By Sue Fagalde Lick
The first call woke me at 2:30 a.m. A nurse at the nursing home where my husband Fred had recently been moved as his Alzheimer’s progressed toward the end stage said he might be dying. She would call me in a little while to give me an update. I got up, dressed, made tea and waited. I had recently had eye surgery and couldn’t do the hour and a half drive in the dark from my home on the Oregon coast to the nursing home in Albany. If this was another false alarm, I didn’t want to wake my friends. My family lived too far away. I would leave at daylight.
At 5:15, I couldn’t wait any longer. I called. The nurse said, “Mr. Lick expired a few minutes ago.”
“He died?” I said, my voice choked to almost a whisper.
“Mr. Lick expired. Yes.”
In shock, I called my friend Pat to take me to Albany. While I waited for her, I called my stepchildren to share the news. None of them lived close or had been involved in my husband’s care. None of them volunteered to come.
Pat drove me to Albany and walked me down the hall to Fred’s room. A curtain was drawn around his bed. When I saw him, dead, his mouth open, blood in his beard, I lost my mind, shrieking and sobbing loud enough to wake the other residents. Pat held me until I calmed enough to sit with my husband for the last time, to touch his nearly cold body and say goodbye. She removed his wedding ring for me. We called the funeral home. We packed my husband’s things. We took one last look and left.
We sat in her Honda, making phone calls, crying as we shared the news.
The hearse would be coming soon. I didn’t want to watch them take the body away. “Let’s get out of here,” I said.
Pat took me to breakfast at Elmer’s, where I had often eaten on my trips to visit Fred. It was all the same as usual, the waitresses in their cheery uniforms, the light rock music playing over the speakers, the packets of jelly and pitchers of maple syrup. It was 8:30 a.m. On the road outside, cars buzzed by, taking people to work. Kids with backpacks walked to school.
“How are you ladies today?” the waitress asked, pen poised over her order pad.
My eyes felt crusty with tears, but I couldn’t say the words without crying again. “Hungry,” I said. “I’ll have the biscuits and gravy, with scrambled eggs.”
Under the table, Pat squeezed my hand.
Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer/musician/dog mom living on the Oregon coast. After many years in journalism, she earned my MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles at age 51. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Full Grown People, Dogwood Literary Journal, and other publications. Her books include Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. She loves biscuits and gravy, which is why she will never be thin.