May. 18, 2019

The Dentist

To say that Butch disliked the dentist would be like saying the ocean is moist. He had a bad experience with the Army dentist and swore never to go back. He was in so much pain when his wisdom teeth were trying to come in that he flinched every time he ate something cold or hot. They needed to be removed and he wasn't willing. He asked me one day what I wanted for my birthday. We were living outside of Fort Hood, TX. I answered that question with one of my own. “Can I have anything we can afford?” “Sure”, he carelessly replied. “Well then, I want those four teeth in my hand, and I found a dentist in Waco I can afford to do it for you.” He was cornered. We drove the hour to Waco the next week. He went in, and they began the Sodium Pentothal immediately. I heard them tell him to count backward from 100. “99, 98, 97….” In what seemed like only two minutes later, I heard the nurse say, “He wants his wife.” I found him in a tiny little recovery room, like a closet with a shelf for him to lay on and a chair for me to wait. It was then I learned that anesthesia turned Butch into a comedian. He tried to convince me to lay down with him on the shelf. I told him to behave because the closet didn’t have a door and the staff were walking by. As an assistant passed, he said, “Excuse me, miss, you can take the rest of the day off.” Had he realized how much pain he would be in by the time we were halfway home, he would have tried to sleep while he still could.

He became the most faithful user of a toothbrush and dental floss in the world to increase the likelihood that he would never have to go back. Despite his best efforts, he would require lots of dental work over the years. When he needed a root canal, he again opted for sodium pentothal to miss as much of the torture as possible. I drove him to and from his appointment first thing in the morning. I took the keys to his truck back to work with me to avoid any antics he might devise. An hour later I received a call from his boss saying that he was there, clearly still under the influence, giggling smugly about having found his extra keys and run away from home. They took away his keys and held him prisoner until he was in his right mind again.

Even teeth cleaning was tough. His idea of a good dental hygienist was someone who was friendly before and after the appointment but did not expect him to be chatty while he was hyperventilating through the procedure.

I went to our old dentist for a cleaning last week. It was tough. We had the same dentist for years. He knew all of us. I learned the dentist had retired. Somehow that upset me. One more long-term relationship gone. A piece of Butch gone with him. The hygienist remembered details of our lives and our family. She remembered Butch and how much he struggled. We had a good laugh together. She gave me back a little of him as I lay in the chair and remembered his experiences of the dentist in the stories she told. Once the distraction of the conversation was over, and she quietly set to work, I found myself crying as those memories of him played in my head. Even the dentist office, a place we never went together, is haunted by his ghost.

On the journey of grief, there is no part of life untouched by the loss. Even years later, we can be blindsided by these unforeseeable moments. We get pieces of them back in the telling of the stories, in the shared laughter, in the mutual enjoyment. We can hear their voice and see their face a little more clearly as the stories unfold. Then they are gone in an instant, disappearing again, as the past gives way to the realities of the present, and the life we are left with in their absence.

Becoming us without them makes us great jugglers. The losses of the past, the realities of the present, and the promises for the future pass before our eyes in a constant flow. Those trained as jugglers will tell you that it takes time, practice, and patience to develop any skill. You have to focus on the balls travelling upward to anticipate where they will drop into your hand at the bottom without looking down at your hand. Focusing on any one ball, causes you to loose sight of the other two and drop.

So it is with the journey of grief. To build that new life awaiting us in the future, we look hopefully upward and trust things will drop into place as they should. If we hold on to one for too long or lose our upward focus they will fall to the ground. we spend lots of time picking up the balls and starting over again.