We were told, of course, but we didn’t believe it.
The oncologist broke it to us this way: “If there’s anything you want to do before you die, do it now.”
It seemed a harsh sentence. (“Sentence” in both senses of the word.) And so shocking and unexpected that our minds rejected it completely. And we headed into that last year—it turned out to be nine months—with hope, like a great new adventure.
We had been together for more than 60 years. We had faced tremendous highs and tremendous lows. We had weathered it all. And we were still here.Together. In our own world, the world we had made, through thick and thin, through having a child (a man now, with a distinguished career, a wife and children), through professional—architect and playwright—challenges, through personal challenges, through hardships and triumphs.
And now we were facing this.
The days were filled with visits to medical facilities and treatments and ordering pills and taking medications and preparing increasingly soft foods. Busy, busy days—wakeful nights—where, in the wee hours of the morning, we met at a small table at what we came to call our Midnight Café. I gave him Tylenol and an energy drink and we talked of the day’s news, and returned to, now, our separate
beds in our separate rooms.
It was a trial, a year from hell, an increasingly desperate journey—and yet—and yet—. Looking back now, alone, I see that what was happening was a growing of love, so deep, so strong, so—divine—that the thought of it now nourishes and sustains me.
I had believed in “love.” Had thought about it. Written about it (sometimes, I thought, obsessively), but I never knew it to the “depth and breadth and height” to which we began to know it now. We had, after over six decades of living side by side, sharing everything, knowing each other, caring for and about each other, we had, at last, perfected this thing called “marriage”—this sharing, this two-in-
one thing—this united “marital soul.”
In this time of trial, whose inevitable end we both refused to see, the love we had for each other had become so strong it was transcendent.
It was there. It strengthened through every day and every trial. It saw us through.
And now that he is no longer here—that lover—that light—still upholds me. It is as strong now as it was in its strongest moments. Stronger.
And when people wonder why I am not falling apart (they do not see those sudden brief bursts of private weeping)—when they wonder how I can go on without him—when they say they’re “sorry he’s gone”—I say, “He isn’t gone. He’s still here.”
And he is.
That protective warmth we had for each other is still here. Giving me strength. Helping me walk on. Giving me courage to continue.
There is no after him. There was him and me. There was—there still is—will always be—us.
In that last year of trial we were honing, polishing, sculpting, perfecting this thing—this marriage thing—we had begun decades ago. And now the work was—at last—finished. After more than six decades we had finally completed this sculpture we had started so long ago. It was all done. As polished and perfected as it could be. Would ever be.
With him gone, it still stands, as shining and fine as ever. Solid. Indestructible.
We, of course, are destructible.
But what was—still is.
Will always be.
SAQ, Winter 2018–19
Ruth Wolff ’53 of New York City is a playwright and screenwriter.