Wednesday night I couldn’t sleep. Which, as you know, is not that uncommon for me. And when I can’t sleep, I often think about how you used to say to me “Oh, Em… people with insomnia don’t die from it… eventually they just go to sleep”. And I chuckle to myself and try to relax and soon find that morning has come and I’d indeed drifted off at some point. Wednesday night it was very humid, and I tossed and turned for hours. Of course I thought of you, and of the insomnia quip. Thought again of the fact that I never heard back from you after I emailed on your birthday in September last year. Which has long worried me, because I knew the cancer was back again. I knew you weren’t going to treat it this time around. You told me enough was enough. And I agreed with you. The chemo left you a shell of your former self, except of course for that sparkling personality which always came right through, even in bad times.
You found out the cancer was back on the morning of the last day I ever saw you. It was really more of a “your cell counts don’t look right” phone call, but you knew. And by the time you picked me up for lunch, you already had a plan. You were going to spend your remaining days smoking the cigarettes you’d previously been forced to quit, and looking at the sunflowers in your garden which you had become so proud of. And that was all you were going to do about it.
Wednesday night I Googled you, like I have done periodically over the last year, looking for the obituary that I knew one day I would find. I got the usual results of White Pages ads, “Is Doug arrested?” (LOL) ads, etc. I breathed a sigh of relief once again, and thought you still must be kicking around. Maybe just not really into the email thing anymore, and why would you be? You have sunflowers now.
But then I saw it. Buried on the second page of search results was an article from Three Sheets magazine. The title said “Doug Hicks was a beloved fixture at Elliott Bay Marina”. Was.
You died on October 10th, 2015… almost a year ago. But I never knew. All this time I’ve been hoping, pulling for you, thinking if anyone could beat the thing it would be you. Maybe subconsciously I chose not to look too closely at the search results. Because if I did, I might manifest something. Dumb, I know. You’d tell me that was dumb, so I’ll just say it. I have to. Because you never will tell me anything again.
You’ve been dead for almost a year, but for me, you died on Wednesday night. And it’s been a rough couple of days, I have to tell you. Lying in the dark, reading the Three Sheets article, at some point my vision became clouded with tears and I think I maybe finished it but maybe not because I couldn’t see anymore. It had become nothing but a glowing white rectangle surrounded by darkness. But yes, I remember now that I did finish it. I remember reading a couple of comments at the end. Or maybe that was the second or third time I read it, after the initial shock had passed.
After my vision cleared.
After I had the heart wrenching and terrifying desire to jump from my skin and chase you into the abyss, into some other plane, and tell you I know now, and I’m so sorry I didn’t know before, and I hope you were surrounded by your friends and kids, and I hope it was easier to die than I know it was to live in those last weeks.
After I felt the most intense loneliness I’ve felt in almost two years.
After I wished I had someone to hug, and realized I don’t really.
After I stayed up all night crying, at once sad that you were gone, and also afraid of the enormity of all these emotions I’ve never felt because I’ve never lost anyone who was as important to me as you were.
After I realized that I’ll never be the same. I was never the same after the life experiences you gave me, and I’ll never be the same after this last one. I know you probably didn’t want to give me this one, but honestly I can’t think of anyone better. You are a huge loss to me, because your effect on my life was equally as huge. Of course you needed to give me this one last experience. You were perfect for the job.
Wednesday night after feeling so many things I didn’t know I could feel, I thought of Lilian. I remembered that she died of cancer too. She lasted 5 years longer than the doctors thought she would. When she was diagnosed, you retired from work (Again, for the third time. You never were any good at sitting still.) and traveled the world together. Whatever Lilian wanted to see, you went and saw. You would have a doctor’s visit and in the examination room she’d brightly say “Hey! I’m not dead yet!” Though you both knew the inevitable was coming. And of course it did. You’ve been through this before, watching this disease consume someone you love. You know it’s torture. Refusing treatment the second time was as much for you as it was for those who love you.
I hope in those last days you smoked all the cigarettes you possibly could, and I hope those sunflowers bloomed bigger and brighter than they otherwise might have, just for you.
They say there are five stages of grief and I don’t know if I just flew through all of them in those hours in the dark on Wednesday night, or if I’d been making my way through them as this journey has unfolded.
But after I read the news, and the initial shock waned, I knew you were at peace… there was no more struggle, no more pain, no more things you loved being taken away bit by bit as your health declined. Only peace. And for my part a lot of tears, but they were tears of acceptance. There’s no bargaining here. There’s no anger. No denial. There’s no denying what happened, I watched it myself. There’s no denying the grief I’ve felt for the last 2 1/2 years.
Wednesday night was a terrible night. But I am so very glad for you that the pain is over. The decline of your human form is finally complete. You’re no longer limited by your body, which seems appropriate for someone who was always bigger than life anyway. Being human never really suited you.
Thursday morning, on the advice of a dear and lifelong friend, I skipped work and I went to the beach. I wrote on a rock “I love you”, and then I threw it as hard as I could into the sea. And then I went for a swim. And then I drank some tequila.
I’ll love you forever, and I’ll miss you forever. And if it’s alright with you I think I’m still going to cry a bit. I am having a very hard time with the fact that from now on I can only see you in my dreams and memories. Thank you for everything you gave me… the tangible and the intangible.
And thanks for what is still one of my favorite little pieces of life advice… the ABC: Always Be Curious.
I will do my best to always be curious, and to bloom bigger and brighter than I otherwise might have, just for you.
I will never, ever forget you.
Douglas Marshall Hicks September 11, 1945 — October 10, 2015