Thursday, September 10, 2015
The hardest thing I've ever done
After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up to a 7 a.m. phone call from my friend, Trudi. She'd heard of my husband's death and was offering her heartbroken support. It was 1989 and my husband had died a short six hours prior.
I crawled out of bed and started wading through the fog of early widowhood. I was 32 years old and in no way prepared for what lie ahead. My mother, who had traveled across the state and arrived at 9:00 the previous morning, was in the kitchen making coffee. I asked for a cup of tea as I slid onto the counter stool opposite her. She asked questions I didn't feel like answering. "How are you this morning?" "Did you sleep okay?" "Who was on the phone?"
I wanted to be alone. But I'd have plenty of alone time soon. My husband was dead.
The day was filled with phone calls and travel plans for family and friends making the obligatory funeral trek. There were local visitors bearing gifts of food and flowers. I was beyond grateful to my friend, Kathy, who spent the previous day cleaning my home (not an easy task... it looked like a disaster area when I'd rushed out the door at 3 a.m. to get to the hospital). After learning the prognosis (Jim had zero chance of survival), she hugged me tightly and headed to my home to clean. What a gift that was for me.
Sandy, another cherished friend, answered the phone in the middle of the night and didn't hesitate to say yes when I asked her if I could drop the children off so I could head to the hospital. At least it was a Saturday and no one had to be up for school in the morning.
But all of that was the day before and I was up and facing the day ahead. My mother had retrieved the girls from Sandy's the previous afternoon, so they were safely tucked into bed. By 8:30, I knew it was time to face the hardest thing I've ever done.
"Do you want me to go with you?" my mother had asked.
But no. This was something I had to do on my own. Dragging my weary self down the hallway to their shared room, I stood at the door and watched their breathing (their blessed breathing) as they snuggled together in the double bed.
As I sat down on the edge, my 5-year-old opened her eyes. "Mommy!" she nearly shouted, wrapping her arms around my neck and squeezing tightly. Tears fell swiftly down my cheeks. She sat back and looked at me.
"What's wrong, Mommy?" she asked.
By then, her 7-year-old sister had awakened. There was no shouted greeting, no hug. She lie there looking at my face and she knew.
"I have some really sad news," I said, trying to maintain some kind of composure. How had this happened? Why was I here telling my girls their daddy was dead? There had to be a mistake. Where the hell is the rewind button??
"Remember I told you Daddy was in a fire yesterday?" I continued.
"Is Daddy okay?" the little one asked. "Is he coming home today?"
The older of the two rolled over, turning away from the inevitable.
"No, honey, Daddy's not coming home. He was hurt too badly and he's in heaven now." By now, there was no stopping the tears. It took a moment or two for my words to register in my baby girl's mind and heart. Then her tears joined mine.
"I want my daddy," she cried. "I want my daddy."
Her older sister just stared at me with a blank expression. She knew what I was going to say and was determined not to cry. So she didn't. Not for a very, very long time.
And so it was for us. Years of shared tears between my youngest and me that did not include my other daughter. She took on the role of fixer and tried to care for her grieving widowed mother the best way she could. It was a responsibility no 7-year-old should ever bear, yet I mistakenly allowed it for far too long. I depended on her, yet worried about her seeming lack of emotion over her father's death. It was a difficult and trying time.
And that was what it was like for me 26 years ago today. It was the beginning of my journey as a widow and single mother. It was the beginning of growth and learning, of self-discovery and lots and lots of pain.
I pray that none of you ever has to face this type of journey as a young widow. But if you do, I hope you will be kind to yourself as you stumble over mistakes and bad choices. And I hope you will contact me. I'll be more than happy to help you navigate the turbulent waters that stretch out before you.