A man entered the emergency room one night, half-carrying a woman. Her tangled hair stuck to the tears that coursed down her face as she stumbled into a chair.
I approached the woman and knelt before her. "Can you tell me what is happening?"
"Charlie . . . He . . ."
Wringing his hands, her husband spoke for her, "Charlie was hit by a car. He didn't make it."
Oh, dear. Their son . . .
"He chased the neighbor kid's ball into the street and ran right into a UPS truck."
Oh. Maybe Charlie was a pet . . .
"We rushed him to the vet but it was too late."
Later, I wondered if the woman would have reacted with as much anguish if her husband had died. Charlie represented, for all intents and purposes, her child.
Can we assume one kind of death is harder to bear than another?
In 2003, soon after Dick's diagnosis of Alzheimer's and ten years prior to his death, he and I began participation in a longitudinal study at the Sun Health Research Institute.
We agreed to continue visits to the research center every year for testing until our deaths when our bodies would be donated for research. He often expressed pleasure in having the opportunity to participate in furthering the understanding of Alzheimer's.
"Be sure they rush me to the research center right away when I die, Honey. They need to study my brain as soon as possible."
After Dick's last breath, the hospice nurse packed his head in ice cubes, held in place with a bath towel, to help preserve his brain.
Our son and granddaughter flanked me, holding my hands, while we walked behind Dick's body. I leaned into the vehicle which would speed him to the research center and quickly kissed him, whispering my love one last time.
Turning to the men who would take him away, I begged them, "Please be gentle with him." They solemnly assured me they would do so.
I had fulfilled my sweetheart's wish to rush him away. He had given his last and greatest gift.
Only then did I comprehend the gaping emptiness in my heart.