Tomorrow, I’m a widow for one year.
Can’t even rightfully call myself that. We were never married. 3 children between us. He tried. Made an appointment and took me to the courthouse once. I was sick with fear. We were on again off again on again and off. Madness. What the fuck were we thinking? We each said goodbye a hundred times, but we had kids so we tried. We tried. Let me make this clear. I owe absolutely no one an explanation. These are words I need to say, and so I’m saying them. I have been asked point blank by well meaning friends why this affected me so much if the love had fallen apart. As if it had earned him a death sentence. Or at least my ambivalence. My heart broke for myself, sure. I loved him the way you love a man you had 3 children with . And For every selfish reason imaginable. For the things I never said and for the things I did. For the time lost, spent raging at nothing. But my heart was eviscerated for my children. Screw my own pain, theirs was paramount.
July 8th 2015 at 7pm he left to buy a washing machine he he saw on craigslist. The last conversation we ever had was a joke about the dangers of buying things from people online. Something about selling his organs on the black market. He laughed and patted his stomach and said “There’s nothing they could use anyway”
The organ donation association ended up taking his eyes, his skin, his pericardium and some of the veins in his legs. This was authorized by myself, his eldest son and his parents over the telephone because he had not previously stated his organ donation wishes.
At 8pm I received a FaceTime call from him. I figured he had purchased the washing machine and wanted to talk to the kids. They were playing on new bunk beds he had just finished building. They have not slept in them since.
All three of them, Ecstatic.
Immediately, I knew something was off.
He was stuttering and looking around blindly, confused.
He was mumbling “help.” It was the last word he’d ever say.
I screamed his name as if that would make a difference. I still had no idea what was happening. I thought maybe he’d been drugged. Perhaps the craigslist thing, I didnt know. I have an inherent distrust of human beings. I knew he was in my car. That’s about it. A highway patrolman approached the window. Started jamming him up pretty bad.
“Sir, keep your hands where I can see them
Sir, have you been drinking tonight?
He’s been vomiting.”
They got in and immediately disconnected the call.
I waited a half hour and heard nothing and started calling hospitals and then started calling non emergency police lines. I finally got a call from an officer who had been dispatched to my home. He wouldn’t tell me what happened.
I told my babies that daddy was very sick and I needed to be with him at the hospital. I left them with my mother. I left my babies and my mother and my home in a highway patrol car at 9pm on July 8th 2015 toward complete uncertainty.
The officer was going 100mph on the freeway. This should have been my first clue. When he couldnt, he used lights and sirens until he could again. He made smalltalk even at these speeds. His partner turned off the dispatch radio and turned on country music. They asked about the kids.
My friend of 20 years was there to meet me. We were rushed into a tiny room off of the ER waiting room. The highway patrolmen stayed outside. It was there that a doctor told me that he had a sudden major stroke. He was in a coma and that they didn’t believe he would survive the night. I screamed no no no no no. Rage. Fear. Sadness. Then I apologized. I still feel sick about that apology. Like I didn’t have the right to scream about something so unfair.
My aunt met us in the hallway and I crumbled. I couldn’t say a word.
We were escorted to his room where I was warned about what he may look like. His head had been shaved they said, and a hole drilled to relieve some of the pressure. Ventilator.
We stood at the doorway. The machines did their work. He looked like he was sleeping. I remember how proud I felt of him in that moment. Intense pain and nausea and he still managed to pull the car over safely and call us at home. His last conscious act, a subconscious love letter. All the times he never said it. Every slamming door. The stoic reserve. The silence between us. The seperate rooms. The years of quiet languishing ache. The seperation. While he was still alive, I had spent nights laying awake wondering if he’d ever loved us. He wasn’t one for overt display of emotion. I took it as rejection. In this one act, that question had been definitively and heartbreakingly answered.
I went to him then, held his hand. He’d cut his finger building the bunkbed for the kids. It would never heal. I kissed it and I said “I’m here.” For all the times I hadn’t been.
