My work phone used to ring every day around 4 p.m. It was always my husband Jim, who wanted to discuss the dinner menu with me.
On some level, I looked forward to those daily calls, just to touch base, to talk to someone I considered sane, and to give me hope that soon I would be in the bosom of my family again.
For Jim, it was much more practical: he was hungry and wanted to know what we were having for dinner. Sometimes he would have a plan and rattle it off to me for approval. Sometimes he would have no clue, and expect me to have one.
I found the latter scenario to be especially annoying after Jim had retired from his job of more than 40 years and was home all day, while I still worked. At that time of day, I would have two or three hours of work ahead of me, hoping to be home by 6:30 or 7 p.m. Did I have to come up with dinner too??
I’m sure Jim was annoyed that I wasn’t more organized about meal planning, but we managed to work it out each day through our familiar routine; some days more congenial than others.
Even though it’s been five years since Jim died of pancreatic cancer at the end of 2010, to this day, if my work phone rings around 4 p.m., for a brief second I think it’s Jim wanting to discuss the dinner menu. If the phone doesn’t ring, the silence is deafening.
These kinds of routines become part of the indestructible fabric of our lives — a pattern formed of permanent ink that may fade but never disappear. They stay woven in our minds, even as the material frays and ravels and becomes unrecognizable from its original vibrancy.
Little mental mementos of days that have slipped by us. Common daily events that suddenly are much more important than they were when they happened.
There are other things like the daily dinner debate that catch my heart now and again — such as the little notes of affection and encouragement Jim would stick in my lunch that I carried to work. I don’t often take lunch to work now because I have to go home and let out the dogs, but when I do, I half expect a note to appear. Of course it doesn’t.
Whenever I travel alone and my cell phone rings, a fleeting thought passes through my mind that Jim forgot to tell me some detail, or that he is calling because he misses me already, as he tended to do. And just as suddenly is the realization I will never receive another phone call from him — on the road or otherwise.
For a while after Jim’s death, I had a message from him on my cell phone leftover from an exchange between us when he was at camp and I was preparing to travel there on a weekend. I was supposed to stop at a department store to purchase a new portable TV for the camper, but he was calling to tell me not to bother — a friend had given him one to use.
At the end of the message, Jim told me to drive carefully, to watch out for moose on the road, to remember he was waiting for me, and that he loved me.
I would listen to that message over and over after Jim’s death, and finally the phone died too and the message was lost to me, but I treasure its remnant in my heart.
When one of the dogs achieves another goal or milestone, my first thought is to share it with Jim, but the call could never go through and the realization of that dampens my joy of the achievement. I try not to let it because it’s still a happy event, but the sadness seeps in through the thin places of its fabric.
I share the joy of the achievement with family and friends, and thank God for Facebook in that regard, but it isn’t the same as sharing it with your spouse. Only he knows how hard you worked to get there, what you sacrificed, the choices you made and why, how much sleep you lost to anxiety, and what it means in the bigger picture for you.
Our Brittany Bullet was Jim’s dog. He raised Bullet from a pup to two years old before Jim died. I showed the handsome male in conformation rings (think way scaled down version of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show) and handled him in field competitions (think of a simulated bird hunt), but Bullet definitely belonged to Jim.
When Bullet sired his first litter of puppies with liver and white Treasure who is half-sister to my Brittany dog Sassy, I held his first-born 10-day-old son in my hands, my heart breaking because I couldn’t share the joy with Jim, who I know would have shed a tear or two. He was very sentimental about such things.
Still, I felt the connection with Jim.
I chose not to keep that puppy, although part of me wanted him very much. He belongs to a couple who have become very dear friends to me — a gift from God I’m sure so that I can touch that little life that still has so much meaning to me and to help me heal.
The puppy named Wilson — a white and liver version of Bullet — carries in his formal American Kennel Club name “Quiet Courage” in honor of Jim. He is a father now too.
But I never got to see Jim hold him or Bullet’s other babies or grandbabies. Jim was so proud of his boy. I still am.
When I look at my four dogs, I feel sad that Jim never got to experience Thistle — the little Brittany female that took my life by storm and saved me from despair after Jim died — or her son with Bullet, Quincy, whose formal AKC name Heart of Seumas was given to him in memory of Jim. He would have enjoyed and been frustrated by their antics, just as I am. But I know we would have laughed together a lot over the pair.
The little things that we miss because they can never happen again; the little things we miss because we know they would have happened. The weaving and coloring of the fabric of Jim’s and my life together that has ended will always pull at my heart.
What was. What could have been. What will never be.
My hope is that someday the tugs will be less painful and more nostalgic. I am getting there. In my own time.