Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Our Last Kiss



On August 2, 2001, I kissed Robert for the first time in the moonlight after our line dance class.

On August 2, 2008, I kissed him for the last time.

***

Those of you who read Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty know our love story, and know that Robert was living with leukemia and lymphoma. After the book was published, Robert had six months of chemotherapy , leaving his cancer in remission. We had two glorious years of health, vigor, and intense, joyful love after that. We felt we were the happiest, luckiest couple in the world.

Last April, Robert was diagnosed with a new blood cancer: multiple myeloma. It's a debilitating, painful, and incurable cancer of the bone marrow, causing extreme bone pain and fragility. Within a month he was living with five spinal fractures and excruciating pain, despite the best efforts of his medical team and an array of powerful narcotics.

I didn’t write anything about our life during this time because Robert asked for privacy. If you’re a regular reader, surely you noticed that I became curiously silent for most of the past couple of months, and when I did post, it lacked the personal candor that you expect from me.

Ten days before his death, Robert entered into home hospice care, and the marvelous hospice team was able to bring him relief from the pain. He then wavered between sleeping and waking, sometimes marvelously lucid and rational, often only partially conscious, and occasionally uttering beautiful messages from the world he was visiting. Here are some of the things he told me as he floated in and out of lucidity, and I’ll treasure them always:

• "Do you remember the time we laughed so hard that we shook the feathers off our caps?"

• "We did have fun together, didn't we? We did have fun."

• "Wasn’t it wonderful when we walked in the water in every state, or almost every state?”

• "It was just yesterday that we walked and walked, and I knew the name of every flower."

• "I came by here hoping to see you."

***

Yes, I’m still committed to this work I do as an activist for elder sexuality, and don’t worry, I’ll have my voice back soon. My work was almost as important to Robert as it is to me, and he made me promise I’d keep my torch burning. He was a private person, and sometimes I embarrassed him with my candor, but he believed I was doing the right thing talking out loud about this hush-hush topic, and he supported me all the way.

I welcome your comments here and your private emails to me. I know I have many readers who have visited without commenting. If my work here has made a difference to you, if you learned something useful or were moved by my book, I hope you’ll honor me with your words. I could use them now.

Warmly,

Joan

18 comments:

  1. Joan, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I have enjoyed reading about you and Robert, and feel like I almost know you two from this blog. Robert's loving and attentive presence was such a blessing in your life. I am sure you will find your voice again, and I look forward to hearing it. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. Karen

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  2. Oh goodness! I feel as if I know you two. My usual computer is down and I'm using another, with none of my bookmarks, but here I am at last. Just had a feeling I could check in.

    I'm so sorry about Robert's passing, and all he had to go through. My prayers are with you.

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  3. Joan, I'm so glad that you are continuing with your blog and your post even after this grievous loss. On behalf of all of us who have benefited from your insights, I am grateful.

    Warm wishes, Sally

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  4. Joan,

    I'm sorry for your loss. I'm new to your blog. I'll read back as far as I can. You speak of important things.

    Thank you,
    Jackie (a fellow ASJAer)

    http://bikewithjackie.blogspot.com
    http://www.thephoenixtraveler.com

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  5. Oh, Joan - I'm so very, very sorry that you had to lose the one closest to your heart! Yes, your silence was greatly noticed here. You have come to mean so much to so many of us!

    I'm pleased to hear that you have plans for your life to continue. Having myself experienced life-after-death first hand, I can only assure you that Robert is not far away at all although this may not feel very comforting at present. It won't replace the warmth of his arms or the sound of his laugh, true, but it will perhaps help you to believe those little tingles you feel when you could swear he is in the same room with you. He is.

    Love to you both...

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  6. Joan, I just found your blog while on my way to buy your book from Amazon. Your comments and the reviews have already given me much affirmation in my thoughts. You (and Robert) have done an extraordinary service for all of us women over 60. Robert will always be a part of you and I have no doubts that you will continue to inspire and free those of us who are looking and waiting for the wisdom we know, but have needed someone else to tell us. Thank you for being there. Betty

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  7. Joan,

    My heartfelt condolences.

    I only met Robert that night when you spoke to my writers club, but I am saddened to hear of his passing.