I realized I had no contact information for his parents. His phone was left in my car, which had been towed. The highway patrolmen offered to go to the tow yard to recover it. I hugged each of them tight. One had tears in his eyes.
The next night and morning were a blur. His parents arrived from Las Vegas. I wasnt sure how they’d recieve me. But his mother embraced me immediately and we cried next to his unconscious body. It was only the third time we had ever met. I hadn’t been home with the kids yet. His mother told me to go home and get rest, shower and be with them. They were nervous when I arrived and happy to see me. Expected to see dad as well. I had to explain I wasn’t sure if dad would come home. I had no idea how. I told them that sometimes people get so injured that doctors can’t fix them. They were 2, 4 and 5 when I told them this. That night my 2 year old kept running down the hall looking for him. I sang them to sleep holding back tears. It was the most broken lullaby. I’ve never hated myself so strongly or felt so selfish in all my life. I’ve never felt so helpless or so confused.
The current of time is built in to the fabric of existence. Recent studies have found that a new form of atomic nuculi are not spherical but egg shaped and that the point of those shapes might actually indicate the direction in which time in our universe flows. So why does it feel so much like we can in these moments if we summon our will hard enough, force the flow backward. I tried that night. As hard as I could. Futile and stupid. Strange as it sounds. Science minded as I am. I tried instead of slept. It felt so close, the moments before this, and the timeline where none of this happened. Where he installed a goddmned used washing machine and I caught up on a backlog of laundry and we went back to our monotony.
My sister flew in from LA. She said “tell me if you need me.” All I had to do was say the word and she was there. I am not worthy of this kind of love.
His son is a piece of shit. Asked about a computer tower he left behind right in the room with his unconscious father. I dont care how saying this makes me look. I left the room immediately else I commit violence. How could that thought cross your mind at a time like this? Fuck you.
The next day, we were taken into an empty board room, met with a neurologist. Shown brain scans. A bleed the size of a baseball and grown to the size of a grapefruit overnight and caused a bleed in the brainstem. Even with the ever present drain. Even if he survived this, he would never ever wake. Forever asleep. Forever a ventilator, feeding tube. The choice was simple. He had no living will. I searched my poor and shellshocked memory for conversations on situations like this. “Id want to be kept alive” he’d said. “But what if you’d have no quality of life?” he shook his head no. They performed a series of physical tests for a reaction. Needles in his toes. Alcohol swabs on his open eyes. Nothing. He still had a gag reflex when they worked with the respirator. They assured us it was an autonomic response. We unanimously made the decision but decided to sleep on it. One more night in the bed we did then didnt share with our scared and confused children. One more night wishing I could be someone else for them. Someone better equipped. My mother laid in bed with us as I sang the song “Hush little baby…” over and over until we all drifted to sleep.
The next day I showered. I dressed up. As best as I can. All in black. Our last date. We all met at the hospital and I allowed his mother to make he call. The nurses arrived and placed a battery operated candle on the table next to him and a quilt which was placed on his lap. masculine colors of blue green tan and gold. Illusions of comfort and home. we waited for the respirator to be removed. at 2pm on July 11th 2015 a harried and brutal nurse told me to get out of the way because she “needed somewhere to put this” it was the dripping tubes that had moments before been threaded into his lungs.
His body was strong. We waited. His blood pressure slowly declined as they increased his morphine drip. 5 hours we stood by his side. His mother told him to “Sleep now, its ok to sleep. I played him audio on my phone of the kids playing and laughing. I told him that I loved him. I rubbed the stubble of his face against my face one last time. It’s the closest we’d been in months. They told us he could hear but not understand what it was he was hearing. 5 hours. Blood pressure cuff, Skull drain still in place, morphine increase, breathing harsh as if the air drowned him. 5 hours of his body fighting his brain. 5 hours of his lungs screaming. 5 hours. 5 fucking hours, with every thought wanting to take it back. At 7pm on July 11th 2015 The room went silent. His harried and hard fought breathing had stopped but his heart beat still lingered. Then all the numbers on all the monsterous machines dropped to zero.
