Th’ Luvly Laura: The Darkest Side of Love
R C (Chuck) Larlham
I watched my Beloved Luvly Laura die for more than two years, an ever-accelerating slide into oblivion, but when it finally came I wasn’t there, and when I knew, I wasn’t ready. Since that day, I’ve fought grief. I’ve fought it for a month and a half, but now it comes, sliding through defenses like plasma to burn my soul. For me, grief is memory… memory in excruciating detail. I remember like a movie. For six weeks, I had the movie in a box, but now it’s out, loose in my head, and I’m out of choices, out of time, out of avoidance.
You who read this are part of it, part of my family, part of my life now, and so I tell you the end of my journey into the darkest side of love.
It’s nine-thirty Sunday morning... Sunday before Christmas when Th’ Luvly Laura will awake to the best Christmas I’ve ever been able to put together. But today she’s in the ICU, and I can’t go see my love until eleven – hospital rules. I’m getting ready to leave, go down and see if I can get in a little early… the phone! Who’d call at such an hour – Ah, GOD! Caller ID says St. John’s Hospital. This can’t be good.
Hello? It’s a nurse – unsure, timid… avoiding. Finally, “Your wife is not doing well, Mr. Larlham.” “Not doing well?” How bad can that be?
"She’s in Code.”
Oh shit! It’s not fair to assume I know what that means. Happens I do, though.
“How long?” Dammit! Who stole the air? I can’t breathe. “How long, dammit?!?” Adrenalin hits like Thor’s hammer. I shake and stammer.
“They’ve been shocking her for… oh good, here’s the doctor.”
“Hello? Mr. Lar-ham?” A new voice… female. “ Your wife is not doing well, sir.”
“Doctor, that doesn’t tell me anything. What’s happening over there?”
“Mrs. Lar-ham appears to have suffered a massive coronary. We’ve been shocking her for a while now, but she’s not responding.” And she just stopped talking. No request for instructions or further description, just… silence. “Doctor?”
“I’m still here.”
“I didn’t think you’d gone anywhere. Time matters here. Cagey doesn’t help me. WHAT is the situation?”
“Mrs. Lar-ham has not responded to efforts to revive her. She cannot breathe independently, and we get no independent heartbeat. We have been shocking her for ten to fifteen minutes.” I had dreaded this, but suddenly I realize that they’re asking, without really asking, permission to stop trying. And the decision is cold and sure in my heart. I don’t want her body, I want my beloved Laura… and she’s already gone. She’ll never be there again.
“Stop that!”Suddenly I’m bawling into the phone. “She won’t BE there if she responds. Stop it! Please! Stop it!”
Sobbing, I can barely hear her as she gives the order and hands the phone to the nurse. I search for oxygen, stand very still, realize I’m standing and sit. “Sir? Mr. Larlham?” I realize the nurse has been calling for my attention.
“Will you be coming in?”
Coming in ? Will I…? “Yeah, sure… I’ll be there in a little bit.”
Mundane conversation ensues… arranging for a visit to her room. There will be coffee and snacks. What? Coffee and snacks? Yep, coffee and snacks. I arrange to be there in about an hour and hang up.
Call Matthew… I have to call my son.
“Hey Pop, what’s up?”
“She’s gone!” I get that far and the air is gone again. I choke back a sob. “Your mother’s dead, Matt.”
“I’m on my way.”
“I was going in at eleven, but she couldn’t…”
“Pop! POP! I’m on my way. Don’t do ANYTHING!” He hangs up. I have about 30 minutes to wait. I call my daughter.
Nick, favorite Son-in-Law, answers.
“Nick, Laura’s dead. She couldn’t wait… had to go.” My heart is breaking. Because of delicate health issues for both of them, Lizzie has hardly been able to see her mother for months. She was planning to go into St. John’s today, and now it’s too late. I’m crying again. Choking… no air. “Let me talk to her.”
“She heard you. I’ll tell her the rest of it.”
I hear Lizzie crying in the background. She’s just saying “No, Mom, no.” And I hear her say, “I was coming, Mom… I was coming.” I realize she had to have heard me.
