January 14, 2018 is the story of a last. As with all the lasts in this story, no part of me was prepared and no part of me could have guessed or suspected. There was no hint that January 14, 2018 would be Matt’s last night home and I didn’t pay enough attention to the details.
That morning, we had one last kid-free meal in the city. When we came home, Matt watched football with his dad while I took G and H to run around the mall. A friend texted me at 5:10 and asked how Matt was doing, and I texted: He’s not too bad, but to be honest he’s been on couch for hours kinda napping.
Exactly one hour later, at 6:10, I texted this: I lied. He just fell.
At some point, in the hour between text messages, Matt fell.
I remember the moment, that second that I blinked. I was making dinner while G and H were playing. Matt had been on the couch, where he’d been most of the afternoon, his three-pronged cane waiting beside him. I called in the family for dinner. G and H came to the table and sat. I looked into the living room and saw Matt stand, saw him start walking around the couch, and I blinked. And in that moment that I blinked, that split second, Matt fell. From standing to facedown, that fast. There’d been no time to catch him.
That feeling, like every nerve ending is sending lightning bolts through your veins, like fire and ice are vibrating in your bones. G and H stared wide-eyed as I raced across the living room, yelling out reassurances even as panic crashed through me. Matt was on the ground, but awake and terrified. No blood, no obvious injuries. I asked him if he was okay to sit up and he said he was. I helped him to sit, afraid to bring him to standing. We sat there, on the floor, leaning against the couch. I held his hand and told him to just breathe. I joked that he had terrible timing—we’d just spent 48 hours with his family, and he “chooses” to fall when our family of four is alone. Maybe Matt half smiled at that. We sat until Matt felt ready to stand. I remember my hands didn’t stop shaking for hours afterward.
We didn’t rush to a hospital—we were, after all, still waiting for a bed from Columbia. We didn’t call 9-1-1 or leave barely rational messages for every doctor—Columbia was closed for MLK Day on Monday. We didn’t do much but stand up and keep going. In retrospect, I can’t quite work through my logic. Maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly. Or maybe I already knew—because we’d raced to the doctor just a week earlier—that there was nothing they could do.
Unsurprisingly, the story of these days is jagged-edged and razor sharp. In the next three weeks, the story won’t get any softer. There will be moments of light, moments of love, but too many moments that are nothing but heartache, too many bleak moments that last for eternities and simply hurt. My heart broke a thousand times while living these days. And lately, my heart has been breaking while remembering these days, writing these days. The pain lately is as acute and sharp as it was those first days. Where it had become a dull, ever-present ache, it’s suddenly a knife point in my chest again.
Maybe that’s because that one year mark is quickly approaching. Maybe because that’s how grief works—there’s no rhyme or reason to the frequency or intensity of the waves. Or maybe because these past few weeks have brought new beginnings. In the last few weeks, I took a job as a proofreader—my first official step into the publishing world—and I started a Pilates teacher training program. The first two days of the program, I drove home in tears, barely able to catch my breath. Because I couldn’t call Matt and tell him about the great group of women I’d just spent the day with. Because these women would never know the version of me I was with Matt (and I liked that version of me). Because I’m moving forward after spending a year—296 posts and thousands upon thousands of words—living in the past, and moving forward without Matt is an entirely new form of heartbreak.
In the next few weeks, hope will flare—one more bright slash of light—and fade, and the question will become what remains after hope. The answer has frequently surprised me. Because while this is a tragic brain cancer story, it’s also a story of hope, how we constructed it, how we maintained it, and how we protected it when it all fall apart.