The most difficult change has occurred, as I have pondered for the last six months in this blog. Dan’s struggle with kidney failure and other chronic illnesses came to an end on June 6. It wasn’t something unexpected. I had a sense of being ready. I don’t think, however, that any of us is ever prepared for the afterwards. Countless expressions of love—in words, in actions large and small—have since supported and sustained me. For those gifts, I am deeply grateful.
2023 began much the way that most of 2022 had unfolded. I administered Dan’s dialysis on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Medical appointments and quotidian life occupied our other time. We read and kept up with essential television fare. As winter gave way to spring, Dan’s quality of life waned; as spring shifted to summer, there were several acute events. After returning from another hospital stay, Dan entered hospice, at home, under my care with the invaluable support and guidance of Gilchrest Hospice Care.
We celebrated Dan’s life—and what a life it was—on August 5. Like our wedding, like the life we lived, it was centered on home. Friends Anja and Lynn came and did all the things that oldest and bestest girlfriends do so well. Covid cut into attendance somewhat. I was not expecting that and I am quite sure our friends Barbara and Leslie and my brother Tim weren’t either. But good food, good drinks and good memories prevailed. That afternoon, the family—Bruce, Denise, Dylan, Alice and Alice’s friend Alan; Dan’s niece Deb; me—drove to Mt. Erin Cemetery in Havre de Grace where we interred some of Dan’s ashes in the area where his parents, sisters and niece rest. It’s a beautiful spot, in the shade of a cedar tree.
I remember, moreover, the final lines of E.B. White’s wonderful story, Charlotte’s Web:
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
And so was Dan.
Then it was time to focus on tasks and figure out what to do with my days. I ventured north in late August to Sand Lake, New York, just up the mountain from Emma Willard School in Troy, for a comforting week with Anja, her Muddy Mutts and cats. I paddled a kayak for the first time, went to a concert at Tanglewood with a bunch of EW alumnae, and saw the most glorious Edvard Munch exhibition at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
The big plan, for me the real farewell, was a trip to Paris and Lithuania. Dan made a joke, back in 1999 as we were wandering in the Cimitière Montparnasse, that he’d like it if I would spread his ashes among the notables there. At the time, we happened to be standing by the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
“I’ll leave money for the trip in my will,” he said.
“Not necessary,” I replied. “It’d be my pleasure.” I mean, who really needs a reason to go to Paris?
Over the years the comment grew into a commitment. Meanwhile, we got to meet family in Balbieriškis, Lithuania—Dan’s mother’s village—notably cousin Rymantas and his wife Angelė. On our most recent visit in 2015, we stood by the grave of Rymantas’ parents, Motiejus and Bronė, looking out over the river Peršėkė at the bottom of the hill. A farmer and his horse were plowing a field; a stork hunting bugs and grubs followed them. It was a scene out of time.
Back home, we were able at last to identify the ancestral village of Dan’s paternal grandfather, Kazimir Tomkus. Miežonys hardly exists anymore but is not all that distant from Balbieriškis. That piece of family history had always been a mystery. Kazimir and his brother Petrus, both coal miners, died in the Diamond Mine Disaster in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in December 1914. Another immigrant brother, Juozas, left his descendants in the dark about his Lithuanian roots. Dan and I had intended to climb into those branches on the family tree but didn’t get the chance.
I decided to bring a little of Dan back to Lithuania as well. The most special moment was in Balbieriškis where Rymantas—in keeping with Lithuanian law and church protocol—arranged for the proper burial of Dan’s ashes. The spot is next to Bronė and the ashes rest on a bed of flowers from Rymantas’ garden. A beautiful chrysanthemum plant marks the spot. Father Remigijus, the priest from Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary, and our friend, presided. Afterwards, Remigijus led a funeral mass at the church. While I am not religious, and certainly not Catholic, and Dan long ago severed church ties, the afternoon left me feeling so warm and cared for. And Dan at last got that view over a river he always wanted.
A backward glance is in the “Widow’s Weeds” posts of this blog. Just search.
The last few days were spent with my friend Sami, her daughter Tali and husband Stephen in Hertfordshire, England. Pure self-indulgence. I hadn’t seen them since 2010. Sami’s sister-in-law, Caroline Lawrence, a classicist and brilliant writer of children’s books, led us on a tour of the Mithraic temple in London, as well as little known parks in the area. Sami’s son Robert came over with wife Clare and their daughters, Sophia, Charlotte and Alexandra, for Sunday dinner. Lovely, lovely girls! We walked the dogs, Portia and Rumpole. We hung out. We savored Sami’s excellent cooking.
Then I came back home with a whopping ear infection. In my right ear. The one I am entirely dependent on for hearing. Thanks to Lynn who researched ENTs in the Johns Hopkins system and then jumped on the phone and persuaded a receptionist to lean on the doctor to see me more or less immediately. Dr. G. couldn’t do much until I had completed my course of antibiotics and the infection was eradicated, but a week later he drained the fluid and inserted a tube. Initially it was as though the tweeter was hooked up but not the woofer; voices sounded a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Time, however, has helped.
I end, of course, with a quotation. This year’s offering, coincidentally, was published the year Dan was born: 1934. I’m not even sure who Mabel Simpson was, but I was touched by this delicate poem in that year’s April issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.
Loss is less at first than after,
When the years have set
Silence on the silver laughter,
Dark on violet.
Loss is less at first, no hour
Can contain it all;
Time alone can tell its power,
As the ages fall.
Peace and possibilities to you all in 2024.