When Richard’s oncologist called to check on his condition last Friday, I said that while his spirits were still good, it seemed to me that he was confused more often and his energy was ebbing every day.
“Are you still planning the trip to Arkansas?” she asked. (Richard’s 94-year-old mom had been in the hospital earlier that week; he was eager to see her.)
“Yes,” I said.
“When are you leaving?”
“If you’re going, do it now,” she said. “I don’t want you to get stuck there if his condition deteriorates.”
Which is why two hours later, at four-thirty Friday afternoon, we were on the road, headed for Guymon, Oklahoma, seven hours away and the halfway point in our 800-mile-drive.
The late afternoon light picked out brilliant gold leaves on the cottonwood trees and snow-dusted peaks. It was also a vivid reminder that daylight was waning.
The sun set as we wound down the Huerfano River–passing a herd of cow elk munching a hayfield and a pickup truck with two hunters scoping the elk–and out onto the western Great Plains. Darkness fell as we crossed into New Mexico.
Later, the just-past-full moon rose huge and only slightly off-round. Moments later, the highway dropped into a stream valley and the moon set, rising again as we and the road climbed back up onto the plains.
We reached Guymon at half past midnight—and slept in the smokiest non-smoking room I have ever experienced.
The next day, Richard snoozed while I drove across the Great Plains–and drove, and drove, until finally we reached the edge of the Ozarks where the sumac at edges of the woods blazed scarlet and crimson, a shout-out to fall.
We reached his sister Letitia’s house at eight that night and found dinner waiting and a warm welcome from Tish, and Richard’s little brother, Mike. Sunday was filled with sweet family time, much of which Richard spent horizontal. (That’s Tish and her grandson Oliver in the photo above.)
We had intended to stay two days, but by afternoon Richard was fading visibly. So Monday morning we headed back through a weather front with howling winds.
A few hours into our 800-mile return commute across the Great Plains, I looked up and saw a gyre of huge birds spiraling upward with long wings outstretched. As they swirled around, the sun glinted off brilliant white plumage–pelicans! American white pelicans, to be exact, about 100 of them.
I pulled over and woke Richard up, opening the sun roof so he could see them while reclining.
We watched the pelicans spiral upward until they reached a layer of southward-flowing air and began to glide out of sight. (I was so awed, I forgot my camera entirely.)
By the time we reached Guymon at sunset, I was exhausted from fighting the wind, and Richard struggled just to get out of the car.
Yesterday, he seemed even weaker and slept most of the drive. In the early afternoon, as we were eating our simple picnic lunch a few hours from home, I said cautiously,
“It seems to me you’re in the phase of life where we have to let go of a lot of things.”
“Yes,” he said in his thready voice.
“I just want you to know you can take your time letting go.” Tears clogged my throat. “And you don’t need my permission either.”
“What a beautiful benediction,” he said.
I wiped my overflowing eyes.
“That’s not to say that I want to loose you,” I said. “I don’t. But I don’t have any choice in the matter. Our love will last when we don’t.”
“It will,” he said, reaching for my hand.
I swiped at my eyes and drove on toward home.
Where we met with Will, Richard’s hospice nurse. After listening to Richard recount collapsing in a heap on the floor in the bathroom right after we arrived (“I didn’t hurt myself, I was just surprised,” Richard said. I was unloading the car and missed that little incident entirely.) Will ordered a walker for him to use in the house, and a commode chair for nighttime.
“Hospice equipment,” said Richard. “Apparently letting go requires acquiring new tools.”
Whatever else he’s losing, his sense of humor is still intact.