Three years ago, you died.
Today, I should have gone to my local California beach for the third time to gather a few more shells to add to my collection. I should have stood at the ocean's edge and remembered the dolphins that leapt from the water as your ashes sank into it. Instead, I spent the day in the exact same New Jersey Rehab Center where you moved when you left the hospital, the place we thought you went to heal from the stroke.
I walked through the same automated door, felt the same blast of air conditioned air and entered the same elevator. I pushed the button for the third floor and walked down the same hallway I walked down to get to your room. Only today, unlike three years ago, the stench of the place–equal parts piss, feces and industrial cleaning supplies–nauseated me. My spit went sour, like it does right before I barf, but I walked down the hall, anyway. I tried to hold my breath, and instead of again turning left as I had to find your room, I turned right and walked to Bob's.
I don't know how to make sense of the fact that three years to the day of your death, Bob, your partner of 25 years, is rehabilitating in the same place you did. I followed him to the physical therapy room and saw a whisper of you in each patient that worked hard to stand up a bit straighter and to walk a bit stronger.
This is not serendipity. I don't know what this is.
I have no words yet to describe what losing you has meant to me, the void you've left behind, how it felt to get that call after I'd returned home. "We're very sorry, but. . ." Had I returned one day sooner, I could have been by your side at the end, not sitting in LAX for ten hours waiting for a delayed flight to lift off. But I wasn't there. No one was, and I think that's exactly the way you wanted it.
In light of the fact I spent the day today where you were until they rushed you back to the hospital due to the "cardiogenic shock" that killed you, it felt like the right thing to do was to find my gratitude, even though I don't want to:
–I'm grateful for hospitals, even though I never want to be in one ever again.
–I'm grateful for doctors, even though I never want to need another one.
–I'm grateful for nurses, who work their asses off and mean it when they say, "Take good care of yourself." No "even though" here.
–I'm grateful for people who can work around piss and shit and not feel like barfing, for people who can treat patients–ones at their most vulnerable–with great care and dignity, who have a gentle smile, a pat on the back or encouraging words at the ready when they're needed.
–I'm grateful for my body, one that doesn't need to be sutured, glued, stapled, taped or soldered together and for arms and legs that do what I intend them to.
–I'm grateful for the fireflies that remind me how it felt to be a kid growing up looking at the night sky.
–Mostly, Mom. I'm grateful for you. I'm grateful that you were my mom. I'm fucking pissed that you were stolen from me when you were sixty-seven. I lived the delusion that we had all the time left in the world when we really had almost none. I'm grateful I inherited some of your grit and more of your tenacity. I only wish I'd had enough time to tell you.
–I will forever be grateful that the last words you heard me speak, before I knew we were out of time, were "I love you." I miss you, every day.