    I know that the two of you had a marvelously strong love that may not have lasted many calendar years, but made up for it with heartfelt love and passion.

    This past March we lost my mother-in-law to cancer as well. A different kind, but the devastation it creates on the person as well as the family is just as terrible no matter which kind of cancer it is.

    Surround yourself with light, life and love and those who lift your spirits. Be gentle with yourself in this time of healing.

    Hugs,

    Linda

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  8. How heart-tearing to say goodbye to the one you have loved and kissed so deeply. And how nourishing your years together were -- your shared memories, and his presence in your heart and soul, will sustain you; strangely, the absence eventually becomes a presence ... I've not lost my beloved, but two of my dearest friends, and my mother ... they're still very much in me and I know there are times I could chew off my own arm 'cause I miss them so much. But the love, the bond -- that doesn't end. My heart goes out to you as you stagger through the initial rupture of being without your Robert in body ... Be gentle with yourself ... hold yourself a lot ... xo

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  9. Thank you. Your comments and emails touch me deeply. I'll be back in full force soon.

    A few days before Robert died, I rested my head on his chest and asked him how I could possibly go on without him. He stroked my hair and said softly, “You’ll be fine. Reach out to people.”

    So I did, and I continue to reach out to close friends, old friends, hospice, our line dance family, people who care though we know each other only through email and/or this blog, strangers who say, “Are you all right?” when I’m crying in the park we used to visit regularly. People respond so beautifully and often tell me just the words I need to hear.

    For example, a man I barely knew recited from memory a 12th century poem about love and loss that starts:

    Tis a fearful thing
    To love
    What death can touch.
    To love, to hope, to dream,
    And oh, to lose.
    A thing for fools, this,
    Love,
    But a holy thing,
    To love what death can touch.

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  10. Joan...I found your blog on a random search and I was so moved by this post that I had to send you my condolences. I was especially moved by Robert's comments from his last days which you shared. My thoughts and support are with you!

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  11. Erica ManfredAugust 10, 2008

    Joan, you are incredibly brave to go through this so publicly and make yourself so vulnerable. I saw the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club last night and it reminded me of you, your loss, your book, your advocacy of senior sexuality. You might want to watch it again (I'm sure you've seen it once at least). It's a real inspiration for us older widows, divorcees--not only about finding love and sex again, but just about the possibilities of living fully no matter how old you are. I truly admire your bravery.

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  12. Hi Joan,

    I'm sorry to hear about Robert passing but I find great comfort in the love the two of you shared. As a young person who has recently ended a relationship, it gives me great hope to know that people can find true love at any age, and that even if the time spent together is not as long as you want, the joy it brings is worth every moment.

    Wishing you well in your time of need.

    much love
    andie

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  13. Joan,

    Thanks for sharing your final experiences with Robert in this realm. I wish you healing and hope as you continue your life's work. God bless.

    Taps

    P.S. Thanks for coming by my blog and leaving a comment. I managed to rescue it from Akismet.

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  14. Dear Joan,

    I am saddened to hear of your loss of Robert. The greatest loss, but also the greatest gift.

    Take the time to breath and to appreciate life yourself. Know you give the deepest gift to all of us aging sexy folk....sexy at least in our minds, if not bodies anymore.

    You will find your voice again, and know that you stand as a shining example...and give us hope in many different spheres.

    I mentioned you on my blog, and I will write about you again, because you are That Good!

    My deepest regards,

    Jane (Teala)

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  15. Dear Joan,

    I am sorry for your loss. You have your wonderful thoughts and his paintings, which are priceless.

    I wish you love, and time to heal.

    Jane Bartels friend...

    shia

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  16. Dear Joan, how blessed you both were to have each other. What great memories.

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  17. Sometimes when I'm feeling sad and missing Robert like crazy, I come here and reread your loving comments. They fill me and inspire me. Thank you so much.

    -- Joan

    11/11/08

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  18. I ran into this on Best of Third Age. I have felt, every day for the last 4 years, all of the same pain. We were together for only 4 years.....the best 4 years of my life, and I think of him every day, morning and night and often in between, missing him terribly. But we do go on, don't we. You will now be in my thoughts and I wish you great happiness again.

    Ann

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