For the three years before May 21st, his world consisted of me and a 12×12 bedroom on the ground floor of a Cape Cod-styled cottage on the San Diego peninsula.
But before his 12×12 “confinement,” Darrel Drew (or DDF as he is called) was an artist, optometrist, and athlete. An energetic, slender, gifted athlete. Tennis, golf, skiing, you name it; he could do any sport well, except maybe quarterback for the Chargers. But then DDF became ill with cerebral microvascular disease, a nasty bugger that slowly and tortuously kills off micro sections of its victims’ hard drives—their brains—eventually robbing them of speech, balance, coordination, the abilities to read and write and reason; to chew, swallow, and, ultimately, breathe.
It doesn’t get much nastier.
His 12×12 bedroom wasn’t a cell. As he became more and more fearful of a spill that might fracture a hip, it became a haven, a room of windows and light overlooking a lawn and rose garden; furnished with a bed, sofa and chair, and TV. Its walls were lined with his art; abstract sketches and pastels depicting whatever thoughts his once-brilliant mind had latched onto.
He died in that room, alone with me. Mercifully. Horrible disease, but a peaceful death cloaked in morphine; the world is full of such ironies.
He was my husband, and before DDF lost his mind, he’d made it clear he didn’t want a funeral or memorial service. He considered such things “wastes of money.”
But DDF’s much-loved sister really, really needed a “send off” to mark DDF’s life, even if just a “memorial” afternoon and meal with family. It seemed many people needed an event for “closure.”
So one month after DDF’s passing, I hosted a memorial luncheon for 35. And my sister-in-law was happy (as she could be under the circumstance), and that part was great. The problem was me—the power of the word “memorial” didn’t give me that other label—“closure”—that everyone talks so much about; not like it did for my sister-in-law. Instead, I felt depleted after; any teensy, tentative steps already taken toward balance and wellness effectively erased by new waves of sadness.
I visited DDF’s old room. I’d begun emptying it out. After he’d died, I’d considered making it my office, or an exercise room. And then it had hit me, the perfect idea for me: I’d make it my room. My perfect, sunny “someday room,” to be used some day, when I might not be able to climb the stairs to the second floor bedrooms, either.
The idea seemed the perfect melding of DDF and me. It felt right.
But now the memorial luncheon had made everything feel pointless again. Where was the peace and acceptance my sister-in-law got from chatting with others? There was no peace in the valley for me. There were just dirty dishes in my sink. DDF was dead, and everything was over. I’d never hear his voice again, or smell his smell.
The hospice chaplain (also a writer) stopped by the house two days later to see how I was doing. I told him about the memorial luncheon; how weird and pointless rituals and labels sometimes feel to me, and how horrible I felt, so much so that even giving DDF’s old room new life now seemed stupid.
To my surprise, he agreed that funerals and memorials don’t meet everyone’s needs (they don’t meet his either, he confessed). It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing, what we reach for when we lose someone. Sometimes a beer and a walk on the beach can be the better choice. Then he asked to see the torn apart, work-in-progress ground floor room that had been DDF’s.
Beadboard is in the process of going up, and what furniture there is, is in the center of the room—our voices echoed off the exposed walls. I showed him my plans.
“Now this is your memorial,” Chaplain said, looking around. Then he looked at me as if waiting for something.
I stared at him, incredulous. He really did understand.
When something slides into place, into a smooth, tight fit, like gears meshing perfectly, that’s the right thing for us. It might not be the pervasive mindset of the masses, but why should it be?
Writers, Chaplain said, function best when writing (go figure). Going inward, toward ideas. About feelings. Listing things, sequencing events. Making sense. Making plans. Constructing things. Moving forward.
He’s right. Try writing any sort of book otherwise. If writing things down isn’t a person’s natural inclination for making sense of the insensible, a book will never happen for a “maybe-I’ll-be-a-writer.” A novel, for instance, is many things. Dialogue, narrative, tension, but it’s just a haphazard mess of pages if it doesn’t have sequencing and order.
But if making life coherent via writing is a natural bent, a born writer will never view the world like those who find comfort in the familiar and the expected. Instead, an artist’s comfort will likely fly in on the wings of ideas.
An idea like making a room a testament to something that was and always will be, something made up of me and DDF, because maybe, sometimes, closure isn’t the desired, or even healthiest, goal. I prefer the word healing to closure (in this case), as in recovering from the trauma of dealing with a terminal disease; I’ve no intention of closing any doors on my life with DDF.
I found a book the other day that DDF gave me in 1982. I hadn’t seen it in ages. He’d written on the inside cover, “Page 105 has special meaning for us.” I smiled reading Thoreau’s words:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”
Image credit: ginosphotos / 123RF Stock Photo