My mouth said No as if i hadnt witnessed what id witnessed for the past 5 hours as if it could be taken back. i ripped the blood pressure cuff from his arm and threw it across the bed. i said “he doesnt need this shit anymore.” i was angry. his mother saw. she told my aunt to take me home. i was torn away from the father of my 3 children and didnt get to spend a moment with him alone.
And we were home. With the smiling faces of our babies happy to greet me. there with the hollowed out shell of me stumbling in through the door carrying one of the worst things that could happen in this life to them inside of me like an unopened curse. i took them down to the bedroom and I said please come here. I said Daddy isnt coming home. He cant. He wont ever come home. He was too hurt and the doctors couldnt fix him. and i buried all three of them against me and my oldest cried and my younger two smiled confusedly with tears in their eyes and i said if he could have chosen he would be here. if he was given a choice he would be here with you. there is no better place.
and we wept together there on July 11th 2015 at 8:15pm
The business of death is a real and cruel and frightening thing. I signed at least a hundred documents. Probably more. Authorizations. Certifications. Declarations.
You pay for everything. Body cold storage. Transport from the hospital. They’ve got a showroom just for urns. So many colors and shapes. One stood out to me immediately. You wouldn’t believe what they charge.
My family and the network of friends I’d built, a second family rescued me. My income alone is a pittance. 150 dollars a week. There were death benefits to apply for but it would be months out. Kindness saved us. Love saved us. Family and second family saved us. strangers saved us. As jaded as this made me, when we were in dire need, people who barely knew us paid our rent. Got us through. I have spent this last year trying my hardest to pay that forward in any way I can and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
I keep waiting for someone to remember. But memories are short and it is no one else’s duty. Grief keeps its own sick track for me. This week has lasted an eternity. Pins and needles. Hardly breathing.
People handle grief in different ways. Once the kids were asleep there were only so many times I could clean the refridgerator, play word games, cry into my pillow. i was frantic and lost and alone. I put my grief on display. I wrote, I podcasted. maybe people bristled at that. i dont rightly give a damn. So many people told me I could come to them any time. Beautiful, kind people with lives and trouble of their own. Tell me how do you interrupt someone’s life? Tell me how do you message someone at 11 at night and tell them youre in hell? How do you inflict that upon them even though you know theyll love you through it? Tell me, because i still dont know.
There is a rampant death denial that is palpable. Use the words Death, Dead, Die, Died, instead of Passed on, went to his reward, etc and see the reaction. Speak publically and openly about your grief. Bleed freely. Youre met with radio silence. It’s something to be kept to yourself or behind closed doors. A taboo. like speaking on it could bring it upon you or your loved ones. a curse or an omen. People like to live in their illusion that theyre immortal. They distract themselves from their mortality and dont like to be reminded of it. I’ll point the finger at myself here too. I am not immune. As much as I’d like to say this experience has made me live more in the moment it hasnt. I am just as in denial as ever.
This image above is from a compilation video NASA SDO put out in December 2015. They had a photograph of the Sun from every day of the year. It took me 20 minutes but I felt it important to save this frame from that day. One of the worst days of my life. It is significant due to its insignifcance. It looks much the same as every other frame in the video. On this day millions of other tragedies ensued. On this day millions of triumphs. On this day millions of people went about their normal business. My grief is but a whisper.
Last night as I did dishes, my daughter drew with markers. Lines lines lines with a central point. she grew increasingly frustrated and started to cry, then to scream. i went to her and asked how i could help her.
I WANT TO PAINT MOMMY I WANT TO PAINT.
Tired. Beyond tired. Exhausted. I poured paint on to a paper plate and sat it in front of her on the table.
Discard the old plate, new plate, only yellow. There.
YOU PAINT MOMMY YOU PAINT. Huge sobs. Genuine.
What do you want me to paint, honey?
and I did. and she slept with it next to her.
She doesnt know about the screen cap from the video or this post ive been writing and i doubt she consciously knows about the date coming up, but she knows.
And I don’t know what to do.