Missing Robert

I’m trying to work on my book, but as my birthday approaches, I miss Robert so horribly that I had to write memories of him. Excerpts:

I cried with Robert when we were forced to accept his death. His mind stayed strong at first as his body weakened. While he still had the strength, he prepared with the care and organization that he always ran his life. He got his affairs in order and cleaned out his files and his painting studio. He gave away thousands of dollars worth of art supplies to an art program for developmentally disabled adults. He made gifts to family and friends. He labeled files that I would need.

Multiple myeloma sapped his life from him while he still breathed. His back, broken in six places, caused him brutal pain. One day he drew the pain to show me. His drawing was so raw, so anguished, so horrible in its detail, that I wail aloud picturing it. I am tempted to share it with you here, but I won’t, because you could never forget it.

It wasn’t until Robert entered hospice care that he was able to be at peace, out of pain, and a loving man again. I owe a great debt of gratitude to hospice, who figured out how to medicate him properly and counseled him with great respect and warmth. They also gave me the bereavement support and counseling that enabled me to preserve what was left of my sanity.

Robert’s last ten days were spent in bed, journeying in and out of consciousness. Sometimes he woke startlingly lucid and sweet, sharing memories and words of love. Often he was only semi-awake, seeming to have one foot in our world and one foot in another. His comments were occasionally hilariously funny – he saw our line dance class dancing with llamas on a stage in front of us, for example, or he plucked flying books from the air for his granddaughter Megan, an avid reader, to attach to her eyes — though he didn’t know why we were laughing.

Sometimes he slept for days, and I thought I’d never hear his voice again.

One day I was crying in my study, listening to his breathing on the baby monitor that hospice recommended. “I wish I had my best friend, my darling Robert, to ask for help with this,” I sobbed.

Then it occurred to me: I still did. Perhaps the man in the bed was a shadow of the man he used to be, but he was still there. I went to the bedroom, where he lay, eyes closed, mouth slack. I took his limp hand and whispered, “Can you please help me for a minute?”

“Yes,” he said quietly, without opening his eyes.

“How will I go on without you?” I asked, resting my tear-streamed face on his chest as lightly as I could so I wouldn’t hurt him.

He stroked my hair slowly, a whisper of a touch, soft as a kiss. “You’ll be okay,” he told me. “Reach out to people.”

Now I do. I reach out to people I know, people I don’t know. I reach out to you.


  1. Sally Wendkos Olds on December 8, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Oh Joan, thank you so much for this moving post. I too wish that I had my best friend to help me and share thoughts and feelings with. I do have my memories of all the times he did, and I can still, when dealing with an issue, think, "What would David say?" And so in that way he is still with me.

    Love, Sally

  2. Anonymous on November 20, 2009 at 3:59 am

    this expression of your love and your loss is so deeply moving, raw and honest. you've really touched me here and i'm sure many others. thank you.

  3. paula on November 14, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    It's really wonderful that you're comfortable enough with yourself and your life to share all of this with your readers.

    I've often wondered if people who are dying are sometimes really experiencing a different consciousness, slipping back and forth between worlds of life and death. I've been there when two close relatives were dying or close to it, and wondered if what I perceived was real or my imagination. What you say here supports my perceptions.

  4. Amber on November 8, 2009 at 2:02 am

    Joan, this was such a beautiful, honest, and raw entry. Thank you so much for sharing. It humbles me so much to know that there truly is great love in this world, and I know the love that Robert and you shared was so true and beautiful, and a love like that can never die. So with that, I wish you a happy birthday, and I wish you much love and joy, along with sweet memories of your sweet love.


  5. Joanna Cake on November 7, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to watch the man you love dying but to have those notes from him to cherish, to remind you and keep the love you had real. Thank you for sharing x

  6. Dana on November 7, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    The two of you had a special and deep relationship. It was easier for him in the end because he knew he was leaving. For you the memories remain, but he's still with you too, just in another way.

  7. Dana on November 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    The two of you had a very special and deep relationship. In the end it was easier for him because he knew he was leaving. The memories are there for you, but so is he still, just in a different way.

  8. Anonymous on November 7, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I want to second what Molly said so well. Robert sure zoned in on your wonderful qualities. I love his note from '02.

  9. Molly on November 7, 2009 at 1:58 am


    Thank you for sharing your pain. You give a window to those who need to help others in such pain, and you let those who are experiencing the same kind of pain as you do to know that they are not alone.

    You are a brave and generous woman. You have helped so many with this blog. You will never really know how many.

    I am one of them.

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