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A Final Gift from Her Late Husband Provided Comfort

He never mentioned making a tape for her, but somehow knew she’d find it when she was ready to hear it. 

Illustration of a cassette tape

I hugged my husband’s picture to my chest one day while I wandered from room to room, alone in our big house. “Bruce, I miss you so much.”

Missing him was nearly unbearable, but it only accounted for one layer of my grief. Bruce and I had rarely been apart during his long and valiant battle with cancer. We’d fought the disease side by side for years. But when my husband passed from this world, I had been sound asleep. Less than two feet away from him, I was oblivious in his last moments on earth. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. I was supposed to be present, holding his hand, stroking his forehead, dusting his cheek with my lips, telling him how much I loved him, comforting him while we said our goodbyes. Now I lived with the guilt that I’d let him down. How would I ever be able to forgive myself?

Time had passed, but it didn’t help me forget how I’d failed him. Today was no different from any other since that awful day he’d died. Every empty room seemed to say, “He’s gone.”

  Susan and Bruce on their Alaskan cruise.

Up until now, I’d avoided venturing downstairs to Bruce’s “man cave,” where he worked and relaxed, but I was desperate to feel close to him. I held onto his picture for strength and finally opened the door to the basement. God, please come with me. I took the steps with trepidation, not knowing how I’d react when I saw all his things exactly as he’d left them.

At the base of the steps, I took a deep breath and turned the corner. I pictured Bruce leaning over the green felt of the pool table, examining all the angles before taking a shot. His chest would puff out when the ball rolled neatly into a side pocket. “Did you see that?” he’d say, his eyes twinkling.

I swallowed hard, then walked into his workshop. I imagined him at his workbench, engrossed in some project or another, fussing with his tools as if they were priceless artifacts. Each one hung from its own peg, just the way he liked. His hand saw glinted in the stream of sunlight coming from the egress window across the room. Heaven’s light seemed to flood the space, but it only reminded me how far away Bruce was. How far away he’d always be.

His desk beckoned, and I moved toward the spot where he’d spent hours keeping our business afloat, carefully totaling the day’s sales and filing the invoices. I straightened his pens, then slid into his big bear of a chair, running my palms over the armrests with his picture in my lap. “Bruce, I hope you know how much I loved you. How much I still love you. And how much I wanted to be with you when…” Oh, Lord, how can he ever forgive me?

I remembered the times Bruce had so freely forgiven me after a marital spat was more my doing than his. I’d done the same when the roles were reversed. We’d talk things through late into the night sometimes, before going to bed with hugs and kisses after we’d worked things out. Now there was something between us that was impossible to work out. The matter was closed, left forever unresolved, and I couldn’t accept it.

I mindlessly tugged open the bottom desk drawer, where Bruce kept his hanging files. Folders clacked as I ran my fingers over and through them like Bruce had done every day. He was as deliberate in his accounting as he was in choosing the perfect gift for me. Goosebumps prickled my arm as I envisioned his hand gently cupping mine over the files. 

My daydream was interrupted when I spotted something beneath the collection of folders swinging from the metal rails. Had something fallen out of one of them? I pushed the file folders apart so I could reach in. There at the bottom of the drawer was a cassette tape. It was labeled, “For Sue,” and written in Bruce’s unmistakable hand. I pulled out the tape and moved Bruce’s picture to the desk. He had never mentioned making a tape for me. I wondered if he’d recorded notes about the business. I rummaged around for the tape player, steeled myself and inserted the tape. I hit play.

His voice. I closed my eyes as Bruce’s Midwestern drawl washed over me like a warm ocean breeze. “Sue, I wanted to tell you how much I love you and how much you mean to me. You were always caring and going out of your way for me. You made sure I had the best doctors and the best treatments. Through it all, I never felt alone, because you were always right there for me.”

Always right there.

I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling Bruce close as I listened. “If I haven’t said it enough, thank you. Goodbye, my love. Goodbye.”

Tears of relief trickled down my cheeks as the tape clicked off. In the silence, the window brightened. Heaven’s light shone down on me. The guilt I’d been carrying seemed to float from my shoulders, and I was wrapped tight in Bruce’s never-ending love. I picked up his picture and kissed his sweet face. He knew I’d find the tape when I was ready to hear it, this gift that allowed me finally to forgive myself.

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