My Mom called, yesterday, to scold me.
“I saw that you wrote about being sad. Honey, please remember, you’ve got to be strong for Pamela — and strong for Liqa too!”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Well, my Mom’s right. I could stand to be stronger. Yesterday, for example, I came home from work at around 4 p.m. feeling as if my head was ready to explode from sleepiness and fatigue. My daughter (who, I think, actually is strong) had just finished moving Pam from her reclining chair to her hospital bed (which is, you should know, just one of TWO fabulous trips she gets to make each day — the other being an excursion from her hospital bed to her reclining chair.) We spoke, for a short while, as a family and then I begged off.
“Just let me close my eyes,” I requested, “only for a moment. I really need to lie down. I’ll be out to see you as soon as I get up.”
Sometime around nine-thirty I reentered the world of consciousness. Angelique had already gotten her mother ready for sleep. She’d also made a delicious corn chowder for me to chow down on. I spent a little while talking to my wife, and praying with her and then — as Pam drifted off to sleep — I went back to bed and woke up well after sunrise.
I don’t think that’s what Mom had in mind for ‘strong’.
I’m painfully aware of the fact that our moments together, Pam’s and mine, are numbered. I’m also painfully aware, whenever we do share a moment, of how sweet Pam is, and how loving. I tell people that the closer Pam gets to heaven, the more she acts like an angel. You’d think I’d be happy to spend every second with her.
But I’m not happy. I’m sad. Sorry Mom.
One of the things I’ve done for a long time, and I’ve continued to do since Pam got sick, is pray. Praying is something I’ve “always done” but my prayer life has changed so much, recently, I hardly recognize it. I mean, I used to use words when I prayed. As we’ve continued along on this road I find that I use fewer and fewer words when I pray. Sadness has gotten such a hold on me, these days, that sometimes my prayers have no words at all, I can only groan (Those of you who are familiar with the Epistles will catch on to the fact that I just made a reference to the scriptures. Those of you who aren’t will be happy to learn that I’m not going to assault you with texts and citations.)
I pray, but I don’t really pray for anything. I’m certainly not praying for a miraculous healing. I doubt, at this point, that a healing would be good for Pam. She’s ready to go. I’m ready to let her go. What’s important, when you come right down to it, isn’t healing. She didn’t get sick so she could be healed. She certainly didn’t get sick to be punished. She got sick so that the glory of God could be made manifest (There goes another one! You know, if you’re into it, you can challenge yourself to find all the references — no fair Googling though.)
It is completely obvious to me that God is being glorified in Pam’s illness. So why am I sad? In days gone by, I’ve claimed that the resurrection is now. I used to be convinced of that and, if anything, I’m even more convinced now. So why am I sad? Why am I perturbed and deeply troubled? (Those scripture references keep on coming!) I’ve got nothing to cry about. What could a man possibly want to find in his marriage that I haven’t received in abundance?
People look at me strangely when I tell them I’m surprised by my own sadness. I mean, even a little kid could figure out why I’m sad. And yet, I’m surprised. I’m surprised, maybe, by all the emotions that sadness can join with. Sadness causes me to remember good times. We always made room for good times. As it happens, Pam and I were perfect vacation partners (you’ll find that a lot of couples aren’t.) Neither of us are picture takers; but that doesn’t matter. I’ve got all the vacation pictures I’ll ever need in my “mind’s eye.”
I was talking to friends, last Sunday after Mass, and asked them, “What was it that Jesus likened to Eternal Life? Was it a big bank account, or was it a big party? What’s the best path to joy? Is it through security, or through celebration?” (Man! I wonder how many of you are flipping through your Bibles? Those of you who don’t have much use for religion must be ready to scream by now.)
Whatever the Bible says or doesn’t say, Pam and I squandered all the money that smart financial advisors told us should have gone into Pam’s retirement account. We spent our money on hospitality, and music, and theater, and happy times with family and friends, and — yes — on vacations.
We get up at noon and start to work at one;
Take an hour for lunch and then by two we’re done.
Jolly good fun!
(Can’t find that one in the Bible? I don’t know why not; it’s in my family’s Bible.)
You know, sensible people have pointed out that there’s no money in reveling. They’re right! Of course, there’s no revelry in money.
At any rate, I’m quite sure we could have salted away money for Pam’s retirement if we’d scrimped and saved; but we didn’t. We made memories that filled us with joy. And now, surprisingly to me, that joy is still around, more than ever — bonded to sadness. We paid a lot for good times; but now, looking back, I don’t feel a bit stressed about our financial situation.
So what is my darling thinking about in her waning days? She’s thinking about getting her bent and broken body to the Solea restaurant in Waltham on Friday to celebrate my birthday with Liqa and me. She’s also looking forward to going church on Saturday afternoon and rejoice with Thomas and Marie, a wonderful young couple we really like who will be getting married and starting their life of love. Party on!
Thinking of Marie and Thomas reminds me how much joy there is at the start of a marriage. As I think about Pamela, I discover that there’s even more joy at a marriage’s end.
Who’da thunk it?