By Charles Towne
The Scent of a Woman
I can’t tell you exactly how the accident happened. I wasn’t there. I was lecturing in the public school system at the time and on the day it happened a buddy of mine was helping with the driving.
We stopped at another friend’s home that day to pick up their youngest daughter. The girl’s mother was going into the hospital for an operation and my wife had agreed to take care of the little girl while her mama was recuperating.
We were sitting in their living room visiting when the phone rang. The lady of the house came into the room to tell my friend he had to take the call. A short time later he walked into the room and told me that our plans had changed, “We have to leave, now!”
When he spoke those words I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what. As we drove away he told me that my wife, Delpha, had been in an accident and was not expected to live. He told me that our 11-year-old son, Russell, had also been involved.
Russ had been taken to Saint Mary’s Catholic Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan so we decided to stop there first due to the fact that it was on our way home.
At the hospital, I was asked to go to the admitting room to sign some papers and then I was taken to see my son. As you can imagine I was thrilled to see that all he had suffered was a small cut between his eyes that took two stitches to close up. My little seven-year-old boy was sitting on a gurney flirting with a pretty nurse when I walked into the room.
My spirits were soaring with optimism. If my son wasn’t hurt any worse than this then certainly it stood to reason that my wife was also going to be okay.
After leaving my son I met a Catholic nun in the hallway. She looked into my eyes and for a moment I thought I could detect the glint of tears as she said, “God bless you, Mr. Towne.” She obviously knew something that I didn’t at that time because I just thanked her and continued on to where my friend was waiting to drive me to the other hospital.
As we were driving away from the hospital I was saying something about my wife being all right when my friend pulled to the curb and turned off the motor. We sat there in silence for a few moments before he spoke. While I had been visiting with my son another phone call had come for my friend. It was probably this news that had moved the nun in the hospital corridor to greet me as she had.
As I had seen the hint of tears in the eyes of the nun I saw the same in my friend’s eyes. He turned to me, “Charlie, there are some things you just don’t know how to tell a friend.”
I am sure the question I had for him was written on my face. He looked away for a moment and then turned back to me. His voice cracked as he spoke, “Chuck, my dear friend, Del is dead. She was killed immediately in the accident.”
I knew that I was going to throw up. I couldn’t breathe. I opened the car door and vomit gushed from my mouth. Rather than step out of the car, I fell out and lay there on the cool grass and with people walking past I wept and pounded the ground with my fists, and I screamed my frustration at God.
At that time, and for days afterward, I felt nothing but stunned disbelief. I was in a state of shock. In retrospect perhaps that dull, drifting sense was merciful. It wasn’t until many days later, when I had time to think about it, that the wound in my soul began to bleed a combination of anger, loneliness and loss unparalleled by anything I had ever experienced before in my life.
One day my wife was there and the next she was gone. One morning my wife and I woke up, talked about who knows what, hugged each other, kissed and sat down to breakfast together. And then the next thing I knew, she was gone.
The morning of the accident she roused the children, made sure they looked their best for school as she always did, talked to them, solved some little child problems, kissed them and held them as only a mother can hold her children, Said a last “I love you!” Then sent them off to school.
And she was gone.
Have you ever had to gather your children around you and tell them that their mama wasn’t coming home?
Have you ever seen the looks of confusion, and gazed into those questioning, fear-filled eyes? I hope you never have to. Those days and weeks following the funeral were strange. There were so many memories.
And then there was her presence.
I am not speaking of some ethereal thing, not that sort of presence. No, what I am speaking of is her presence: her scent among the many other things she left behind. Those constant reminders of a human being were there, but that human being, that someone dear, would never again on this earth whisper my name, never again caress me, never again hold me or love me.
Going to bed at night was difficult. I would lay in the darkness of the night when all was still, close my eyes and she would be there. I could smell her perfume. In the morning I would wake up embracing her pillow, holding it close as if somehow I could derive some comfort therein, but it didn’t work. I would walk into the bathroom in the morning to shave and her scent would be lingering there, and tears would come unbidden.
I remember the time three or four years after her death when I was standing on a high overlook in Northern Michigan. There was a waterfall with forest all around, and the sun was setting. It was beautiful. I spoke, “‘Del, honey, isn’t it beautiful?” And then I was again reminded that she was gone. I was lonely and I wept there.
It took time for me to accept the fact that I would never see her again, not on this earth. It took time for me to accept the fact that I would never again hear her voice, feel the touch of her hand, or look into her eyes. Yes, she was gone.
Those days following her funeral were busy days. Perhaps that was merciful, too. There were friends and relatives that dropped by and paid their condolences. There were cards and phone calls and all of the little things that demanded attention.
A drunk driver took my wife from us—murder takes many forms.
Did I consider the loss of my wife as murder at the time? No, only in retrospect, as I examine it with a somewhat jaundiced eye does it somehow seem so.
Now, these many years later, I am here and I am looking at another form of separation that is not of death, but the separation of dementia, the separation that Alzheimer’s disease brings. In its own way it is perhaps more frightening, but it is just as much a separation as death. For today my present wife, my darling Nancy, this dear one that I love so much has gone on a long journey into confusion and it is highly unlikely that she will ever return.
A CAREGIVER’S PRAYER
God, you have chosen this unique and blessed path for me, which means you have equipped me with what I need along the long journey. Although I do not know what my future holds, I thank you for the past and for making your mighty presence known to me. Keep leading me and guiding me through the journey you have chosen for me. Do not let me be separated from you here on earth. Call me to You at the destined hour and lead me with your loving and forgiving hand to my final destination. I ask this in Jesus’ Holy and Blessed Name. Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.