Breathing deep and telling a story… this can't be about Laura or I’ll never get through it… I tell Nick it was a massive coronary. Whatever hit her in August came back, and this time there was no“hibernating” heart muscle. Her heart died, and she died with it… no coming back. I can barely talk
“You OK, Chuck? Chuck?”
“Yeah. Matt’s coming. We’ll go down to the hospital. I don’t think she should come, but if she wants to, it’s OK.
He asks her; comes back, “She doesn’t want to see her there.”
We hang up. I start screaming… at Laura, at the god I don’t believe in, at everything and nothing. I had fought so hard to get her home for Christmas. She had to go? Couldn’t wait one more week? I was SO looking forward to having her home. Missed our 44thanniversary by FIVE FREAKIN’ DAYS! I realize I’m yelling all this, pounding on the table, pacing from room to room. I make myself sit down and stay quiet… just weep. Before long, weeping becomes tiring and I quit.
When Matt gets there, we don’t say much. It’s awkward for some reason, and I’m in no shape to fix it. It takes a half-hour to get to the hospital…all told about an hour since I told the nurse I’d be there “soon.” She shows us into Laura’s room.
For some reason, I’ve gone numb. I turn to the nurse, “Coffee?”
“I’ll see if I can find you some.” She leaves.
Matt and I stand looking down at Laura. Finally, I reach down and stroke her hair. “Bye Darlin’. Wish you’d stayed just a little longer.” I sit down, remembering… Friday evening we were planning Christmas weekend. I’d had to tell her she couldn’t come home Monday, but she could Friday. Told her how hard I’d fought for that, and how many people were gonna help me take care of her. When I left, she was happy, smiling… gave me a kiss, a big grin and a thumbs-up. Saturday morning, pneumonia had ravaged her lungs and was putting pressure on her heart.
She was semi-conscious, agitated, afraid and in the ER. Only when I held her did she calm down. Saturday evening, she was in the ICU “Step-down,” and I was ordered to go home at five-thirty. She had calmed down, but didn’t seem to really be able to recognize her surroundings, or me. I gave her a light hug and a kiss. The next time I saw her, she was dead.
I push the call button and the nurse comes. Matt says he needs a few minutes. I hear him say, “Oh, Mom…” and choke, as I follow the nurse out. A kitchen worker shows up with coffee and cookies. Of course – the refreshments are here. I take some cookies and tell her to put them in the break room.
Laura’s body will be ready for the mortuary in about two hours. We make some arrangements and I sign some papers. I’m sleep-walking now – numb and concentrating on business. This isn’t Laura, this is just a transaction. Matt comes out and we leave. At home I call the funeral home, Make arrangements for them to get Laura, tell them I’ll be in Monday, and collapse. Matt goes home and I just sit and stare out the window.
Seven o’clock, the funeral home calls. They can’t find Laura.
“You lost her?”
“No, no, nothing like that."
Turns out I forgot to tell them she wasn’t in either of the local hospitals. I tell him where to find her, hang up. Then I discover what “hysterical laughter”really means. My stomach muscles feel like I’ve taken a beating by the time I’ve finished laughing, bawling, howling and screaming; and by the time I’ve finished, I’ve also scared myself pretty badly. It had taken me a good fifteen minutes to get under control, and fifteen minutes was about fourteen minutes too long.
Sleep. I’m exhausted… I have to sleep. I wake up at five o’clock Monday morning. The next three days are a blur. It’s a month before I can weep again. Then a friend sends me forcing e-mails that evoke the memories I’m trying to avoid, and the grief I’ve been dodging. Blindsided and defenseless, I begin to grieve.
R. C. (Chuck) Larlham is a widower, and lives alone in southeast Michigan, “…north of Detroit and south of the moon.” Mr. Larlham was born seven months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. His father was a welder, and for the next three years he and his parents followed the work of building war machines. At the end of the war, the family rented a little red house in the country for five years, and then bought twenty-five acres with a sprawling house, a barn and several outbuildings. He has a BA in Biology from Hiram College, and an MS in Environmental Science from Utah State. He began writing stories that chronicle his life growing up on country farms in the ‘40s and ‘50s to entertain his friends. He works as an Environmental Engineer for a large utility company and spends time with his grown children and his grandchildren.
This piece he says, is: "My description of the worst day of my life... I wrote it the end of January, 2012, about six weeks after she died."