Several years ago, I elected to share my life with my readers even if that meant delving into the painful parts. My reasononing was that if I bared the darkest hours of my life as well joyous ones, I could perhaps help those who are struggling with grief, depression or through difficult days. Because of the comments I received on my other posts, I have decided to share two more deeply personal experiences with you. This particular essay is about the day my husband was killed.
Doors Close; Doors Open
Sunday morning; it’s gray outside but it’s always gray in January. As I awaken, I notice the room is warm. Allan must be up. He’s turned on the heat. He knows I can’t stand to be cold. I can smell coffee brewing. My favorite flavor, Vanilla Nut. It’s not his favorite but he’s made it for me, to please me. He is always so good to me, my husband of almost thirty years. I go to the kitchen and he hands me my favorite mug. We sit down at the table with the Sunday paper and begin a ritual we have shared for many years. It’s an unspoken dance we both enjoy.
I look up from the headlines and see the snow begin to swirl. We have lived in South Carolina for many years and I haven’t seen snow in such a long time. It’s beautiful.
“I’m taking the dogs out.”
Allan, his eyes barely leaving the paper, mumbles his assent. More like a grunt really. His attention is focused on the Sports section.
The world is turning white. I admire the snow angels made by my tumbling dogs.
It’s getting cold and we go back into the house.
Allan is in the shower getting ready for work.
“Do you have to go in today?’ I ask. Another ritual really because I already know the answer.
“Yes, I have to see my patients.” “I’ll just make sure they’re ‘tucked in’ and then I’ll be back. We’ll do something later today.”
Allan is an old fashioned doctor. The kind that visits his patients at home, that’s never too busy to take a call and who always, without fail, goes in to the hospital to monitor their care. “If I’m their doctor and they are sick enough to be in the hospital then they deserve to see me each day not some stranger.” he always tells me. His reassuring presence helps them to recover. His patients adore him.
I take a backseat to this career but it doesn’t bother me. I know his love for me sustains him through his long days as my love for him sustains me.
I don’t mind my time alone. I have many interests to occupy me while he is busy elsewhere.
We engage in more conversation as he gets ready.
Nothing major is said. We discuss dinner plans and grocery shopping. I update him on the progress of the vow renewal ceremony I am busy planning for our thirty year anniversary.
Chit chat mostly.
He is ready to leave. He gives me a hug and a kiss. “I’ll be home around 3:00.”
I watch his car head down the driveway. The asphalt is hidden by the still falling snow.
I turn on the radio while I do my chores. NPR. The voices of the commentators serve as background noise while I do dishes, make the bed and tidy the house.
I’m finished and I luxuriate in my time alone. The peace and quiet nourishes me and I pick up a novel I’ve been reading. I sit in my favorite chair and read while the snow swirls outside.
Time passes. The phone rings. I glance hastily at the clock. It’s almost noon and I know it’s Allan calling me. He calls me off and on throughout the day to let me know he loves me and is thinking of me. It’s our way of connecting when we are apart.
I quickly check caller ID. Yes, it’s the hospital. I answer the phone and say “I love you.”
A voice interrupts me. Not Allan’s. This voice belongs to a woman with a thick southern accent. I can barely understand her. I assume she is calling for Allan. I start to tell her to try his pager but she interrupts me. “Is this Mrs. K?” she keeps repeating.
“You need to come to the hospital now.”
“Why?” I ask
“There’s been an accident.” Her words penetrate my brain. I start to become alarmed.
“An accident? Is it my husband? He’s okay isn’t he?” The words tumble quickly out of my mouth.
She repeats over and over again. “You need to get to the hospital.”
I’m becoming annoyed with her. Angry that she won’t answer my questions. I press her harder. “My husband’s okay isn’t he?”
Then, I hear words I had never expected to hear.
“I’m sorry to tell you Dr. K is dead.”
I start to scream. My screams aren’t part of me. I can’t hear myself. I just hear screaming.
From far away a voice on the phone is saying,” Mrs. K, you have to get hold of yourself and calm down.”
What is that person saying? What has she told me? Calm down? What does she mean calm down? My wailing continues.
I set the phone down. I can’t understand. I don’t understand. This can’t be true. She has called the wrong person. Allan is alive.
I pick up the phone again and dial his pager. Surely he’ll answer. This is a cruel joke.
No answer. My hysteria starts to rise.
I call my brother. There’s no one home. I leave a frantic message on his machine.
I call my mother. “Allan’s dead.” I scream. “Allan who?” My 80 year old mother asks. “My Allan.” I keep on screaming. She is shocked. She thinks I am playing a horrible prank on her.
My screams continue, “Allan’s dead, Allan’s dead.” Over and over the words tumble out of me in a voice not my own. She tells me she’ll be right there. Right there involves a four hour plane ride.
My son, what am I going to tell my son? He is leaving for a term abroad. A term he’s earned through hard work. He’s been visiting a friend in New York who is to take him to the airport today. I can’t reach him. I leave a message to call me right away. What am I going to say to my child?
I phone my best friend. I relay the news to her. “I’ll be right over.“ she says.
