Sometime after my husband’s death, I emptied his desk and found a small spiral notebook jammed into the very back of the top drawer, apparently long forgotten. Written on the first page was a date in April, five years earlier, followed by the name of the neurologist who had diagnosed Len as having Parkinson’s disease, a day sharply etched in my memory.
We had both noticed a slight drag of one of his feet, but just weeks before he had fallen when snowshoeing in the Cascades with our son-in-law and turned an ankle, so it was easy for me to discount his awkward gait. What I did not know at the time was that Len had become aware of a significant change in his handwriting, the letters becoming small and cramped.
This symptom was one key to the initially suspected, and later confirmed, diagnosis. That morning we left the medical office building and sat in the car wrapped in each other’s arms, but only for a moment. There were no tears. Len calmly drove us home. He was meeting this news as he had past challenges, with a stoic determination to just keep moving forward.
In this newly discovered little notebook of his, beneath the name of the doctor, Len had written:
– live by the water
– wilderness fishing
– more joyous times
I stopped reading after those three final words, and for a moment I was uncertain about turning the page. But in mere seconds I made my decision. Without further exploration, I tossed the notebook into the large trash bag at my feet, which already held the detritus of the other drawers.
Over our years together, unless offered, we never read each other’s mail. Rarely did we even share phone conversations with our kids. Sporadically, I wrote personal reflections in a journal, but I didn’t hide it away. Without ever speaking of it, we honored each other’s privacy.
But after his death, was his privacy still a consideration? Was that really the cause of my decision, or was my refusal to continue reading born of something else entirely? Might “more joyous times” imply a hidden dissatisfaction with his life, with our marriage?
Len, a man of few casually spoken words, expressed himself in writing clearly and with insight. Both of us would, from time to time, put on paper what was troubling us and later share what we’d written or the concerns crystallized in this way. Eventually, we talked and talked. Sometimes wept. Always, we came together. That was no longer possible.
Looking back, I believe this was my thinking as I briefly held the small notebook in my hand. Five years had passed since he’s written those words. Whatever secret yearnings they described on first learning of his diagnosis, might later have become part of our conversations, may even have led to some meaningful shifts in our lives. There were many. But then again, perhaps he’d decided not to reveal to me the private thoughts he’d had in mind on that fateful day.
Privacy is eroding in the public arena, in ways both seen and unseen, but it can remain as protected as ever in our personal lives. When we share a confidence with a trusted friend, or even when a friend asks us, in words or wordlessly, to keep a thought to ourselves, we can still relax with the knowledge that our privacy is assured.
But every chance he got, Len did indeed spend four of his last five years flying off with a friend in his small plane to go fishing in cold clear waters.
Nancy Nolan writing here: You’ve just read a sample from Bea’s new book, The Third Person in the Room: Stories of Relationships at a Turning Point. Copies of The Third Person in the Room make a great holiday gift. All December sale proceeds will be donated to the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society.
You can get your copies at one of these locations: