I sat on the side of his bed. He wasn’t there anymore, I knew that. His body was, but he was gone. I was there when he left.
After about fifteen minutes, the Nurses came back in and told me that they had to take the body now, and I would have to leave. I patted his hand one more time, and left to go outside and call the children. The two oldest knew he was gone. The two youngest I don’t think understood death. I know I did not. Not at their age, and not now. I don’t know why I couldn’t cry.
I went through the next four days doing the things that had to be done. People kept telling me how they admired me keeping it all together, and what a strong woman I was. I nodded and smiled, and thanked them. I don’t think they knew I wasn’t there. My body was going about its daily routines, taking care of things as they popped up, consoling the older ones, making arrangements for food at the Wake. Day Five came.
Everyone left town, the kids went back to school. I had to go back to work. My boss tried to get me to take the whole week, but I told her I was fine. Life moved on, and I wanted to move back into something I understood. Work. Routine. Life without living, just repeat each day until time blurs, and people think you are “past it.” So I was surprised when about a month later a small package showed up. It was from HIM.
My mind reeled. How is that possible? It must be a mistake. Then I saw the note written on the small package: “Barry, mail this to my wife 30 days after I am dead. Thanks. Sean.”
I didn’t open it for a few days. Then one day I called in sick to work, the kids were at school, my sister (who had been checking on me every day) had errands to do and wasn’t there. I was alone with the package. It was then that the tears came. Adjectives don’t do that cry justice. The tears were ripped, torn, stolen, shredded from my body. Sobs heaved in giant painful waves of memory. There was no solace in those tears. There was no peace. There was no release. Those tears washed away all the trivial things that had kept grief at bay all these past weeks. Tears that left my soul a huge bloody open wound, a wound too big to stitch. And still…I cried.
I don’t know how much time went by. It was hours later at least, because the sun no longer came in from the window. I still held the small package, tears had spilled over the plain wrapping paper, and maybe the last note he had ever written was washed away. All that was left was a puddle of ink smudge, a stamp, and a postmark. Some small part of my brain had wanted to save that little note to Barry. Now, even that had been taken from me. There was nothing left to do now. So, I opened the package.
Inside were five little ring boxes. A name, date, and chocolate kiss on each box. One for me. One each for the girls. I would never eat that kiss. I kept that kiss, and the tag with my name and date on it inside the ring box. But that was later. Right then, I just set them to the side, and opened the ring box to find a small note folded in fours, a ring, and a gold chain. It was a simple ring. It had a flat oval surface. On that surface was a picture of Him, looking right at me, with that quiet smile he got when he watched me, or the girls, when he thought we weren’t looking.
It wasn’t a Cheshire smile. It was a real smile, of a man who is thrilled to be part of a family, a husband, a father, a son, a brother. But that smile was only for us girls. We were all his girls, and that smile made us know how special we are (were) to him. That smile held contentment, pride, joy, laughter, and kindness. It was a smile that said: “You are safe. You are loved. You are needed.” I loved that smile, and looking at it made me smile too.
I set the ring down and, careful not to cry, I opened the note that was folded in fours. I wasn’t going to lose THAT note to a torrent of shredded tears. I knew it was the last thing He had ever written to me. I would keep it safe until I die. I pulled back the four corners, not ready for the weight of being hammered by his familiar handwriting. It was obvious he took great care writing this note. You could read it. We used to laugh that he must have a doctor gene in him somewhere because only really good teachers, Postal Workers, and archeologists trained in hieroglyphics could actually decipher those scrawls.
When we first dated and he sent me poetry and letters from the Army, I would spend hours trying to figure out what he said. My Mom and sister would help me, some times, to my embarrassment as he described my skin as “lickable”, or my lips as “Reeses cups of love.” He loved Reese’s peanut butter cups, and when he kissed me, he loved me more. To some other girl that might not have been a romantic image, to me, because I knew him, it was the highest compliment he could give. I cherished it. He would eat one of those cups, look over at me and smile. Even if he didn’t kiss me just then, I knew what he meant with that smile, and I blew him a kiss back. It is the little things you cherish.
My memories stopped long enough for me to read the note forgotten in my hand, and for the taste of Reese’s cups to fade from my lips.
My friend Paul caught this picture of me smiling at you when we were up at the Lake. The kids were napping, and it was just you and me sitting on the dock. I was leaning up against the ladder eating a peanut butter cup, and you were sitting on the edge of the dock, making little swirls in the water with your toes. You didn’t know I was watching you (Yes I did!) but I was so glad you chose me. I wanted to drink it all in, paint you, the dock, the timelessness of that moment, all on a canvas in my heart and leave it there forever. I couldn’t do that. I can’t even make a straight line with a ruler, let alone paint some masterpiece. But I think Paul caught all that, and my smile too.
I am gone now or you would not be reading this. This is your ring, and our smile. If you wear it on your hand (it will fit, I checked by sizing it to your wedding ring) when you look down, I will smile back at you. If you wear it on the chain, so folks don’t ask you about it, well, I will nestle there on your skin, until you press me to you, or lift me out of the Valley of the Boobs to smile at me.” (Damn him. How can he make me laugh like this? He always was like that, almost romantic enough to make me swoon, and then some stupid little comment like “the valley of the boobs” would make me laugh and smack him. He did it even from beyond the grave. It was the first time I laughed since he died.)
This is your ring. I had one made for each girl, with their own note, and a different picture for each of them. I know they are just little gifts. But you and I were married for more than 20 years, and we both know it is the little things that kept us going, made us smile, left us content and not in a hurry. So wear the ring in either place, look at it often, or whenever you need a smile. If you meet a guy, I hope you do, you don’t want to waste all that love you have in you, - just look at this ring, if I am smiling, marry him.
I miss you. I love you. I am watching over you now. I hid a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in the shoebox under the bed. Enjoy."
When the girls came home, I gave them their little gifts, they all went to their private spaces to open them. Much later, when all the blubbering stopped, we all gathered around the kitchen table to compare rings. None of us shared our notes. We didn’t have to share our Reese’s Peanut butter cups either, he had left some for each of us. We ate them, laughed, cried, smiled, hugged. He had given us two little gifts he hadn’t counted on: courage and hope.