• R. Gurley

Days like This

The sun has yet to rise on this day, December 7th. I have long been up doing my morning ritual to prepare for the light that will rise out of the darkness with a pallet of fuchsia hues over the creosote covered hills in a few hours. My preparation today revolves around grief; December 7th is my day to mourn. We all, I suspect, have these days of grief; These days that remind us of what is no longer there.

This is the eighth December 7th since Jon Veitch, the Lovus, left. I sit at a table in my homestead cabin in the Mohave Desert that I left over a decade ago to be with him in Riverside. I listen to my dog snore on the bed and smell the sage I burned earlier to prepare for the grief I know will grip me at some point during this day. Jon is gone, but on days like today I feel him so near.

I was standing on Jon and I’s second floor apartment porch eight years ago today looking at mist roll through the grove of eucalyptus trees when my phone rang. My cell phone flashed two words: Vickie Veitch, Jon’s sister. She’d been on the morning shift at the hospice where Jon was staying. .I put the phone to my ear. All she said before hanging up was,

“His toes are turning black”

I ran down our stairs into my car and got stuck in Southern California traffic. I remember Desperado playing on the radio as I pulled into the hospice parking lot a half an hour later. The hospice nurse greeted me by name when I walked in although she did not smile her usual smile. I greeted her back and walked down the florescent lit hall smelling of medicine and stagnation leading to the half open door covered in the silver tinsel Jon’s mom, Barbara, had hung to liven things up. I heard voices as I pushed the door to enter and saw Jon’s family gathered at the head of the bed where Jon’s body lie.

Jon’s body had metamorphized in the six months since a stroke had paralyzed his right side. He’d struggled with chubbiness his entire life and had always been self-conscious of the extra chub he kept around his middle like a picnic loving bear. I had come to love that chub. The chub was no longer there. Jon’s body was now sharp and angular from his bones becoming more visible every day. I joined his family at the head of his bed; Jon’s head moving back and forth to a rhythm no one else could hear; his eyes, once twinkly, now hollow, searching the ceiling for things no one else could see. Barbara handed me a damp wash cloth and whispered:

“They say this gives him relief”

I pressed the washcloth to Jon’s forehead as his eyes let me know he knew me. I kissed his ear and whispered:

“Lovus, it’s going to be okay”

A nurse disrupted the moment and announced it was time to turn him. She instructed us to help her get him to lay on his side. Four women’s hands on Jon’s bones to roll him over. His eyes contorted to the sun muted by December coming from his window above his bed. He looked uncomfortable. I told the nurse. She replied this was procedure. I had to go outside.

Jon’s dad, Chuck, was sitting in.a fold out chair in the hospice courtyard keeping court with family and friends. His golden boy smile flashed on his eighty some old face when he saw me walk out of the hospice’s automatic doors.

“Get over here, kid!”

I went over to Chuck who introduced me to this person and that person. Then, he pushed me a cooler and asked if I wanted a snack. I accepted the snack and watched him as I ate it. Chuck, like Jon, loved people and people helped Chuck handle something he could not fathom even on that day. I gave Chuck a hug and told him I was going back inside.

And this how the day went- going inside to whisper things into Jon’s ear and run a washcloth across his lips and going outside to watch a crowd gather to say goodbye to a damn good guy.

And then the sun began to set. I was rocking Jon and singing You are My Sunshine when his chest lifted off the bed as if lifted by a string. I stepped back and the two dear people in the room with me gasped. Jon’s body collapsed on the bed a moment later as if the string was cut. His breath rattled like a snake. The people in the room and I said the Lord’s Prayer out loud and when we finished, so did Jon. His body lie lifeless; his spirit had flown.

I always go through this day like this. Barbara and Chuck have left since that day. I miss Barb’s tinsel and I miss Chuck’s little snacks. However, most of all, I miss their son. I miss his jokes; I miss his laughter; I miss his dancing; I miss his art; I miss the way he looked at things and I miss him telling me to stop being weird. I miss him.

Sunlight is rising out of the darkness now with fuchsia hues coming from places I have yet to go. I pause and let the tears freely flow. I have learned in these eight years that these tears do not come from a place of anguish. Jon’s love eliminated anguish from my Irish melancholy leaning soul and I am still not sure how he did that especially considering how oddly we were matched. Him- a born again Christian with a love for the evangelical. Me- an almost- but-not-quite hippie who would rather sit in a yoga pose than sit in church. A laugh breaks out from somewhere inside me as I realized what Jon did. He loved.

The sun will move across the sky today as it always does. Some clouds expected; some rain. People will be out and about getting ready for the holiday cheer while I walk inside and outside of a hospice in my daydreams all day. This is okay. We all have these days if we’ve loved.

And at the end of this day, I will sit in my homestead cabin and watch the light disappear with the equal brilliance in which arrived, and I will think of a man who did just the same. Days like these make me feel lucky. I loved. Love never leaves. I know this after eight years without him here.

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