There are two popular political signs in Madison these days. You’ll see them in many of our neighbors’ yards, or sitting in the front windows of houses as you drive past. One of the signs says, “In this house, we believe: Black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, and kindness is everything.” The other sign says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” and says it in Spanish, English, and Arabic. It ought to also say it in Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Hmong, and a hundred other languages, but then the font would be so small you couldn’t read it.
Stephanie and I had admired these signs, and agreed with the sentiment. Our home is an apartment building, though, and yard signs are against the rules, so we didn’t buy the signs.
Well, my first purchase after Steph died was this web domain, five days after, and the yard signs were my second purchase. Bought ‘em at the Co-Op, because Steph loved the Co-Op and that’s the only place I know that sells them. One sign now sits inside the building, right outside our apartment door. The other sign sits in the window, visible to cars passing on the street and to kids cutting across the lawn. Whenever I see either sign I think of Stephanie. She’d be happy that we have the signs, but I should’ve bought them while she was alive. That’s something I regret.
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Whatever else might be on my mind, give me a moment and I’ll remember something that happened with Steph and I. Most of those memories are happy, but there’s often something I said or did that I regret, or something I regret never saying or doing. Sometimes it seems there’s always something more to regret. Feels like I’m swimming in regrets, and barely keeping my head above water.
I vehemently regret every harsh word I ever spoke toward her. There weren’t many harsh words, and we sometimes went a year without arguing about anything. Of our few arguments, almost all turned out to be misunderstandings more than disagreements. When we argued, though, we could be mean, either of us and both of us. I remember and regret the mean things I said when I last lost my temper toward her. I apologized then, of course, but I also want to apologize now.
I regret every instance (and there were far too many) where I wasn’t a very good husband. I regret all the times I wasn’t thoughtful enough, wasn’t considerate enough, didn’t bring home enough bacon, did other things when I should’ve been doing my chores around the apartment, and I especially regret any and all the times when I was doing something, anything, other than giving Steph the attention and love she deserved.
I regret that we couldn’t hold hands as often as I would’ve liked. From our start to our finish, it was delightful holding hands with Stephanie, but we could only do it sitting down. There was too much difference in our heights; holding hands meant that she was lifting her arm, which quickly became uncomfortable. If we were standing or walking, she’d hold my hand for only a few minutes at a time, because it made her feel like she was being led on a field trip.
I regret that I didn’t tell her she was pretty more often than I did. She was insecure about a lot of things, but especially about her appearance. She thought she was plain at best, or simply unattractive. I always, always found her attractive, and more so as the years went by. She was pretty, sexy, seductive, whatever words would’ve helped, and I said those words often – but should’ve said those words more often.
Stephanie was hard on herself, precarious not just about her looks but about all sorts of things she should’ve been proud about – her brains, her writing, her overall worth as a human being. Many times she called herself a failure or a bad wife, and I argued, told her she was a success and that a better wife was metaphysically impossible. But when Steph was blue, there was no talking her out of criticizing herself, so we would go a second round and a third, with her insisting she was a failure and me insisting that she wasn’t. After a while, having spoken my piece, told her she was mistaken and explained why she was mistaken, the conversation would fade or we’d switch to some other subject. Gotta say, I regret that. I should’ve never let the argument end until she agreed that she was excellent in every way. Because really, she was.
Early in our marriage, a friend who soon became an ex-friend pulled me aside, to tell me it was unwise for Steph and I to spend so much time together. That’s canned wisdom I’ve heard from other sources, too, and sometimes, I suppose, it’s true. I did know a guy who spent all his waking hours with his wife, and after a few years she divorced him. So there’s probably a kernel of truth to that canard, but mostly it’s a canard. With Stephanie and I, almost any moment we weren’t at work was time we spent together, and that is never, never going to be something to regret. On that topic, my only regret is that we didn’t have more time together.
Sometimes I worked overtime, when the office was swamped. We needed the money, yeah, but I wish I could have all those Saturday mornings and weekday late-afternoons back, and spend that time with her. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for some overtime shifts during the summer when she died, I would’ve had to borrow money from my in-laws to pay for Stephanie’s cremation, which would’ve been a bit embarrassing.
