that.

  3. Your guilt and remorse reminded me of how I felt when I left my first husband. A smarter, more resourceful, more imaginative, just more woman would have solved all the problems. What I finally realized was that it might be true that a smarter woman would have done better or a more resourceful one. But they weren't married to Lou. I was, and I had done the best that I--just as I am--could. And that's all anybody can do. I felt as though a hundred pound weight lifted from my shoulders. Carol