29: The Touch of Love

29: The Touch of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

The Touch of Love

Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence.

~Vincent van Gogh

My beloved husband, who I called by his Cherokee name, Yonah Usdi, John Little Bear, used his nickname for me, calling from his hospital bed to where I stood by the door. “Magdalena?”

I turned to look at him. His beautiful face was so tired, the liver failure yellowing his cocoa-colored skin, his dark eyes surrounded by shadows. The pain on his face cut right through me.

My John was dying. And soon. We knew it. We had known for a while. He was in the final stages of a long battle. His liver, heart, and lungs were all in various stages of shutting down, but I still clung to hope that some kind of miracle would happen. Maybe at Emory. He was scheduled to be transferred to Atlanta the next day, and maybe, I thought, looking at his sweet face, our miracle would happen there.

“Magdalena?” he said again. He held out his hand, and I moved to the side of the bed, taking his hand, his guitar player fingers folding around my own. My heart skipped. Even with his body swollen and devastated by disease, he was, as I told him often, still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

He smiled wearily, but kissed the back of my hand, looking at me, his dark eyes glittering. “You know, don’t you, that I will never leave you?”

I immediately went to tears, my throat thick, my chest aching. I opened my mouth to answer, but he shook his head and reached up to touch my lips, shushing me. I kissed his fingertips. And he spoke again, a soft-spoken determined statement. “Magdalena, you hear me? I will never leave you.”

But he did. Less than two weeks later, John died.

And I was broken in half. I didn’t even know how to be in my own body anymore. I bumped into walls, stumbled down steps. I’d find myself in rooms, in the yard, without remembering how I got there. I’d feel like I was being lifted off my feet and thrown to one side. My poor loving sons, sixteen and twenty-two, did their best to love and help me, but they didn’t know what to do. I cried all the time. I stared off into space. I lost time. I lost track of my keys, my shoes, my bag. I lost track of thoughts. I lost, for hours, the ability, the will, to move, to speak. I lost thought, simply sitting in a silent mind, searching. For him.

I lost track of me.

I learned what it meant to despair. I said words out loud that I had never even thought before: I don’t want to be here anymore. Taking my own life had never been an option for me. But I had never known sorrow so deep, so profound. And I simply didn’t know how to be anymore. Not without John.

I curled up on the couch a few nights after John died, the bed just feeling too big and too empty. The TV flickered blue light across the room, but I wasn’t watching. I was crying, heart breaking so deeply that it felt like my body would break too.

That’s when I heard him. Clearly, distinctly, there in the middle of my living room, I heard my sweet John say, “I’m here, Magdalena. Now turn off that TV. You’ll rest better.”

I stopped crying and sat half up, looking around the flickering room. His voice was so clear, I expected to see him standing there, leaning in the door, wagging a finger at me, or winking, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. But I didn’t see anything. I thought, “You miss him so much you’re imagining things.”

But then I heard him again, that Georgia drawl gentle but insistent. “Missy, hear me? Turn the TV off. You need to rest.”

Slowly I reached over, picked up the remote, and clicked the television off, throwing the living room into darkness. I twisted myself up in the coral-colored blanket he gave me in our Cherokee exchange of wedding vows—protection, comfort, sustenance—and rolled over tightly on my left side, pressing my tear-covered face into the blanket, and even deeper, into the back of the couch. I held back the weeping that seemed to be what I was made of now, and held my breath. I felt him so strongly, so closely, and I waited to see if he would speak again. Then I felt it.

A touch.

His hand.

Stroking my leg. A soft caress just above my knee. Again, and again, his touch so familiar, he continued to rub my leg. The same loving gesture he’d made each night when we spooned together, my back to his belly, his face in my hair. He’d rest his hand on the curve of my leg, as he settled in behind me. Always for a moment before sleep, he playfully teased me — bad coffee I’d made, or some something I’d said that he found particularly Carolina country, or he’d croon a few lines, that sweet tenor voice — “See the dog and the butterfly, up in the air she wants to fly” — all while his hand softly stroked my knee until we both fell asleep.

And there in the dark, in the wake of his death, four days after he left his body, left me behind, when I felt most lost in my breaking heart, he touched me again.

The touch continued, and I thought back to the promise he’d made in the hospital room, the last words he’d said to me before he was put on the ventilator, the last words he’d said to me before he left his body for good: You know I will never leave you.

He was keeping his promise.

I had prayed for a miracle.

There in the dark on my couch, I knew John had given me just that, not the miracle I’d asked for that day in his hospital room, but a miracle nonetheless, one that proved that while bodies may end, love does not. I closed my eyes, feeling the soft touch of love, and for the first time in a long, long time, I slept.

~Mary Carroll-Hackett

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