I have made a concerted effort to avoid the easy path of posting overly emotional articles about some of the more gut wrenching discussions that Libby and I had, especially during the last year of her life; attempting instead, to give the reader an overall view of our friendship, courtship, marriage and family. This post is a break from that trend as I remember our date on Libby’s birthday a year ago today:
On Monday March 3rd 2014 one year ago today I was preparing to leave for work as one of the many sweet ladies who had volunteered to sit with Libby arrived at our house just before 8 AM. Libby was spending all of her time in the hospital bed which was set up in our living room and at this stage of her illness she was sleeping nearly 23 hours a day. I went over to her bed, kissed her goodbye and whispered into her ear, “happy birthday” but not loud enough to wake her.
My meeting that morning in Middle Tennessee was short and very soon I was on my way back home. Since our decision to sign up with Hospice care after the last failed Chemo treatment, my time at work was normally not very productive because of my inability to focus. Time away from the house did, however, give me perspective and time to think, which is exactly what I was doing during the hour and a half drive back home on this Monday afternoon. I wanted to make Libby’s birthday special for her and although I would not have admitted it to anyone at the time, I knew in mind that this would be Libby’s last birthday.
I had been thinking of what I could do for several days and I finally had everything worked out in my head so I stopped on the way home to pick up the remaining items that I needed for the formal birthday meal I had planned. My tux was laid out along with Libby’s nicest dress, dinner was planned and the candles were ready. Now, I wasn’t delusional, I knew she probably wouldn’t eat much, if anything, and I would not be able get her into the dress, but I had a plan.
When I got home, I pulled my chair next to Libby’s bed and told her for the second time, “happy birthday”, she looked up at me and raised her thin arm out from under and the cover and spread her fingers out, which meant that she wanted to hold hands, I took her hand as she whispered to me, “Is it my birthday?” I said yes and then I told her that I had a surprise for her. Libby said, “What is it?” I told her that she would have to just wait and see. Now, for those who knew Libby well, you will understand what I mean when I say that Libby didn’t like surprises, and yet she did. You see, Libby had no patience once she found out she was about get a surprise, and she certainly didn’t want to wait to find out what it was. In fact, from the time we started dating Libby would use bribery, stealth and trickery to find out what she was getting from me. Sometimes, I think she had more fun trying to uncover the secret than she did actually receiving the gift.
I told Libby that I had an evening planned for the two of us starting with some flowers. I stood up to get the flowers, but she held my hand tightly and said wearily with her eyes closed, “Just stay her and tell me about them, don’t leave”. So I described each flower as Libby smiled. Then I told her I had planned to fix her favorite dishes so I would need to get the meal started and then I would be getting dressed up and I planned to lay her dress out on top of her blanket so she would be “dressed” for our date. As I attempted to get up Libby tightened her grip on my hand and said again, “Just tell me about it…I probably want eat any of it anyway.”
I know now, that I was slowing loosing Libby a little more each day and the only way that she could experience some things now was in her mind. So I told her my plans to cook for her, then change into my tux, put her dress on top of her blanket, light every candle in the house and turn out all of the lights. Libby smiled and I could see from her expressions that she had “our date movie” playing in her mind. I described the menu that I had planned to cook for her birthday meal, starting with Caesar salad followed by blackened talapia, Sister Schubert’s dinner yeast rolls and roasted new potatoes with garlic. Libby would nod her head and lick her lips as if tasting every course as I described each dish, staring with her favorite, Caesar salad, then I asked if she wanted fresh ground pepper on her salad and she would nod yes. I would ask if she wanted fresh butter on the rolls and she answered, “Sure, why not?”
As Libby “enjoyed” her birthday meal, I wanted her to experience everything that I had planned for her so I described the black tux that “I now had on” and taking some artistic license, I told her how I really looked good in my tux and how I was really rockin’ the pink polka dot bow tie. Although she still didn’t’ open her eyes, Libby did not like the fact that I was bragging even in our imaginary experience, so she tugged sharply at my hand to get me back on track.
Continuing the fantasy I told her, “I have helped you put your favorite dress on for our night out”, she asked, “Which one?” I told her it was the dress that she wore to Nathan’s wedding and she nodded her head, satisfied that I had made the right choice. I told her that I had put on her shoes that matched her dress, but her smile quickly turned to a frown; knowing exactly what she was thinking, I said that I also brought her tennis shoes to walk around in just in case her feet started hurting, and she started smiling again.
And so for nearly an hour our amazing date continued as I kept spinning my tales adding more and more details, but soon Libby was sleeping as she relaxed her grip on my hand she pulled her arm back under the cover with a slight shiver. I tucked her in under her soft pink blanket as she started softly snoring.
Our “night on the town” to celebrate Libby’s 56 birthday was over.