“Buy our little house by the ocean and enjoy your final years!” My husband’s last words before he took his final breath. He lasted 4 months longer than the doctors predicted, but they were not months of quality, only pain and misery … and a bit of soul searching … for us both.
On our 19 anniversary, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with advance stage macular degeneration and told I would be mostly blind within a year. Paul died 2 days short of our 21st anniversary and I could see him clear as day. I’m sure he would agree that it should have been his diagnosis that was wrong instead of mine. We would have lived a wonderfully full life even if I was blind, but with him gone I am left to experience these final days alone.
Our senior dream was to live by the ocean, even though neither of us have any interest in the water. I am petrified of sharks and other creatures, and he thinks the water is too cold, regardless of its temperature. Vacations at South Padre and other southern destinations gave us an appreciation for the quiet solitude that comes with the rise and fall of each tide and so gave birth to our dream.
Tonight, I feel the loneliness more than ever before. It would be our twenty-fifth anniversary. We should be dancing on the deck with the only music the sound of crashing waves below us. Yes, I bought our house on the ocean, but it does not offer the peace and solitude promised in our dreams. Instead, the small bungalow and the crashing waves rock me not so gently while depression embraces me with open arms.
Staying in the city for three years after Paul said good night for the last time, I was at the mercy of friends and family who believed they were helping: I felt smothered and patronized. After 3 years and 2 months, without advice or conversation, I bought the bungalow 600 miles away. The day I left there were tears and protests, but neither from me, but from those who had smothered me to the point of having to leave. Of course, I allowed them the belief that their opinions mattered: they did not.
I spent months putting the new house in order, and yes, it did help; but it hurt just as much, if not more. Cooking our customary Friday Filet Mignon and Sunday brunch on the porch were traditions I continue, even now. But let’s face it, filet mignon just doesn’t taste as good when the company you keep is only in your mind.
So now, here I am, living the dream, our dream, in a dark and silent house by the sea: alone. I really must try to get out of this funk or I fear I will not make it through the night. A walk on the beach, at midnight, possibly as the tide rolls in. Yes, that is what I need. I know I’ll be alone as I walk because the closest neighbor is at least a half mile away on either side and, thankfully, this is not a tourist destination.
The sand feels warm on my bare feet and the moon is so bright and full. The waves rolling gently call me to ocean’s edge and I sit just enough in the water to get my butt wet. I’m not sure how long I’ve been out here but I have slowly begun to feel alive again. Strange, I suddenly feel as if someone is with me. What is that humming sound? Looking around, I see nothing, but the humming continues, barely audible. I thank God for the shots in my eyes that have held the macular degeneration at bay: I can see but nothing in my sight explains the noise.
Looking at the house, about a football field away, it sits almost dark, the only light a small lamp in the sitting room. My silent house by the sea. There’s that humming sound again, straining to hear its origin, I realize it’s coming from the house, and I believe I recognize the tune, if one could call it that. Paul was no singer, couldn’t carry a tune 10 feet without dropping it, but he hummed all the time. And the humming I could hear now sounded eerily like Paul, but if course, that couldn’t be.
Let’s be honest, anyone in their right mind would run the other way if they heard humming coming from a house that was silent when they left, but, admittedly, I have not been of my right mind for quite some time. Of course, the humming, Paul’s humming, is drawing me toward it. Just before I reach the steps leading up to porch, I turn, look at the moon and speak aloud “Happy Anniversary, my Love. I miss you!” Now color me crazy, but I swear I just heard a whispered voice repeat it back to me.
As I walk up the steps, I am energized when I should be unsettled. My imagination brings me hope instead of the despair it probably should. Hmmm, have I finally reached the final stage of grief? Have I finally accepted that Paul is gone, and I must move on? Does it really happen like this? Just hours ago, I was seriously contemplating joining my beloved in death, but now I only want to dance in the moonlight, even if alone.
I must sit down, right here on the porch. I feel better, but not quite ready to enter the dark and silent house. It’s not loneliness or despair: I’m just not ready because I want to sit outside and enjoy the sounds of the waves. Would it be wrong to pretend my precious Paul is sitting next to me? The humming has stopped!
My goodness! It feels good to feel so good, especially after so many years of grieving. I realize now that the humming was my brain’s way of telling me it is time to let go. A glass of wine and some time on the porch before bed will be a wonderful way to end this anniversary. Wow, the clock in the kitchen says it’s already 1 am. That means I was on the beach for about an hour; it only felt like minutes. Oh well, It’s not like I have anywhere to go tomorrow. I’ll stay up late and wake up late. Now back to my porch and the calming sound of those waves.
Stepping out to the porch and seeing Paul sitting opposite my chair should have scared the wits out of me, but I believe I kind of expected him to be there. He’s humming again. The waves sound louder than usual, and as Paul takes my hand and spins me around, they seem to have created a tempo set especially for a dance: for our dance.
He doesn’t say a word but continues to hum. I realize as we dance, that we are going down the steps and onto the beach. I’m giddy with laughter as Paul spins me around and around, the waves crashing as if beating a drum. At the water’s edge Paul takes me into his arms and we both look back at the dark and silent house. As we walk backwards into the sea, Paul whispers “I’ve missed you too, sweetheart. Happy Anniversary.”
Inside the silent house, the lamp in the sitting room goes dark. The lady in the bathtub drops her glass of wine as the water takes her in full embrace and she and Paul join hands one last time.