Maureen O’Shea was dead.
Nick stared at his danish and cursed himself for his anal retentiveness. What verb tense to use? Yes, she was dead, but it wasn’t something to put behind him. She was suffering. She is dead. Maureen is dead. Worse, from this point forward, she will always be dead.
Watching her die was hell. He was in the same accident that prompted the hospital stay, but the other driver T-boned his minivan on the passenger side, so Nick’s souvenirs consisted of a cast on his right wrist, three splinted fingers, a track of stiches over his left eye, and bandages for his broken nose. Dr. Gramm’s prescription for oxycodone remained unfilled, as Nick wanted to be coherent for every ventilator pump, every drip in her IV, every beep of the heart monitor.
Forty-one years of marriage, and all he could think about were the last three days. Sixty-three hours, to be exact, over half of which was spent undergoing emergency operations to contain what little life hadn’t yet escaped her body. Three days was sufficient for their two daughters to fly in and see their mother while her skin was still warm. They did their best to console him, but they were suffering too greatly themselves to provide any encouragement.
Dead was dead. Nick knew the finality well; he’d penned hundreds, perhaps thousands, of obituaries since The Tribune pulled his column back in the nineties. He spent some brainpower calculating: three to five notices a week, fifty-two weeks, seventeen years? Yes, thousands.
Maureen wasn’t the first subject he knew personally. But she was his wife, his betrothed, his Little Shamrock. Her hair may have lost its fiery redness long ago, but watching the pink fade from her cheeks…
His body shivered harshly, a reminder of his craving for rest. Nick knew he needed to sleep, but he feared letting his eyes close, lest he fall into a deep coma and miss Maureen’s funeral, an unforgiveable sin. Worse yet, what if he dreamed of her? Would the longing to join her be enough to pull him out of this earthly world in his sleep? Or would he wake up mourning, grieving in their king-sized bed, next to the untouched side of the sheets? Neither reward made the risk of sleep appealing, so he steeled his nerve and ordered another coffee. Two sugars, two creamers, just the way she used to drink it.