I went to a funeral today. One of my favorite patients came for his routine appointment yesterday, stood matter-of-factly at the front desk and announced, “R died.”
“Are you joking? What?”
She died. Unexpectedly, R. She was his wife of almost 50 years.
My patient seemed unaffected. He had just been released from the hospital and his wife had just called the day before asking about some of his meds. She was the kind of wife that sent me typed notes about her husband, dutifully checked his BP daily and logged it for my review. She always included a list of his meds, as if I didn’t already know them, but just in case.
J is a salty, crusty ex-marine, but with such a gentle side that he always inquires about my children. He knows their names and their interests. R, his wife was a lovely woman, always dressed just so, modern with a blush of lipstick. They were a contradiction in terms. J was hard and gnarly, R was classy and put-together.
R rarely came to J’s visits. It was always just J and I joking around.
“Hey Dr. Vass, ever thought about putting a beer machine in your waiting room, I bet you get more business that way.”
“Hey J, you ever think about quitting smoking, you might breathe better that way.”
“Hell no, that’s bullshit. I’m not quitting, EVER!”
My gnarly, ex-marine patient is now left behind without the woman who softened his hard edges. It seems as if the world is out of balance.
I went to his wife’s funeral today and it made me think of funerals in general. After a life well-lived they often feel like an afterthought, like the period at the end of the last sentence in an epic novel. I have been to funerals that have been touching, but somehow they always seem to miss the essence of the person who has passed, the family being too distraught to notice. The funeral is a place to remember the departed, but it turns out to be simply endured. Painfully. Tearfully. Endured.
A few years ago, my friend was getting married and her Maid of Honor was sick. She asked me to fill in. I needed to write a Maid of Honor speech quickly. I asked J, because he happened to be in my office that particular day for a check up, “What is the secret to a happy marriage?”
Well, let me tell you a story. I had just gotten into the marines and me and R had just gotten married. Hell, it was only a few weeks. I didn’t even know her birthday. I had to fill out all this paperwork, get all these shots, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I had to put down R’s birthday and I didn’t have a goddamn clue what it was, so I made it up. For the rest of my career in the marines, whenever my wife needed to go to the doctor, when she had our kids, she had to write down the wrong birthday. So if you want a happy marriage, you better know your wife’s goddamn birthday, because she wasn’t too happy with me after that.
I told that story at my friend’s wedding along with some others that I had collected from patients that day.
I should have stood up at the funeral and told their story, but it’s only now that I remember it. I wish we could have a month to plan a proper funeral instead of just a few days. They were married for close to 50 years with a life full of children, grandchildren, love and laughter, the abrasive J and the stylish R, perfectly balanced.