Besides the actual day that Rick died, the day Rick's brother and I had to tell his mom that her son was dead was the hardest day of my life.
We sat waiting for her in a room at the assisted living home where she lives. Watching her face crumple and twist was excruciating. She took in our words and though she understood, she didn't want to believe. That day broke my already broken heart. Trying to be strong for Rick's mom was next to impossible. No amount of hugs and hand-holding could make the terrible news better.
She wished she could die instead.
She wished she could die immediately so she could see Rick again.
She wished she could see him one last time.
I couldn't give her any of her wishes.
My brother-in-law and I visited her again together the next day. My brother-in-law visited her with his family the day after that. Then it was the funeral and she powered through with the rest of us, medicated so her anxiety wouldn't be through the roof.
The day after the funeral, a Friday, my brother-in-law and his family visited her again to say good bye as they prepared to head home to Florida. Too immersed in my own grief, I did not go see her.
When the Saturday after the funeral came, I still couldn't bring myself to go see her. Rick and I always went to see her together on a Saturday. We would bring her chocolate and make her laugh, tell her stories from our week, or listen to her tales of woe about her room mate.
I just couldn't face Saturday with her so soon. I struggled with not going because I knew she would be all alone there, thinking of Rick, hoping for a visitor, lamenting the fact that her son who visited like clockwork every week was never coming again.
Two days after the Saturday I could not make myself go, I called the assisted living home and asked them how she was doing. "Is she eating okay?"
"Is she sleeping okay?"
"Is she crying a lot?"
She was...but the appropriate amount.
I told them I wanted to come as usual, but I just couldn't do it. I got choked up and cried. They told me she was okay and to take my time because she was being cared for very well.
Saturday rolled around again...and today I made myself go. I cried on my drive there. I cried in the parking lot. I cried as I walked inside the building. I found my way to her room as I always did, week after week, but this time there was no Rick by my side. This time I was alone, painfully aware that I was no substitute for her son. I was only half of the company she wanted, half of the equation, half of the weekly ritual.
She was sleeping when I got there and when she saw me she smiled and jumped up, excited to see me. She said my name and, "I'm so glad to see you!" She made room for me on her bed. I hugged her and kissed her and she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Where's Ricky?"
My eyes welled up immediately, but before I could answer, she said, "He died. I know it. I was just hoping maybe it wasn't true."
We sat together on her bed, holding hands and crying. She had Rick's photo by her bedside and I showed her the framed one I had brought for her: a very recent one of her and Rick, taken on Easter. She looked at it for a while and asked me to put it on her bedside table where she could see it from her bed.
"I'm so mad at God," she said. "I hate God now. I say that all the time."
I told her it was okay to be mad.
She told me she felt sad for me, sorry for me, that I was a widow so young. She told me again that she wished she had died first. I told her that it would be nice for her now, because this way when she does die, Rick will be waiting for her. She smiled like she hadn't thought of that.
We talked about Rick. I told her he wouldn't want us to be sad. She wisely said, "He wouldn't want us to be, but he knows we would be. So it's okay."
"My sweet little Arielle," she said. "It's not fair, is it? You're just a little girl and now you're alone."
She asked me for a recent photo of Rick and me. She said it always made her so happy to see us together. I told her I would bring her one.
"My heart hurts and my stomach hurts too," she said as she squeezed my hand and put her head on my shoulder. I told that was exactly how I felt too.
"I love you," she said when I was leaving.
"I love you," I told her. And I kissed her good bye. Just like my last moments with Rick.
The routine is back, even with my husband missing. Saturday visits have begun again...and I survived the first one. My mother-in-law and I even decided on a plan for our next visit: I'm bringing photos of Rick for us to look through...and more tissues.