It can be hard to describe what it feels like to experience a loss. It’s one of those things that people will say, “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” and actually be right. You may think you know how you will feel and react but, the truth is, you don’t. You can’t. Not until you actually experience it. Believe me, I speak from experience.
Nine years ago today, I got the phone call that everyone dreads. My husband was away on a business trip in Miami, Florida. I got a call in the middle of the night from one of his colleagues. There had been a car accident. Jon (my husband) was not in good shape. He had been taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital. When I called the emergency room there, the woman on the phone (a nurse?) snipped at me, “Are you on your way here yet???” I explained that I was in New York and that my husband was there on business. Suddenly a doctor was talking to me. I remember little of the conversation, only words like “probably not survivable,” and “organ donor.” But I could not process it. All I could think about was getting down there to him. I wanted to see for myself what had happened. As I approached the first security checkpoint at the airport, I got the call. It was over. He was gone. The world seemed to come to a complete halt. I had to deliver the news to Jon’s mother and brother, both of whom I was about to get on a plane with. We sobbed, out loud. My mother-in-law sank to her knees. People walking everywhere. Around us. Away from us. Looking at us as if we we were crazy. No one stopped. No one. The sun was barely beginning to show signs of life in Newark. The airport was moving from a low hum to abuzz. I was surrounded by people, but I never felt so alone.
The car ride back home is a blur. My stomach turned as I realized my next task. I had to tell my children. My girls. My life. All I had left. They were six and three. I would not wake them up to tell them. Let them sleep. As long as they slept, it hadn’t happened to them yet. I was jealous. Their world had not yet changed. Their reality had not yet crashed into thousands of tiny pieces, resembling nothing even remotely recognizable. The way that mine just had. In their sweet dreamland, all was right with the world. They slept longer than usual, or at least it seemed that way. When I heard the faint sounds of their awakening I thought for sure I would vomit. But I knew I had to be the one to tell them. They couldn’t hear it from anyone else. Like all the other difficult parenting jobs Jon and I were presented with, it was up to me. I heard myself talking, but I don’t know where the words came from. Maybe from Jon. Then there was silence. And then cries. Loud, uncontrollable sobbing. Somehow, I was no longer hurting for myself. What was left of my broken heart was breaking even more now. My girls. I had to protect them. It was my job. And now it was my job, alone.
People often ask me, today, how I got through “it.” They want to know what the magic formula I used was, to end up where I am now, living a pretty normal life with extremely well-adjusted children. Content. Happy. Often smiling. The answer is not complicated. I have no idea how it happened. I mean, looking back on it, I can see how and why I ended up where I am. But I didn’t follow a prescribed plan. I didn’t follow any plan. I read a single book about children and the grieving process. A friend gave me a copy of The Empty Chair, from which we used a candle lighting ceremony for the first Christmas we celebrated without Jon. Mostly I just thought about everything. I thought about everything BEFORE I did anything. My children were young. They wouldn’t realize a lot of what was going on “behind the scenes” in the moment. But someday they would ask questions. So before I did anything, I would think about what I would tell them, if they asked me as teenagers (or adults) why I chose to handle “something” the way that I did. I chose respect. Integrity. Honor. Above all else, I put the needs and feelings of my children first. That, and an amazing therapist, got me to where I am today.
Am I making it sound easy? If I am, I apologize. I can tell you without any reservation at all that it was, and is, NOT easy. It was a very bumpy road. The first year without Jon was especially difficult – on all of us. There were times when I was certain I would fall apart, like the first Christmas morning without him. But I didn’t. And then there were times when I would fall apart, without any warning or anticipation, like when I heard one of his favorite songs on the car radio. I’m writing about all of this in the past tense, as if it were no longer an issue. But that’s not true. It still hurts. Aches. It is simply no longer a surprise that it does. I have lived nine whole years without Jon. I know, most of the time, when to expect to feel “it.” “It” is an evolutionary process. It is part of who I am, who I have become. It will NEVER go away. I have come to accept that. I even embrace it.
The loss of Jon and the path I have taken to get where I am today have taught me a lot about myself and my girls. More than that, it has taught me several important “life lessons.” These lessons have little to do with being widowed or experiencing loss. In fact, in my experience, what I have learned as a result of being a widow, are some of the truths that exist in our world and they apply to all people. They are important truths. Laws? Things like: true friends reveal themselves in times of trouble; you cannot just “talk the talk,” you must also “walk the walk;” and life can be impossible without a solid network of support. There are more and I will write in more detail about these and others in the coming months. I invite you to check back as I share with you what I’ve learned on this journey called “my life.” And I strongly encourage your feedback.
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…..”
– Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene 1