I had been told by a visitor only a few weeks before her death that Anne 'would not make it' to her birthday, which was very unsettling to me then. Some people have a knack of saying things that really unnerve a person and his saying that Anne would die before her birthday April 20, sounded a lot harsher than when the specialist told us that her death would take between five and two years, but the visitor was right. Anne passed away eighteen days short of her 73rd birthday.
Weeks before Anne's passing I was warned by ALS specialists to take a few weeks rest.
They were quite blunt about it, arguing that if I did not take a respite I soon might wake up in the hospital.
They were worried enough to make arrangement for Anne to spent a few weeks in a convalescence place, to which Anne immediately agreed.
For her to get her used to that place, I took her out there for a day, and picked her up again at mid afternoon. Anne was ecstatic. She loved the place.
A week later we repeated this but now I found her tucked away in a corner, near crying.
She did not answer when I asked whatever had happened, but just said
“it didn't work, didn't it. Don't worry Anne, I will take care of you.” A few years earlier I made her father a promise on his deathbed that I would look after his daughter as long as she would live and I intended to just that.
Anne never did go that place anymore, however it did take its toll on me.
We had everything well in hand during Anne's illness and even before as I had learned to listen more and throw my weight around less, or not at all.
One could argue why not get some help from the family. We had talked about that but Anne maintained that our three daughters had enough on their own life, that things had changed since we were their age. All three worked to make ends meet and we were doing fabulous anyways with the two of us.
We had adapted easily to the many changes Anne's illness required.
It was not at all that we muddled though the difficulties, together we always found a way for every difficulty that challenged us. It was only the last few months that I felt the pressure.
When it became apparent that Anne's health was seriously failing, our daughters were more than willing to help.
Debbi had agreed even to take six week off work to help out and Janice came over a night to ask if she still belonged to the family because we did not communicate enough, and that was indeed true.
And then it was April the first, Debbi's birthday.
Mark, our firstborn grandson, came by with his baby-daughter Deanne in the car but Anne got panicky when he asked her if he should bring his baby-girl, who was by then about eight weeks old, for Anne to hold.
I had never seen her like that, was she aware that her end was near? Her decline had been quite gradual up to then and in my eyes related only to things which she was not able to perform anymore, at which time we just searched for a solution.
That evening there was a bottle of wine and a cake, of which we all partook, in honor of Debbi's birthday.
I had a good piece of cake and a little wine and so did Anne, only reversed - a little cake.
It felt as if it was Communion, which in fact it was, if not Holy then the Last with Anne, though we didn't know it then. It was a very special occasion which I will remember till my end.
After our daughters were gone Anne dictated a letter to me which I taped on a tiny recorder.
The letter was directed to our daughters and when she was finished, she sighed deeply, it had taken a lot of strength out of her, but she seemed relieved that it was finished.
Then I took her to bed.
I laid her on her back but in a way that her head rested comfortable on the pillow which I had contoured to the shape of her neck, then straightened the bottom-sheet so all creases had disappeared and laid the top-sheet very loosely over her as she could not tolerate any weight on her body.
It took me about twenty minutes to lay her just so, before I went to lock all the outside doors.
Then I stood outside to look at the stars and filled my lungs with fresh air. Ah, life is good I told myself, and the mist that had plagued me for a time lifted some, thank you god.
Refreshed I went inside again to read a few chapters for Anne from the book Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Anne liked reading a lot, but was for some time unable to hold a book. Years ago she introduced me to the now very famous book A wrinkle in time by Madeleine L'Engle, when it came out in the late 1960's.
This evening we made it half-ways through the Pray part, after reading about ten minutes, then I I bend over to kiss her and said
“I love you Anne,” and she said
“And I love you too.”
Coming from Groningen, where one not easily mentions personal feelings, Anne had never used these words to me but here it was, and those were the last words Anne would utter on earth.
At twelve-thirty I woke up just before I heard Anne, I got up and connected her to the oxygen machine, as I had done the last few weeks, then we went back to sleep again.
A little before five I disconnected the oxygen-machine from her and set her up in bed, then swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat on the bed next to her, as we had done every morning for as long as we had had the hospital bed in the bedroom, I put my arm around her and she had her hand on my knee.
Only a few mornings ago Anne had said with a smirk on her face
“We are still teenagers,” melting my heart, adding “naughty teenagers.”
She did not say anything this morning but leaned a little away from me.
“Do you want to go to the bathroom?” she nodded no.
“Do you want to go back to sleep?” another no nod.
“Do you want to go to the living-room?” she didn't nod now.
For five seconds we were as close to being together as we had ever been when I lifted Anne from the bed into the wheelchair.
Five seconds of the sweetest closeness.
That's how we parted, for only then I knew, that Anne had died.
Five seconds of bliss have aged to ten years of memory.
I survived ten years without a woman and wife, but the memory of those seconds and I, will keep ageing together, until the need to remember is no more.