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Friday, October 4, 2013

My Houdini



“I’ve been thinking…” I said as I placed my husband’s coffee next to the newspaper. “You need to let me know that you made it to heaven okay.” 
Paul leaned forward in the wheelchair and stabilized himself enough to pick up the steaming cup. He looked at the headlines of the newspaper and not at me.
“I’m serious.” I slammed cupboard doors and the refrigerator to jar my interest into preparing breakfast. “Houdini and his wife worked out an elaborate code so when he came back to haunt her she would recognize him.”
 “I don’t think he wanted to haunt her,” Paul mumbled from behind the Sunday comics.
“You know. Communicate with her…What do you want for breakfast?”
One month and two days after our palliative care meeting with the specialist, we became chatty about Paul’s impending death. Three years before, brittle diabetes brought on five carvings of his left leg to a final below-the-knee amputation. After two surgeries to his right foot and the breakdown of the skin all over his body, he cried, “Enough.” My husband then stopped the drugs that held his fragile life together.
We planned a good-bye weekend for our friends and family—a time to visit our home Memorial Weekend. Only God knew how I would handle those days.
 “I don’t care.” Paul moved his foot and winced as in pain. My heart twisted like a salted pretzel.
“What?”
“I don’t care what I have for breakfast,” he said and flipped the paper from his face as if to emphasize his indifference.
“Okay, eggs or biscuits or a fat lip.”
Paul smiled the wide toothy grin that made my knees weak. “I’ll take the fat lip.”
I scampered across the floor, grabbed his boney shoulders, and planted a kiss on his lips. “Take that.”
“Any day. Any day.”
“So biscuits it is.” I pulled my favorite mixing bowl from the cupboard. “About Houdini…”
“I don’t see a code working. Do you?”
“Well, it didn’t for the Houdinis. We need something simple that will not be mistaken for the wind or earthquake or Chinese Ninjas.”
“Were you expecting Ninjas?” Paul dropped the paper on the table and fussed with his coffee creamer.
“Could be possible, if you are not here to stop them.” I threw Bisquick and nonfat sour cream into the bowl and stirred frantically. “But let’s set some ground rules.”
“Ground rules to a haunting?” Paul half laughed.
“Yes, I think it is necessary, given the parties involved.” I paused to give proper emphasis. “No haunting, visiting, or inhabiting any electronic gadgets. I know how you are. I will not call a priest to exorcise my computer. Thank you very much.”
“Okay. I won’t haunt your gadgets.”
“Swear.”
Paul held up his translucent right hand. “I solemnly swear to NOT haunt or inhabit any electronics including the notebooks, servers, and iPods.”
“And cell phones,” I added.
“And your cell phone. So help me God.”
June 13, 2011, Paul died of natural causes—blood poisoning from the infection of multiple skin wounds—the result of diabetes. He was forty-seven years old. Before my eyes, his body jerked and his breathing turned to deep gasps. I caressed his shaking body. He screamed one drawn-out sentence. “I loo-ve you.” I had the chance to say it back.
I sat with him and held his hand until it became icy cold. Paramedics arranged the removal of my husband’s body. I cried so hard the muscles in my abdomen felt as if I had been doing sit-ups for hours.
Loved ones came to me throughout the day. My mom—before the firemen—came first and stayed three days. She did not want me to be alone. Late in the evening, Momma kissed me good-night and took the guest room.
I wandered around the house for a while, sipped some water, and petted his dog. With a bit of courage, I entered the bedroom where he died and took my place next to the open window. The smell of a recently mowed lawn floated into the room. I tried to form a prayer but could not think of a thing to say to God. Sitting up against the headboard, I touched the fresh sheets in a hope of finding Paul’s warmth.
Closest to the window-side of our bed, my left hand felt his. I caught my breath as if surprised. So gentle, Paul held my hand, gave it a squeeze, then no more. Peering into the dark, I hoped to see something but the dimness exposed nothing.

Paul satisfied his promise. I knew he made it to heaven. I thought of a prayer. “Thank you, God.”