In Memoriam

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

5 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. Thank you for sharing this moment with all of us. I knew the circumstance of Jon's death – I didn't know that you got the call at the airport. I don't know if getting the call at home – or being there at the hospital would have made it better, but certainly, being at the airport, made it worse. No doubt, your girls kept you upright – putting 1 foot in front of the other. Amazing how we find strength when we never could imagine it. xoxo

  2. One of the things that's weird about Facebook is that it has forced me to understand that my childhood friends actually grew up behind my back when I wasn't in touch with them. It reminds me of the beginning of Annie Hall, when all of Woody Allen's classmates, who appear as children, all say what will happen to them later as adults. So last year, I found out that Andreana is no longer 11 or 12 years old but has grown up, and this terrible thing has happened. I'm so sorry that you went though this. Powerfully written.

  3. Thanks, Jesse. It's so funny the way we remember people. I always look twice when I see your profile picture, because I still picture you in Mrs. Berg's class at PS 208. What's even more funny to me is that my middle daughter has just turned 12 years old. It is hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that I was her age when you and I were classmates. Anyway, thanks for the compliments about my piece. It was an EXTREMELY difficult time. Each year at this time it feels as if someone is picking at the scab. I'm glad that I was able to share with and touch some of my readers.

  4. Yet another piece to touch me. You have some well written pieces here. I felt as if I was in that airport with you as your Mother-in-law dropped to her knees. I do not have an experience to compare the heart ache you must feel. My Grandmother was widowed with three small children (5,4, &3) and one on the way (she lost that baby due to stress and grief). My father’s real father pasted suddenly from a rare type of leukemia (which was found out later). My Grandmother also remarried and had two more children. My Aunt, Uncle, and father from her first marriage (her “true” love) were well adjusted children and even went on to call him Dad. There is a MAJOR difference in your story and my Grandmother’s. You keep Jon alive for your daughters. You keep his memory and presence in their lives. I think that this is wonderful. My grandmother threw away every picture, card, letter, news paper clipping, wedding dress, everything that had even a remanence of my “grandfather”. I have so many questions that no one can really answer. I have one photo of him (and my father was identical to him), I know he was FDNY, I know that he married his high school sweetheart, I know he was a De Santis, and I know he was taken too soon. I wish that I had more pictures, more knowledge, more information, just more. I don’t know hard to explain but almost like a hole where his knowledge should be. He passed away 15 years before I was born but in some ways still affects me. I guess my grandmother thought it was easier to try and erase the past. I knew at 16 that my “grandfather” adopted my father when he was 6 but I didn’t find anything else out until the passing of my grandmother. It was her first husbands name she spoke on her death bed. It was him she called for at night in pain. I wish I could of known the man that was supposed to be my grandfather or at least known his family. I want to commend you (and Danny, it takes an understanding man,) for keeping Jon alive for your girls and for your future Grandchildren (WAY WAY WAY in the future). I think that Sam and Allie are both wonderful young ladies (Lilly too). I think you are doing and have done a wonderful job in bringing your girls up. I think they will be even more grateful as time goes on and they have a family of their own.

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