I found my husband in the late afternoon on a damp grey day in April. It was Monday the 12th – the day after Easter. Thankfully his parents had come for lunch the day before. None of us knew it would be the last time they would ever see him alive. We never imagined it would be the last time they would relish in his love and amazing spirit.
I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into the house and smelled burning coffee. I had called and left a few messages for him throughout the day, but he was passionately involved in a new art project and was working late into the night, so I thought he was simply concentrating on his pieces or napping. Because we had separate schedules and we were both horribly light sleepers, we often slept in different bedrooms during the week, when I had to get up early for work. I would gently shut his bedroom door, leave the coffee on for when he awoke, and exit the house. That morning was no different.
Then the smell of the burning coffee. I knew the moment it assailed my nose something was wrong. I found it odd he did not greet me at the top of the stairs of our split-level ranch, his dancing feet awaiting my return, growing more excited whenever I came through the door from the garage. I called to him. “Po,” I said, using the pet name we used for one another. Silence.
A sliver of fear began an icy trail down my back. I went up the stairs to the third floor, to his bedroom door which was still closed from when I had shut it 10 hours before. “Po,” I called again, walking into the room where the light was waning in the last hours of the afternoon. I saw him immediately, laying on his back – naked, quiet and still, a beatific smile creasing his lips.
I rushed to his side, called his name, slapped him across the cheek as I had been taught to do in the countless CPR training classes my father had made me take as a teen. He was cold. He was stiff and pale.
To this day there are times when I close my eyes that I am back in that room, back in that moment and the grief overwhelms me as much as it did that day. At least this trauma has abated somewhat – during the first few years I could not close them without the scene being replayed over and over again until I turned to alcohol to burn the images from my brain. Just for a moment, just for a night.
I knew immediately. I just think one knows. I pleaded with him, begged him to wake up. I cried that he couldn’t leave me, just as we were starting our life together. I stroked his beautiful face and held his clammy hand. Then I called 911.
The operator assured me EMTs were on the way. She asked if I has called anyone else, which I hadn’t. I couldn’t think of who to call to tell the news to and ask that they come be with me – not that I didn’t have friends, family. But I was in such a state of shock that telling anyone, vocalizing the words, would make it all more real. And I did not, with every fiber of my being, want this to be my new reality.
I spent the time before the EMTs arrived to say all the things I would ever want him to know. It would be my last chance to do so, I was aware enough of this. Soon the house would be teaming with people, some I knew but mostly strangers searching for clues to determine how he died, if foul play was involved, why this all came to pass. I kissed him tenderly, over and over again, I lay my head on his chest. I desperately wanted to feel his warmth, his strong arms around me assuring me everything would be okay. I wanted his voice in my ear and to feel his laugh reverberate through his chest. But it was all gone. He was gone. There was nothing left but an empty husk of the man who 24 hours before had lit up the room, loved me unconditionally, kept me safe.
And that is the day my future died. That is the day my world tilted on its axis and has yet to be righted.
Death changes you – down to your DNA. How one deals with grief is different for each of us. Some do it better than others. I am a complete failure at it, as evidenced by this journey that is continuing a decade after his death. Grief has held me hostage, in a maze that I cannot escape. I have tried so many different ways to escape it – drugs, alcohol, shopping, random sex, therapy, shrinks, moving countless times, always on the run. But I cannot escape it.
He was a far better person than I was. He made me a better person, simply by being bathed in his love. Why did he have to die? Why was I left here without him? I am nothing but a ball of anger and blackness. What do I have to offer the world?
And so I went down the rabbit hole. The path of least resistance for me, or for anyone trying to forget. I lost myself, I lost my feelings of self-worth, and I sold myself to whatever was the easiest course of action to block out all the pain of his loss.
To be continued…
© Sorrow & Kindness