The 29th was a Sunday. I could not make myself get up and go to church and face a zillion in person condolences. Besides which, it was the Sunday our church was to first meet our new settled ministerial candidate and I didn’t want anything to distract from that process. Tommy wouldn’t have wanted that either. We had scheduled the family viewing for later that day. In the meantime, word was out and Facebook, email and all the rest were blowing up so I had to get something out to the world. I wrote this as a general message.
I am absolutely overwhelmed with all of the messages, phone calls, texts and other expressions of love and gratitude for my and Tommy’s moving through all of your lives over the years. You don’t think about it. You just live your life and you worry about the bills and whether you should have taken on that project and who picked up the dry cleaning and whether the cats have fresh water and before you know it, the years roll by and you find yourselves deeper and deeper embedded into a community. You have no time or inclination to really consider your particular thread in the tapestry until disaster strikes and your world is upended. All of a sudden all of the sureties and constants are missing and you’re left trying to calculate molar weights with an Avogadro’s number that is no longer fixed.
Five weeks ago, Tommy and I were in the midst of our normal chaotic existence. Romeo et Juliette was in production. I was on stage and he was doing his usual plethora of jobs including hair/make-up, running the box office and production management. The day after the show closed, he was fatigued, not unusual following a show weekend and spent the day resting. He felt even worse the following day and was beginning to have some severe lower extremity swelling. On the third day, he headed for the Emergency Department where they admitted him to the cardiologists who told us that basically the pumping mechanism of his heart had suddenly failed due to previously undiagnosed coronary artery disease. He had never had any chest pain, angina or other typical heart symptoms, only the asthma which he had suffered from for years and which, in hindsight, had masked his heart issues. His condition was so severe that the cardiologists argued among themselves for a week as to what they could do. Most felt there was nothing to be done. One felt that a risky course of cardiac stents and cardiac rest via some external pumps might get him out of the hospital. Ever positive, Tommy chose the latter and underwent an eleven hour stenting procedure and several weeks tied to bed by external pumps. The pumps were eventually removed in preparation for his being able to be rehabbed and sent home but last night, our luck ran out and he unexpectedly and suddenly died. It’s not absolutely clear why, but I suspect a pulmonary embolism from a combination of all the indwelling hardware and sluggish blood flow from a weak heart. It’s nobody’s fault. It just happened.
Those of you who have known me a long time know that this isn’t my first time at this particular rodeo. My first husband, Steve, died in 2001 after twelve years together, of terminal pulmonary disease. Tommy and I met in late 2002, got serious in the summer 2003 and by 2004 everyone assumed we’d been together for decades because we were the right complimentary fits for each other. We had fifteen good years. A lot of gay men never find one life partner. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had two and count my blessings that I have been so privileged to be able to share my life with such wonderful, unique men. They were very different but each was the right fit for who I was at that stage of my development.
People have been asking about arrangements. There will be a small private funeral for his family in Jasper and he will be buried in his family plot in Parrish, Alabama in Gray’s Cemetery. There will be a memorial service at a later date to which all who knew and loved him will be invited. (Think our annual holiday open house…) It will be held under the auspices of our beloved Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham but I may have to find a different venue because if even half the people who have said they want to, show up to pay respects, we aren’t all going to fit. I will communicate information about that after a date and time are chosen.
How can we honor him who has touched all of our lives? Those of you who want to do it in a tangible way, I’m asking that memorials be made to either the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham Children’s Music Fund or to Opera Birmingham – two organizations near and dear to his heart. In more intangible ways, those of you with children, teach them to sing. If you don’t feel like you can, get them involved in a kids or youth choir or get them music lessons with an instrument they enjoy. Those of you without children, go out of your way to give the young people with an interest in music and performing arts a helping hand and a step up.
Others have been asking what do I need? There’s only one of me, so I don’t need a whole lot of food at the moment. I’m one of those get stressed, don’t eat a lot types. The house isn’t falling apart and the tax refund covered his funeral expenses (not what I was planning on using it on, but such is life). I need to feel connected. I need to be included. I need to not be treated differently. I need people to talk about him and us and tell funny stories and reminisce about shows we’ve done, or places we’ve been. I need to laugh. For the most part, I’m OK but I’m apt to burst into tears at weird moments. I can’t always tell if they are tears of sadness for what is gone or tears of joy for being so loved and cared for and so part of the fabric of what I call Bohemian Birmingham.
I’m likely to be doing some traveling over the next few months as I’ve always found that an effective form of self care. I may need someone to look in on the kitties from time to time.
Don’t be afraid to call or write or message or send me the latest crazy cat meme. I may not always answer, but I am reading them and feeling the love as I try to figure out what’s next. Two Sondheim lyrics (of course), are running through my brain…
Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood.
Do not let it grieve you, no one leaves for good.
You are not alone…
I chose and my world was shaken, so what?
The choice may have been mistaken,
The choosing was not.
You have to move on…
And move on I shall, I just don’t yet have a map or a compass or reliable GPS. They will come with time.
As I mentioned earlier, Tommy had totaled his car at the beginning of March. The next week, we went down to the Toyota dealership where we found a decent deal on the 2017s (the 2018s were on the lot and they had to make room). He had been driving a Prius V and loved it so he decided he wanted to stick with that and, when asked about the color, he decided on red. There was no red one on the lot, but they did locate one in Florida which they would have shipped up.
Between the time we paid for the car and the time it arrived from Florida, Tommy was hospitalized. I went down and picked it up for him, drove it home and parked it behind the house so it would be waiting for him when he got better. He never saw it, only the pictures I sent from my phone.
I decided I really didn’t want the first trip I made in the car to be to his family funeral service so I called up my good friend, Melissa Bailey, to see if she would pick me up and accompany me so I would have someone there other than relatives of his. She of course said yes. When she showed up that afternoon, she was driving her new car… a red Prius V. Tommy was going to have that car at his funeral no matter what.
The viewing ended up being easier than I thought. The funeral home tried but they parted his hair on the wrong side and I was able to distance myself emotionally from the man in the casket as it just wasn’t him. We stayed, talked as family for an hour or so, went to dinner at the Jasper Mall, and then Melissa took me home and I had a single malt scotch.