The Last Walk 14:
A Year Ago Today…
I expect this will be my last entry under “Last Walk.” It’s been almost one year since Karen died. For a few weeks now, and especially in the last few days, memory has taken me back to the events of last year.
There is a sense in which years are arbitrary units. Orbits. Why should it matter, in a person’s life, whether the earth has completed one of its journeys around the sun? Mercury’s orbit is much shorter; Jupiter’s much longer. Unless we are astronomers, we pay no attention. We don’t live on Mercury or Jupiter. Earth’s orbit we call a year, and we measure our lives in years.
(Speculation: someday, perhaps in my lifetime, colonists will live on Mars. They will almost certainly live “sols,” Martian days roughly thirty minutes longer than Earth’s days. Mars takes almost twice as long as Earth to orbit the sun. Will the colonists celebrate Martian birthdays?)
Whether or not a year is an arbitrary length of time, it is built into cultural memes. And since we are social creatures, the cultural meme structures our experience. Without even trying, we inculcate time concepts into our children, as our parents gifted them to us. So we live in years.
One year ago today…
July—Dr. Baros told Karen cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
August—Karen underwent chemotherapy and, subsequently, a blood transfusion because the chemo hit so hard.
Early September—Karen’s visit to Kennewick was cut short because she felt a cold coming on and didn’t want to infect grandson Jakobi.
October 5, a Wednesday—Rich Brown, our lawyer, and a notary public came with documents for Karen to sign. She signed some, but then said she was too tired. We’d do it later, we said. A friend from St. Peter’s brought communion.
October 6, Thursday—the hospice people brought a hospital bed. Karen was unconscious all day. We gave her pain meds in liquid form; deposited between cheek and gum, she swallowed them automatically.
October 7, Friday—Ron Mock sat with me most of the morning at Karen’s bedside. For a moment she opened her eyes. I told her I loved her. She mouthed words, which Ron and I both thought were, “I love you.”
October 8, Saturday—Karen slept all day, breathing slowly.
October 9, Sunday, 9:45 am—Karen stopped breathing. I called hospice, and a nurse came within half an hour. Shortly thereafter, hospice people came to remove Karen’s body.
October 20—We attended funeral mass at St. Peter Church.
October 22—Karen’s memorial service at Newberg Friends Church.
I have a friend whose husband died more than two years ago. She says the anticipation of the anniversary of death can be harder than the day itself. Maybe so.
I keep Karen’s ashes in two beautiful urns, a gift from Mark Terry. The urns stand on top of Karen’s rosewood piano. Legally, that piano is mine, but I cannot think of it except as Karen’s piano. I bought a niche at the Friends Cemetery; someday, I presume, either I or our sons will move the ashes to the niche.
In my life, the earth will probably orbit the sun twenty or thirty more times. Maybe more, maybe fewer. And that’s it, the end; our last walk is finally over. So some people say. But I hope … Well, if you have read these essays, you know about that.