15 years ago today I had the very last conversation I would ever have with my late husband. It was intense. There were things that were said that I wish I could take back (and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same). But it also ended with both of us telling each other we loved each other. But it’s a conversation that haunts me still. Even 15 years later. It’s the voice inside my head so much of the time. Reminding me to not let words said in anger and frustration linger.
At the time, I had no idea or even inkling that my husband was planning his death. But he clearly had been. It was evidenced in the money he compiled, the letters he wrote, the post its he left in certain places reminding me of things. Evident in the careful steps he took to duct tape vents in our townhouse. Evident in the trunk he carried down to the garage so he could be surrounded by all our most important items in our treasure box. It still pains me to think about that.
So every year I wake up on May 18, or more accurately, I go to bed at about 1:30 am May 18th and wake up at 6:30 the same day and all these thoughts flood my morning. Sure, this morning my brain was also filled with packing snacks and lunches and getting the kids to school. Making sure I didn’t forget anything that was needed for Open House later tonight. Last minute lecture prep for my class at UCLA.
I’m no longer paralyzed by May 18th. But it does still stop me in my tracks. That last conversation does still replay in my brain.
It’s an odd few days as well. While my last call with my late husband was May 18th, I didn’t receive the call he was dead until May 20th. This was after I asked a dear friend to please check on him since I was in California. I feel a lot of responsibility for sending our friend into that. Finding him. Having to make the initial calls to law enforcement and me.
So, in a way, it’s like this death occurred over several days. And every year, my body tells me when those days are coming. Cellular memory is powerful.
One thing my late husband and I shared was a love of music. And we both had very eclectic taste. Anything and everything. So much of that music brought comfort in the days following his death. Much of it brought deeper insight and knowledge into some of the burdens he carried.
The album Euphoria Morning by Chris Cornell was a favorite in the last years of his life. “When I’m Down” was often played. While I always thought it was a beautiful song, I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics until I was left alone to really hear them.
When I was going to bed last night, news of Chris Cornell’s untimely death was breaking. And I just couldn’t face it or process it so I didn’t. I went to bed knowing I would have to face it today.
The lyrics have been running in my head on a loop. Again, new meanings I didn’t hear before. And all I can say to those of you who have never heard it, look it up. It’s beautiful. One of his very best.
May is a shitty month. I’ve said it before. I’ve written about it. It hurts in ways other months don’t. So much loss. So much grief.
But, in the same moments of remembering pain, I was reminded of two birthdays that also happen to be on May 18th.
A dear friend from childhood who has become even closer as we navigate having twin boys and health issues and work and life together. She is worth celebrating.
And, today, the child of a client from my very first days as a reproductive law attorney turns Sweet 16. She started out life being born way too early and weighed barely a pound. She was born to a gestational carrier in California, thousands of miles away from where her parents, and later she, would call home. Her mother lived at the hospital for months. I started to stop at the hospital on my way home from work to support this warrior mama and her little one, who was covered in tubes and leads and fit in the palm of my hand. She and her mama were my very most important clients. They gave me purpose at a time that was a little wonky with wedding planning and an impending move and not knowing if the field of reproductive law was for me.
A friendship grew in those months of hospital visits and bad cafeteria dinners, and we have kept in touch all these years since. They have watched my life fall apart and watched me put it back together again. I have watched a tiny preemie baby grow into a beautiful, smart, talented young woman. A fighter, indeed. She didn’t give two shits about her odds and neither did her parents. They knew after all they had been through to even get to that point, she would not just survive, but thrive.
So amidst the pain, I’m remembering the love and life in my life. The people who are so worth celebrating on this day that also brings tears.
Without sadness, there can be no joy.
May 18th taught me that.
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