I am quiet now. I can’t breathe. It hurts. My heart hurts. The wind has been knocked out of me. It is a physical pain beyond description. Am I alive?
I return to the living room and see the snow falling. I sit down again and pick up my book. I begin where I left off. If I keep reading, if I never put the book down, then none of this can have happened.
I don’t see the words. My mind keeps echoing in an unrelenting refrain “Dr. K is dead.”
I hear a knock on the door.
Where am I? The sound seems so far away. I move towards it. It’s the police. They have been called by my worried mother. I can’t understand. Why are they there? I act as a polite hostess and send them on their way. They seem perplexed by my demeanor.
My friend arrives. She enfolds me in her arms.
“Is it really true? It can’t be true? “ I beseech her over and over.
She has called the hospital. It is true.
The phone rings again. It’s donor services. “I’m sorry to bother you at a time like this Mrs. K but we have to act quickly if we are going to harvest Dr. K’s organs for donation.”
Are they kidding me? I try to listen. He’s dead.
It has always been his intention to donate organs so I let them continue. The list of questions is endless. It involves all body parts and whether or not I will allow these parts to be received by someone outside the country. How can I think about Allan as parts to be shipped around the world? I can’t. I have to concentrate. What are they saying?
Now, questions about sexual preferences, prostitutes, drugs and needles. I start screaming again. “I’m sorry, we have to ask these questions.”
I am about to throw up but I continue answering their endless questions.
I put the phone down. I’m finished. I have done what he would have wanted done.
But it’s not true. He’s not dead.
I want Allan home. I don’t want him in a cold, sterile hospital. Lying on a table being opened up by instruments to carve him into pieces. This vital, brilliant man who is my life.
I want him home.
No one takes me to the hospital. No point they say. He’s dead. There’s nothing you can do there. It would be too painful for you. We’ll see him at the funeral home. I am numb. I want Allan home.
Family starts to arrive.
My son, my beloved child arrives. I learn he was pulled off his plane just before it took off for Scotland.
I see the pain and confusion in his eyes. I embrace him. Try to comfort him but there is nothing left of me to give.
The phone rings incessantly but others answer it. Food starts to arrive. Great platters of food. As if I can eat anything. I can’t breathe.
I see my house. I look at the objects in the house. Objects we picked out together combing antique shops, searching for bargains. These objects now seem so unfamiliar and unreal. Nothing is real.
I hear details. The details make me despair more. He had stopped to help at an accident. Yes, that sounds like Allan.
He was helping the injured and a gawker drove by. She was looking at the accident not paying attention to the road. She skidded on the snow and struck him. The snow I thought so beautiful this morning. He was killed instantly
I fixate upon this girl. I hate this girl. She is the focus of my thoughts.
I’m too tired to think about her. It’s not real.
Bedtime, I crawl into our big bed. I’m so alone. I haven’t slept alone since I was eighteen. I don’t know what to do in that big lonely bed. I grab his pillows. I can smell him. The linens are alive with his scent.
My Mother crawls in beside me. “Try to sleep” she says. “Take some of that medicine” she says.
Where am I?
I must have slept because I feel a blow in my solar plexus. It wakes me instantly. I’m in pain. I realize I am alone and I start to wail again. I want Allan. My Mother embraces me, rocks me as if I were an infant. I am unable to stop sobbing. I fall into a fitful sleep.
I have gotten through the first day.
There were many other days. The trip to the funeral home where I refused to believe Allan was dead. I lost all hope there. I went to a far away place that day. Maybe some would call it madness. It was hard to bring my conscious self back. I was outside myself looking down on a room full of sobbing people.
“I want Allan back. ” I hear myself say over and over. The funeral director is crying now. We are awash in tears in that home of the dead. I hear my Mother urging me to think of my son. I look at my child wrapped up in pain. I can imagine him thinking he is going to lose his Mother as well. The sight of my son brings me back to the living.
There were many more painful days ahead. I contemplated suicide. Sitting in the bathroom one night, I knew I was going to die. I didn’t have the strength to continue. I beseeched God to help me. I returned to my bed and fell asleep instantly. That night, in the form of a dream, I received a visit from Allan who appeared to me in a shroud. I spoke to him. “They told me you were dead.” I said. “Yes", he said, “but I’m okay.” “I want to be with you.” I said. “You can’t, not right now, you can’t come with me. Your work is not done.” I woke that morning and I was at peace for the first time in many days. I thanked God for answering my prayer. One more time with Allan to say goodbye.
Faith brought me through Allan’s death. Not the faith that delivers platitudes. Not the faith that says he is in a better place. Oh, how I tired of hearing those meaningless words spoken to me so often. At a loss for what to say, I realized people were trying to be helpful.
I drew on a deep faith that convinced me all the love Allan and I shared still exists on some other plane. Our love is alive. It’s only in a different form. I have a tangible symbol of our love in the child we both adore. He has his father’s mind; my love of words. He is our enduring creation.
I have awakened again. Slowly, I have been reborn.
I have a new life so different from my old life.
Death is not an ending. It’s a passage.
Doors shut, doors open. Love endures.