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With her medical issues, doctors sometimes scolded Stephanie, telling her that years of less than fully-controlled diabetes were a contributing factor. And indeed, consistently elevated glucose levels are known to damage kidneys, blood vessels, the eyes, the heart, and the nervous system – pretty much everything that’s in Stephanie’s medical chart. So in hindsight, we didn’t take her diabetes seriously enough.
When she was first diagnosed with it in the late 1990s, Stephanie did most of the things doctors told her to do – she watched her sugars, counted her carbs, poked herself with needles, exercised more, ate boring foods, etc. And I tried very hard to be supportive, reminding her when it was time to poke, going on more walks with her, and such. But Steph didn’t do everything they advised, and there were too many “cheat nights” when she had a Snickers bar or a bowl of ice cream. That’s a major regret. Oh, yeah.
These days, when anyone mentions that they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, I say, Take it seriously. And by the way, is there an epidemic of diabetes? In just the few months since Stephanie died, three people have told me they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. Considering that I have virtually no social life and speak with almost no-one, it seems like a lot of people have diabetes. If you’re one of them, please take it seriously.
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Stephanie lost about fifty pounds over her last few years, and her wedding ring slipped off her finger somewhere. We never found it, and we talked about replacing it, but we never did. We certainly weren’t held back by the expense – there were no jewels, and our original wedding ring set was purchased from a sidewalk vendor in San Francisco, $10 for both rings. We were planning the replacement set at a similar price (I need a new ring, too, as I’ve lost weight and it’s a little loose), so we bought a ring-sizer kit, and measured our fingers. We went on-line, and narrowed the selection down to four finalists. But we didn’t decide which design we wanted, and didn’t place the order.
Well, I picked the design and placed the order a few weeks after Stephanie died, and I hope she would approve of the rings we’ve received. I’d love to put this ring on her finger and hold her hand (sitting down), but instead, her new ring is displayed in the Shrine.
And my new wedding band? They can slip it off at the funeral home after I croak, and I won’t care what they do with it. But until then, my new ring stays on my finger, and my old ring is on my key chain.
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I regret not getting us out of this apartment. Stephanie was perfectly healthy when we moved in, but she was in a wheelchair for the last several years of her life, and our building is not wheelchair-accessible. Our apartment is on the first floor of a two-story building, but there are four steps leading to the building’s front door. Once Stephanie was in the wheelchair, those steps were an obstacle.
So we’d purchased a portable ramp made of metal, and kept it leaning against the wall in the living room. To take her out – to dinner, to a movie, to a doctor’s appointment – I would carry the ramp to the building’s front door, lay it over the stairs, wheel Steph down to the sidewalk, and then briefly leave her there (or in the car, if it was raining or cold out) while I carried the ramp back to the living room, and locked up the apartment.
For me, this was a minor chore – a few minutes of work, coming and going. For Steph, though, it meant she couldn’t leave the building without me. The ramp weighs thirty pounds and it’s five feet long; in her wheelchair, she couldn’t have maneuvered it down the hallway and out the front door. Even if she somehow could, then after she’d rolled herself down the stairs and onto the sidewalk she’d have no way to bring the ramp back in to the apartment.
Looking for a wheelchair-accessible place to live, and then packing and moving, was on our radar, but I’m old and she was disabled, so we knew it would be a major undertaking. When we talked about moving, Stephanie always said she wanted to be walking first, on her prosthetic leg. “If we’re moving because I can’t walk, that would mean I’m spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair, and I refuse to accept that,” she said.
Thus, our plan was that she’d be walking on her prosthetic leg, before we would seriously talk about moving. And indeed, when she wore the fake leg and practiced walking, she was frequently at the front door, carefully descending and then climbing those four steps.
Eventually, it became clear that the prosthetic was too painful and poorly-fitted for Stephanie to use, but she remained adamant that she’d be going back to the prostheticist, demanding to have the leg re-measured and re-constructed into something walkable. Stephanie decided that Hanger – the company that made her prosthetic – was going to fix it or re-make it, and she would walk again. That was the only solution she wanted to discuss. “We’re not moving until I can walk.”
