That incredibly tragic statement marks the beginning of the most difficult day of my life.
Half of my consciousness believed that my husband appearing at the end of our air mattress in the guest room, his campsite for nearly three weeks, was a figment of my exhausted and pregnant brain. I couldn’t even fully finish my first sleepy thought before Courtny had disappeared out the door.
“Of course he’s dying.”
I had spent three days at my father-in-law’s house in Kentucky, but it only took minutes after arriving for me to know that life (as we all knew it) was about to end. Tony, the patriarch of the “Cotten Clan,” was deteriorating rapidly. He was certainly dying, that wasn’t even a question, but none of us knew how long we would have to watch him suffer.
I did everything I could do to help the situation, but distracting my niece and nephew with errands and the NBA Playoffs paled in comparison to the all-night shifts Courtny and my sister-in-law were trading off at Tony’s bedside. Perhaps even more difficult than the physical aspect of dying, was watching a man who was once so thoughtful and joyous morph into someone completely unrecognizable. While I had meaningless conversations over SpongeBob Squarepants, my husband was actively losing his best friend and father little by little.
On that morning, one year ago, I knew my father-in-law was already gone before I made it clumsily down the stairs to his hospital bed in the middle of the living room.
Sheer grief is the most painful emotion to witness, and I was standing in a room full of it. I had promised my 13-year-old niece that I would wake her up if anything happened to her Papaw, but when the time came I didn’t have the heart. I didn’t want the scene to haunt her, like the nightmares my husband now battles. When she confronted me later that morning, long after Tony’s body had been loaded into the back of a hearse, I simply told her, “Sometimes a little white lie is a good thing.”
I have never felt more helpless than when I drove Courtny and his brother back home to Indiana later that afternoon. While I was doing my best to plan our next few days (planning has always been my coping mechanism), my husband sat silently in the passenger seat and wept. It was humbling, knowing that even though I was moving a thousand miles a minute, nothing I did could make it better.
They say time heals all, but even with 365 days to process it is still unbelievable to me that he is gone. A man of only 47 years should, logically, still be with us. He should have been in the waiting room six month ago to meet the first Cotten grandbaby. He should have been there at Christmas, making sure the Grinch didn’t steal all the presents. He should have celebrated the four birthdays our family has had in the past week alone. He should be here today, but he’s not.
We’re at a place now, somewhere past grief but not-quite healed, where we can reflect. I was finally able to give my nieces and nephews their Christmas gifts, Memory Bears I made from Tony’s shirts and ties, just a few weeks ago. I guess that makes them memorial gifts now. Perhaps its a higher power – one that knew we would all need some comfort today. I had planned to sit down and write a silly little DIY post about the bears, but this is what came out. Almost like someone else had another plan….
It’s nice, you know, to feel a little guidance as we navigate this uncharted part of our lives.
Thanks, Tony. I hope we’re making you proud.