Monday, December 12, 2016

WunderGuy vs. The Brain Tumor: The Finale

or: Elegy for Half of Me

Canoeing the St. Joseph River in 2009.
It's over.

On Saturday, December 3, shortly before 10 a.m., Robert, my husband of 28 years and my best friend for over 3 decades, passed away.

Robert had a great sense of humor, but he was never a great joke teller. Though one of our first dates including trading increasingly awful jokes, punch lines were never his forte. For years there has been only one joke that he told often and well:

I want to die peacefully, in my sleep, like my grandfather... (slight pause for effect)
Not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car.

He got his wish. No joke.

On Saturday, the house was crawling with people who came to pay their respects and to keep me company.

The Hospice nurse came shortly after I called her. Though Robert had been unable to communicate or to respond for several weeks, I'd gotten in the habit of speaking to him as if he could understand everything that was going on around him. I had to resist the urge to introduce him to the Hospice nurse and explain to him the reason she was in the house.

The nurse pronounced him dead, signed an official-looking piece of paper, and then began a seek-and-destroy mission for Robert's meds. With my husband's body lying behind me, those of us who were alive and remained dumped his medication into a plastic baggie full of kitty litter to create a goopy toxic sludge.

I spent the day calling friends and family to tell them the news.

My gorgeous 20 year-old boyfriend.
Later in the afternoon, Bryan and Kendyll, came from the funeral home. They put Robert's body on a gurney and covered it with a black plastic body bag. The bag had a multi-colored quilt design on it; oddly homey. I remarked on it. "He didn't strike me as a red velvet type of guy," Bryan said, which made me realize that every time he gets a call, he has to make a decision -- red velvet or homey quilt? -- about someone he has likely never met.

Friends came, and kept coming, offering condolences, bringing cookies, asking what they could do to help.

On Sunday, the medical supply company came and retrieved Robert's hospital bed that had dominated our little living room and the wheelchair that was parked at our dining room table. In the space of a few hours, much of the trappings of this past year, the physical markers of Robert's slow demise, were gone.

Robert and I met in the early weeks of our freshman year at Andrews University. In those days, before cell phones, night owl me stayed up with some friends and prank called the boys' dorm. One of the numbers I called was Robert's. We ended up talking for over two hours.

The next day, as I was standing in the cafeteria line with my boyfriend, I heard "Hey Ami!" When I turned, a boy waved at me. "It's Robert!" Shortly after that, we started dating.

On our second date, he asked me to marry him. Which freaked me out. Of course I said "no"! I told him to wait a year, and if we were still together to ask again. We married four years later, the week after we graduated.

Our engagement photo.
I suffer from Only Child Syndrome: I have enormous personal space and I enjoy being alone. Robert: not so much. He was the first person I was ever able to spend 24 hours with and not get totally sick of. For the past 10 years, with the exception of his hospital stays, we've spent practically all day, every day together. I never got tired of him.

The funeral home provided a form for me to fill out that helped Bryan craft Robert's "official" obituary. In a few short paragraphs, it mentions his education, his profession, his church involvement, and his hobbies. I approved it and they posted it. In a way, that's all there is to say. But the those few paragraphs don't do justice to my guy.

For instance, there is no mention of the fact that though he liked super spicy food, really hot stuff gave him the hiccups -- and that always made me laugh.

He had a true geek's love of all things Star Trek and Star Wars. C.S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks, and Eoin Colfer were all quotable friends. We had such a shared repertoire of books and TV shows and movies that we practically had our own language of references and in-jokes. (One friend called it "Hendrickson-speak" and lamented that, though she understood every word we said, she had no idea what we were talking about!) I miss that.

I miss his bright blue eyes, his beautiful smile, his easy laugh, and his calm, genuine presence.

Robert was always warm, always generous, always honest, always real. He was my WunderGuy.

I will always miss him.