But another battle was in line, ahead of her lousy prosthetic leg. Steph was doing in-center dialysis from 2016 until late 2017, which obliterated three days of every week for her. The other four days every week were spent, first, living her life and, second, battling the kidney crew for a transfer back to home dialysis – and winning that battle took more than a year. All the while, Steph didn’t want to fight the prosthetics war until the dialysis war had been won, and she didn’t want to worry about moving until the prosthetics war had been won, too.
And so, Stephanie was housebound. On a sunny day, if she had a whim to walk around the block, she couldn’t do it – not without me helping her out of the building. Something as simple as going to the coffee shop two blocks from home was impossible, unless I accompanied her, and took her up and down those four steps at the door. When I spent eight hours at work, it meant Stephanie spent eight hours in the apartment.
But she never complained about the stairs and the ramp, not even once. She often thanked me for helping her up or down those four steps. I occasionally mentioned how frustrating it must be for her, being unable to leave the apartment without me, and she agreed that it was less than ideal, but she never brought the subject up herself.
Still, it must have been so difficult for her. She was an independent woman, who lost much of her independence when she lost her left leg. I should’ve gone apartment-hunting, and moved us into an accessible apartment, where she could have come and gone as she pleased. It’s one of my larger regrets, to be sure.
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Once she was disabled and no longer working, Stephanie started spending more of her time in the bedroom and less in the living room. Our TV, however, was in the living room. So a year or so ago, we bought a second TV for the bedroom, and she was so happy. She could spend the day in bed if she wanted to, and still watch her judge shows. But, there was a problem – the new TV was frustrating and hard to figure out.
At first we chalked it up to the learning curve for a new device, but after weeks became months we decided we’d simply purchased a smart TV that wasn’t very smart. It had a tiny remote that normal-sized fingers had a hard time with, and a click-the-menu system that seemed far too complicated. Turning the TV on, it always forgot its settings from the previous time it was on, so every time you clicked the “on” button was just like the first time you clicked the “on” button. Always, eleven clicks on the tiny remote through confusing menus to reach choices that shouldn’t be so complicated, such as “watch TV” or “watch Netflix.”
I was planning to say to heck with it, get rid of that new TV, and replace it with a TV of the same make and model as the one in our living room. I never mentioned this to Stephanie, because it was going to be a surprise, and because she would’ve tried to talk me out of it. “Such a waste of money,” she would’ve said. But she also would’ve been a happier lady watching a better TV. Well, I had the idea to replace that TV perhaps two months before Steph died, but never got around to doing it. Another regret.
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For all the years we were together, I brought Stephanie flowers every few weeks or few months, depending on her spirits and our budget. She had some allergies, so I’d learned which flowers to purchase – alstroemeria, dahlias, hibiscus – that were pretty to look at but had less of a scent than roses and lilies and lilacs and such. During her big health scare of 2016, when she ended up in a nursing home for several months, I brought flowers perhaps more frequently than we could afford, but I wanted to do anything to lift her spirits, and she did love the flowers.
And then, when she had recovered and came home, I had a “brilliant” money-saving idea. Instead of fresh flowers, I purchased two bouquets of nice-looking, high quality fake flowers. After that, I displayed the fake flowers in a vase for a week at a time, alternating between the different fake flower sets. She said they were lovely, thanked me several times, and I did occasionally bring her real flowers too, but … only occasionally.
Fake flowers – what a stupid idea, and what a tone-deaf way to save a little money. If I could have a do-over, there would only be real flowers, and there would be more of them, more often.
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I’ve mentioned that Stephanie had problems with her vision. She saw an eye doctor, of course, and took prescription eye drops, and we’d re-arranged the furniture in the living room so she’d be sitting closer to the television. Once, I suggested bringing the lamp nearer to the desk, but Stephanie said “Nah,” and I didn’t mention it again and completely forgot about it until I was moving stuff to set up her Shrine. The lamp needed to be relocated to make way for a shelf, so I unplugged the lamp from the wall – twenty feet away – and plugged it in on the other side of the room – perhaps six feet from the desk. Suddenly the desk was noticeably more illuminated. Big dumb boy, why didn’t you move the lamp when it would’ve been helpful?
