Loss, grief–and back to paying the bills

Richard’s favorite bucket-cap, still hanging on the rocking chair in the bedroom

Yesterday I used the last check from our formerly joint checking account with Richard’s name on it. After he died of brain cancer last November, I scrambled around and shifted all of our accounts to my name only before the year ended.

But I didn’t bother ordering new checks. I’d use up the old ones first, I thought. About a month ago, that time came, and I didn’t think anything of it until I wrote the final check that included both our names.

I walked to the desk in a nook in the hall that holds our household stuff and rooted out book of checks. When I looked at it, I thought at first something was missing. The old checks had his name first, Richard Cabe, and then mine. The new ones just have my name. And then it hit me (again): he’s gone.

I don’t know why something so mundane would bring back my grief at losing the brilliant, vibrant man I lived with and loved for almost 29 years, but that did.

A detail of the dining table, a piece Richard designed to showcase his rock basins in a Denver gallery, but which came home with us after he began treatment for brain cancer.

I pushed away from the dining table, a beautiful trestle-table he designed and febricated of plain black, cold-rolled steel with an “inlaid” middle of galvanized steel, and went outside. I walked through the kitchen garden and out into the wildflowers and native grasses in the front yard.

I sat on the porch and watched hummingbirds zip back and forth between the scarlet gilia flowers and the feeder. I listened to a distant rumble of thunder. I could smell rain on the air. The storm dissipated before any reached us, and its last gusts rang the temple bell in the kitchen garden. The sun came out.

And I realized that my grief was only partly about the loss of my beloved husband.

In the past three weeks, two friends have died of cancer: Elena Linthicum and Sharon Bode-Hempton. Both friendships date to our years in Las Cruces, where Richard was on the faculty at New Mexico State University, and I immersed myself in getting to know and writing about the Chihuahuan Desert. (Four of my twelve books are about the desert.)

Elena, a lawyer and mediator who retained the grace of the dancer she had been during her childhood years in France, was a member of the Saturday women’s breakfast group I belonged to there, a group who became friends, mentors, and confidantes–a true support group that continued even after many of us, Elena included, moved away.

Sharon, an artist who was longtime Director of Museums for the City of Las Cruces, was one of those powerful, visionary women who tick some people off, and also change lives. I met her when I taught a desert class for the Museum of Natural History; she was a crucial supporter in the early years of the Border Book Festival, which author and playwright Denise Chávez and I co-founded.

Elena and Sharon were very different people. But both were 69 years old, both died of cancer, and both were married to the loves of their lives, wonderful, creative men who cared for each to the end.

I wiped my eyes, went back into the house, and finished paying the bills. As I entered the amounts in the computer, I thought about how lucky I am. Not in a pollyannish way, mind you. Losing Richard sucks.

One of Richard’s “ambassadors of the earth,” an ordinary local rock, carved to reveal its inner beauty and brought into our daily life to reconnect us to the earth.

Lucky in that he is not entirely gone, and never will be. His work and spirit live on. This house, which he helped design and build, is full of his sculpture, from the bathroom sink carved from a gneiss boulder picked up on the roadside to the maquettes for large works sitting on the living room window sill.

Still, he’s not physically here, dammit.

Which is why I’m paying the bills and keeping accounts and tending the garden and managing the renovation of the shop and weeding the park and making meals and cleaning the house and going to bed exhausted–by myself. It’s why I’m Woman Alone, struggling to learn a sustainable rhythm for a life that intertwined with my love’s for so long.

I feel the loss of both Elena and Sharon keenly, I also feel for their spouses, as they each walk on alone in this journey of life.

Bless you, Angelojohn Chianese and Carl Coker. My heart goes out to you both.