At 7:00 on the morning of December 3, 1999,
in the bed we shared, Julie Showalter,
my beloved, fiercely smart, wickedly sexy wife,
died from cancer diagnosed the week
of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier.
I still miss her
Some Things Change; Some Stay The Same
Julie, the spectacular woman who was, for far too brief a time, the center of my life, died more than twenty years ago. The world of 2020 is dramatically different than the world in 1999 when she left me.
Writing about Julie’s death is difficult, of course, because focusing on losing her is painful. It is also difficult, however, because her final days offered little drama to exploit, no epiphanies to reveal, and no profound insights to share.
My explanation is that Julie expended and invested herself so thoroughly in living that there just wasn’t much left for dying. She wasted no heroics on the deathbed, preferring less somber stages – and more raucous audiences — for her performances.
Re-reading email messages from the months prior to Julie’s death, I am once again surprised by how much she accomplished in the midst of the chaos of that period, replete with late night phone calls to on-call clinicians, hospitalizations, and emergency doctor visits. Within two or three weeks of her death, Julie was still, at the request of the authors, editing fictional pieces and offering concise, on the mark suggestions concerning style and technique. She was also carrying on a lively correspondence with friends and colleagues, helping our sons with homework, and arranging to have work done in our home.
And, she spent a lot of time loving me.
Despite rampaging disease, huge doses of a dozen medications, and the knowledge that she had exhausted all available treatments for her implacable disease, Julie lived every waking moment fully and intensely – as she had all the years we were together.
Then, as precipitously as drawing the curtain for the final act, she withdrew into herself. For days, she ate and drank almost nothing and rarely spoke. She would take her medications when I gave them to her. She watched me as I organized her nightly dialysis. She would occasionally smile when I spoke to her. Every night we would lie in bed together, my arms wrapped around her.
Then, one morning, shortly after I awoke, Julie quit breathing.
It really was that simple. There were no death shudders, no last words, no final goodbyes.
One moment Julie was breathing and then she wasn’t.
One moment Julie was alive and then she wasn’t.
Our sons, who were 13 and 10 when they lost their mother, are now grown and living hundreds of miles from me. Julie’s mother and my mother, both of whom lived with us to help care for Julie in the final phases of her illness, are themselves deceased. Julie’s daughter, Rachel, is herself married and has become a delightful and courageous young woman. Only a few of the friends, family, professionals, and institutions that were integral to our daily routines at the end of the last century remain part of my life now.
I moved halfway across the country where I write posts about Leonard Cohen instead of prescriptions for anti-psychotics. And, I married Penny, a woman who, like Julie, could have done so much better.
And I love Julie as much as I did when we married almost four decades ago.
A Lifetime Together Will Not Be Enough
Midway through one of Julie’s short stories, The Secret Andrew, she limns the changes in the grief experienced by the protagonist, a woman whose husband had died a year earlier, by noting that she is, at that point in the story, still unable to bear re-reading the letters the two of them exchanged when they first met but, as the conveniently omniscient narrator points out, sometime in the future
… she will get out her letters from him and collate them — his to her and hers back. She will have a picture of two very young people amazed at their luck in finding each other, giddy with all they had to say, knowing a lifetime together will not be enough.
Julie was, as always, profoundly, terrifyingly on the mark – the lifetime we had together was not nearly enough.
December 3, 2020
Penny and I will spend this December 3rd preparing for the holidays, doing household chores, working out, and taking care of whatever needs taking care of.
We’ll also be thinking of Julie and Penny’s husband Don, who died in 2009. Having been privileged to have been married to individuals who both happened to be gracious, enchanting, affectionate, talented, lusty, and caring, we tenaciously guard our memories of them, confident that the joyfulness thus gained far exceeds the pain, however poignant, suffered in the process.
Neither of us, you see, was then – or is now – willing to forsake the treasures we accumulated from years of cherishing and being cherished for the numbing anesthesia of an obliterated memory.
That’s the way the emotional arithmetic works. Our experiences with Julie and Don are additions to, not losses from our lives as individuals and our life together.
In My Not So Secret Life
The remainder of this entry is nearly identical to the commemoration post I first ran in 2012. I can’t find a way to improve on it.
There is a certain cognitive dissonance implicit in posting a video called “And We’re Still Making Love In My Secret Life – A Video For Julie” as a public video on YouTube – and then writing blog entries about it.1 Nonetheless, the underlying theme – my passion for Julie since the moment I met her – remains valid. Beside, “In My Intrapsychic Life” doesn’t scan as well.
The following excerpt is from And We’re Still Making Love In My Secret Life – A Video For Julie, a post about the making of this video:
In fact, Julie was a vital part of the core of my interior reality from the day I met her, although she was, during the first eight years of that time, a singularly chaste component of my private universe, as I pointed out in the first part of Julie’s Story, This Is How A Love Story Began:
And, starting then, we spent time together, at first studying together, sharing lunch, and, most often, just talking. It was all quite innocent, because, as I would glibly but accurately note when retelling our story to friends — at that point, Julie was still married, and I was still Christian.
But all that was to change.
That change resulted not only in the two of us living together for almost 20 years in an outrageously happy marriage but also her continued presence in my thoughts in the years since her death.
I’ve Loved Julie For For A Long, Long Time
Julie Showalter was a spectacular woman and, for far too brief a time, the center of my life. The strange and wondrous story of how Julie and I met, fell in love, and – 9 years, 2 husbands, 1 wife, and 2 careers later – got together to spend a magnificent 20 years together before her death, her prize-winning writing, and the life we shared are featured in many posts at this site. See Julie Showalter FAQ
- Of course, the same notion of cognitive dissonance applies to writing and then performing “In My Secret Life” all over the world to thousands of people, but Mr Cohen and Ms Robinson would, I suppose, claim artistic license. [↩]