My life partner passed away last week. We were together for a quarter century, 25 years. A long time for a couple to stay together. People described us as having a romance out of the 1920s or 1930s. Movie love. I’m not sure what that means but I love romance and in the 1920s love and doing loving things for others had a different meaning.
And a different flavor. Not vanilla. Not chocolate –although Burt loved dark chocolate in a candy bar or an ice cream cone.
Some of you may remember the adorable comic Gracie Allen. Well sometimes folks (actually, it was just Burt who compared me to Gracie as her very calm cigar smoking great comedian husband George Burns shut Gracie up by saying to the audience, always read for a good honest laugh: “Good Night Gracie.”
In her silliness Gracie made a lot of sense but George just didn’t want to deal with it, so “Good Night, Gracie.” Sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, I was Gracie Allen. (I hear her voice in my head right now–mine is much softer and soothing…)
Okay, I am misleading you a bit. I am not and was not Gracie Allen; that was a joke. But I retain a curiosity about life. Burt never ever called me Gracie. Well, once he did but he was being funny. We had something special.
Poor Burt. I loved to sing Broadway hits, and there are many things I cannot do well, among them sing and dance. . At all. And I love to sing and dance. My mom sang in a church choir and she could never understand why I could not sing. What is wrong with you? she’d ask..
But I loved to sing, especially as loud as I could–like the three words to the song (I think) by the same name: “Good Morning Sunshine.” which, in the early morning, I blasted out at the top of my lungs. I thought I sounded terrific. I was happy.I felt myself on the Broaday stage and I wanted the whole world to hear me. Well, not the whole world, just the Broadway in my mind—unfortunately Burt was in the house, too.
Poor Burt. Sometimes he laughed; and the laugh he performed for me was special. I never heard him laugh like that for anybody else. It was a laugh filled with love and curiosity. A sweet and real laugh; I loved hearing it. I knew he loved me so much when he laughed that laugh.
. Why is this woman singing so darn loud; it’s 7 o’clock in the morning? he’d think. He either pressed his hands against his ears to block out the obnoxious sounds and/or begged me to stop. He had to beg a few times before I’d actually stop mid-note. But I didn’t really want to stop; I am sure I was once a singer who lost her voice.
Burt loved Cole Porter; he introduced me to his fabulous lyrics. Real words with meaning, that lifted the spirit. Think of Cole Porters “You’re the top, you’re the Eiffel Tower…..
I am a “baby boomer,” as they call us and Burt was Model ’29. Yes, many years and generations and experiences separated us but it worked. I’m sure people looked at us and wondered……but, truly, our love was big.
Burt loved our garden, a garden that the artist Leon Kunke (and me, with a small “m”) labored over for years and years until it is now nearly perfect. In the sense that it flows, that it doesn’t interrupt the mind, that it says “I am beautiful. Enjoy me.”
I don’t mean to brag but the garden brings happiness, the ultimate thing you can want for any human in this day and age. It is a respite, a joy; I don’t have the words, I am struggling to find them.
Burt’s tastes were simple. He could live in a telephone booth, he often told me, when they still were making telephone booths. I loved art and artists.
(And, as an aside, I wish the flower growers could flower-up the Coastside. We are a separate entity and will need each other, possibly, in the near future if things go stale.. Remember, the Coastside can exist on its own if only people would wake up and realize that we have all the resources here. If things get bad.)
So I picked out things I liked and covered the walls with art. I am not a collector so don’t get the idea that there are Rembrandts or Picasso’s around here. Just what I liked and hoped Burt would, too. He now lived in a house that was so different from a telephone booth but every year or so he noticed something new that had been there for, you know, “months or years.”
Of course, when Burt’s cancer began to take hold [he was at the stage where he said: “Hey, I can live with this.” He didn’t realize that it was going to get much, much worse.] But, as those of you who have had loved ones with cancer know, the patient goes into “the grass is greener stage.” That was when he “really” discovered the beautiful garden. That gave me great happiness because Burt was the ultimate business in that his main interest was his clients. One of his “jokes” was to say: “We’ll even wash your car.” And, I assure you, in the end, he would have washed your car to get your business.
He recognized and spoke of the beauty in the garden.He stood in his robe, when he could still walk and stand for a good long time at the windows. What he really saw I will never know but he pointed at plants and commented on them.
I will write more soon but I want you to know who I am. I am June; I am the one who cared for Burt 24/7 for weeks and weeks that turned into months. I am the one who tended to his wounds (we also had Hospice, and they are wonderful; San Mateo County may have one of the BEST hospice groups in the country, but I was the one on the front lines; I was the one sitting beside the hospital bed (he hated that bed—-he wanted to be on his feet, walking and talking and making comments about current events).
The hospital bed stood in our living room. He needed me and other things constantly so I was the one running to get blankets when he was cold. I was the one who tried to pick him up off the floor when he tried to go wandering in the middle of the night. (I had to make sure he didn’t break anything first and then wait until early morning before calling for neighborly help: Peter Logan, Alan Deese, Jerry Larsen, they all came to my aid. I could not lift Burt up off the floor myself because it was “dead weight.”
I helped Burt drink liquids when he couldn’t hold containers anymore. We also had straws. All I thought of was Burt. I didn’t care if I was black and blue from knocking into this or that. In the end my body looked beat up. My mind was at once relieved and in a pain I had never felt before.
Of course. I was having a brand new experience. I had never taken a loved one to what is called “the other side.”
I am June. And I am not afraid of much of anything anymore. I took Burt to the other side. I held his ice cold hands; I kissed him from head to toe; I told him how much I loved him. I told him he could let go. I focussed on him 100 per cent; he was the only thing on my mind.
Dying at home is very hard. Not everyone has the strength to do it. Mission Hospice helped me get through it..