By Lisa Poulson
As I walked out of the grand lobby of the apartment building onto Riverside Drive, a soft, plangent breeze lilted across my face, swaying my hair. Equal parts summer humid and fall crisp, the breeze coming off of the river felt so delicious on my cheek that I had to stop, close my eyes and drink it in. For nineteen days, my skin hadn’t tasted a touch that delicate, that present, that sublime.
Nineteen days before I found my fiance in the ICU after the Coast Guard helicopter he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic. We had been engaged for two weeks.
As I walked into the hospital room he was still and barely breathing, his face so swollen and bloodied it was only his eyelashes I recognized, his body so broken it was only his fingertips I knew. No other fingertips traced my face the way his had.
Careful to avoid the IVs as I reached for his hand, I found that it was still warm. But the Coast Guard said he had been underwater for fifteen minutes. Was the soul I deeply and eternally loved still inside of that mashed and broken body? Would those fingertips ever come back to me?
Marc lay in the hospital bed, never opening his eyes, never parting his beautiful lips to say a word.
On the third day, the swelling from his injuries decreased enough for the doctors to do an EEG. When they said there was “no organized brain activity,” it was clear what that meant. Marc’s mind and soul were gone, even if his lungs were pushing air in and out on their own. I left the hospital with a leaden heart.
On the fourth day, his lungs stopped doing their work. He slipped away on his own, before dawn.
At the cemetery, when the hearse opened and I saw the coffin, I almost lost my capacity to stand. How could the strong, beautiful body I loved be in that box?
Two weeks after the funeral I was still in a stumbling, useless daze. Grief came in molten waves that flowed into my body with no warning, drowning my senses and suffocating my capacity to reason.
Sometimes it came when I woke in the morning and realized anew that he was gone. Sometimes it seized me in the middle of the afternoon at work, or in a restaurant, or on the train. When these waves overtook me, my mind and my senses would desert me as the heat rose from my gut or my heart. I would no longer be able to hear what people were saying to me, comprehend time or speak. The grief would growl and stretch, enveloping my whole body and subsuming my brain. I would shake, or sweat, or cry, or all of the above when it had possession of me.
I couldn’t be in my apartment because it was too full of his absence. He was not standing in the kitchen making us dinner, he was not sitting on the sofa inviting me to lay my head against his chest, he was not kneeling beside me to pray aloud with profound gratitude for our relationship at the end of the day. He was not there to nurture my quiet, budding hope of a life filled with love.
I did not go to work. I did not cook. I did not do laundry. I stayed with friends, barely able to breathe in and out. The competent 30-year-old I used to be was lost.
But there on Riverside Drive, nineteen days later, a moment of unexpected grace reached through my grief. I closed my eyes as the nerves under my skin awakened to the delicate sensation of the tender breeze.
My skin didn’t understand why it hadn’t been touched. I hadn’t realized how lost and hungry it was.
I opened my eyes to the afternoon sun glowing over the Hudson, my heart full of compassion for the mute grief of my body. I hear you, I said. I will care for you.
Lisa Poulson, is a San Francisco-based tech veteran. She has her own business as a communications coach and is reinventing herself as a writer. Lisa can be found on twitter as @thelisapoulson.
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