“If I do not love you I shall not love; If you shall not love, I shall not have been loved” Bertold Brecht
When winter comes to an end it loosens its hold on New Hampshire’s snow packed mountains causing the melting ice and snow to thunder down into rivers, more often than not, overflowing their banks, causing all kinds of havoc in low lying areas. It is during this time of year, between winter and spring, known as ‘mud’ season, that Ray starts having trouble swallowing.
He is diagnosed with throat cancer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, an hour and a half away over unforgiving, but
beautiful, country roads. All through the summer and fall, Dot and Ray travel to Hanover for treatments that barely help. When Ray is finally hospitalized that winter, Audrey, Nora or myself make the daily drive over there with Dot. Like her, we ignore him when he tells us it doesn’t make sense to visit every day- “Why you girls are gonna kill yourselves.”
Ray does come home but he is hospitalized off and on, until late spring. When nothing seems to work anymore and Ray is unable to even take nourishment through a straw, the Doctor’s decide to put a feeding tube and send him home with medications. Dot doesn’t doubt for an instant that she is capable of doctoring him after all the years she has been taking care of her animals. Not one of us dare say out loud that Ray was coming home to die.
Audrey, Nora, and I arrive daily and join Dot’s sisters, forming a seamless circle around Dot and Ray, and taking over the chores for Dot so she is free to spend her time ministering to her Ray.
One morning, I call Dot telling her I am on my way and does she needs anything else, she says,
“Honey, Ray and I have some business to clear up this morning. Let me ring you back when we’re done.”
When Dot phones shortly after noontime she says, “Well honey, Ray and I had ourselves a lovely morning together and he is at peace now. Call the other girls, will ya, and come sit with me. Ray’s body is going to be leaving soon. I called up north already to his son.”
I knew Ray had a grown son, along with a wife he never got around to divorcing. And although Ray hadn’t seen much of them for almost twenty years, when he knew he was dying he’d asked Dot to let them know when he was gone. Even so I am taken aback when I get to Dot’s and find a hearse and aged station wagon waiting in the yard.
I join Dot, who is standing off to the side of the porch, arms crossed over her chest, staring at the doorway where the gurney with Ray’s body will exit. She says, “Ray will be leaving soon. The son and wife showed up pretty quick after I called them. They’re in there now, and are gonna hustle him out of here and bury him in their family plot up in Littleton on Tuesday. We’ll all go up for the funeral.”
Tuesday morning Audrey, Nora and I pile into the Powder Blue Caddy with Dot and make the 40 mile trip to Littleton, where we sit in the back pews of the church, paying our last respects.
Later, gathered in Dot’s kitchen, we feel Ray’s absence, and see in Dot’s eyes the shock of her loss.
Dot and Ray loved each other with a fierceness that outsiders only saw as playful teasing. Ray loved Dot’s independence, and this simple yet monumental gift allowed Dot to trust him enough to let her guard down. She let Ray move into her empty house and her heart, where he filled up all the lonely spaces hidden inside her. Spaces that had accumulated over the years, so quietly, she didn’t even recognize they were ever there, until they all disappeared.
We sit with her for hours, trying to comfort her, knowing nothing will ever fill the emptiness. After a time a great smile comes across Dot’s face, and we could see her eyes, bright as firelight before she clears her throat and says softly, “Well girls, Ray n’ me, we had a hell of a good time together and I had the best of him. Guess a woman can’t ask for nothing more than one good man!
Unless its another good man. But that’s another Dot story!