We loved going to the zoo, and sometimes we’d stop at the gift shop, and I’d buy Steph a trinket or a magnet. Always I’d offer to purchase anything that caught her eye, but she would decline unless it was just a few dollars, citing the price and unwilling to “waste money.” But that’s not waste; that’s the purpose of money – to buy things that add to your happiness. At Madison’s zoo, they sell a giraffe t-shirt that Stephanie fancied, and we weren’t hurting financially, but it was twenty-some dollars so she said nope. Why didn’t I buy it for her anyway? Add that to my long list of regrets.
I regret doing the laundry too often. I’ve heard people say after someone’s died, “I held her pillow to my face and it smelled like her.” But I had done the laundry just a few days before Steph went into the hospital, so her pillow only barely smelled like her, and only the first time I inhaled it. After that it just smelled like a pillow.
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I regret that she’s gone, of course, but I also regret that Steph never saw some of the new things coming to Madison, and specifically to the neighborhood where we lived. She loved our little stretch of East Isthmus, and the area seems to be on a minor upswing, with some interesting things announced or under construction within walking distance. We were looking forward to a new restaurant on Winnebago Street, and an artists’ cooperative being planned for Milwaukee Street. Today I read that a little shop for baked goods has opened in the mini-mall across Washington Avenue, the same complex that houses our local library and the veterinarian. Steph would’ve wanted to be that shop’s first customer.
There’s a classy bar that opened several years ago, just a few blocks from home, called The Malthouse. It specializes in local and exotic beers, and while we were never “bar people,” Steph liked a good beer and she wanted to go there and have one or two. But something always came up, and then she was in a wheelchair.
“I know I shouldn’t be,” she said, “but sometimes I’m embarrassed to be in the ‘chair. I’m not embarrassed when you take me to a park, or to a restaurant, or to a movie, but I think I’d be embarrassed at that place.” She couldn’t explain the why of it to me, so I can’t explain it to you. But I have some phobias of my own, specific things that make me nervous when there’s no rational reason for it, so I certainly didn’t insist, and we never went there. I don’t regret not taking her to The Malthouse when she didn’t want to go, but I do regret not taking her there when she did want to go, before she was in the wheelchair.
A new sushi place opened a year or so ago just a few miles from home, and Steph loved sushi. I had promised to take her there, but I never did.
I’d also promised her dinner at Buraka, the excellent Ethiopian restaurant, as her birthday present, in July. But she wasn’t feeling good that night, so we postponed it. She frequently wasn’t feeling good over the next month and a half, so we never had her birthday dinner at Buraka. I regret that, and the only thing I can do to make amends is to have dinner there next year, on her birthday – alone, of course, but with a picture of Stephanie on the table. In my mind, I’ve already made the reservation.
I’m a little vague on what dim sum is, but as explained by Stephanie it’s small portions of a lot of different Chinese dishes. Steph wanted to try dim sum at our favorite Chinese restaurant, the Hong Kong Cafe, and we went as far as calling them to confirm that they serve dim sum only on the weekends. But Steph wanted to wait until she got her appetite back to full strength, so we decided to wait a few weeks, and a few weeks later she was dead.
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As mentioned elsewhere, I regret not nudging Steph to see a doctor, more than I did, lots more than I did, during her last several weeks when she was feeling poorly and not eating well. Always I will wonder whether an appointment with an MD or nurse would’ve made a difference, and always I will be pretty sure that it would have. How I’ve shouted at myself over that, so many times. It’s still my most regretted regret, and always will be.
There are other things I’m sorry about but won’t mention here, in deference to Stephanie’s privacy. She’s gone, and I’m writing about her at length, but there are certain regrets that were shared only between me and she – things nobody else needs to know. Those regrets remain in my heart, not on the website.
And lastly, as she was dying, I regret not asking the hospital staff to pull her IVs and disconnect the tubes to the central venous catheter or “access port” in her chest. Stephanie was a veteran of numerous hospitalizations, and she hated being a patient, being poked and prodded 24/7, and she especially hated IVs. She never said this explicitly, and it simply didn’t occur to me in the clamor or for days afterwards, but Steph absolutely wouldn’t have wanted to die with an IV in each arm and tubes leading to an “access port” in her chest. I should’ve told someone to yank ‘em, and then refused to leave the room until they did. I’m sorry about that, sorry about so many things.
More about Stephanie.