The morning Steve died started like any other for me. My phone alarm went off with that damn T-Mobile signature ring. I opened my eyes, thought about what I had to do that day and got up. I had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, after coming home late from work. I stood up to go wake up the girls for school and glanced over at the armchair and side table in my living room and I stopped. Steve’s shoes, laptop, cell phone, and car keys were on the table. My first thought? “Oh shit – he over slept.” I knew he had an early meeting that morning and he should have been gone by now. I thought how upset he was going to be and I quickly walked down the hall to wake him up.
I walked into our bedroom and walked to the end of the bed. I grabbed his foot and shook it and said, “Hey you! You’re late love! Get up!” Nothing. No movement. He was not that hard to wake up usually. I tried again. Nothing. I got a weird feeling and then walked along his side of the bed. Anyone else would have known right away. Anyone else would have known immediately. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I tried to get him to wake up. The look on his face, the feel of his body would have let anyone know right away. I ran down the hall to grab the phone and ran back to the bedroom. I called 911. I thought perhaps he had a seizure and there were complications. I told the operator what was going on and they dispatched an ambulance. The operator asked me if I knew CPR and I started. Anyone else would have known. I remembered that the front door was locked and I thought “They’re going to have to knock it down if I don’t go open it.” I thought that Steve would be so pissed if the door was kicked in. I ran and unlocked the door and then ran back to continue CPR.
Our daughter’s bedroom door was directly across the hall from ours. I heard the door knob turn and I said, “Hey, stay in your room. Don’t open the door.” My oldest said that she had to go to the bathroom and I told her she was going to have to wait a few minutes. I am pretty sure I even threw in an “Everything is OK.” Everything was not ok but my brain couldn’t admit it.
The EMT’s arrived and came right into the house and into the bedroom. I stayed on the phone with the operator that whole time until they arrived. I hung up and allowed one of them to walk over to where I was, right next to Steve on his side of the bed. I walked around to the doorway to give them room. The EMT that went right to Steve and gently knelt down next to him, looked at him, felt for a pulse. It took all of 10 seconds and he knew what I couldn’t admit. He looked over at me and said, “He’s gone.”
“Really?” was all I could get out. Really? My husband is gone. No options, no do-over, no help. Just gone. They gradually walked with me out to the living room and I sat down on the couch. My brain was shut down – everything felt like it was in slow motion. I wanted to crawl into a hole. But – there was no hole, there was no escape. There was not even a moment to process because – my daughter was awake, in her room, needing to go to the bathroom. I had no option but to go down the hall and talk to her, tell her. No time to plan, think of the best possible way to say it. There is no good way to say it.
I walked down the hall and opened the door. She was in the upper bunk, sitting up in the dark. My youngest was still sound asleep down below. They were 6 and 4 years old. So young. Way too young to have their world turned upside down. I climbed up into the upper bunk and told her I had something to tell her. I didn’t know how to get it out of my mouth, didn’t know how to find the words, did not know how to do this.. It was the worst moment of my life.
I held her and looked in her eyes and felt dizzy. “I have something really sad to tell you. And I am so sorry. Daddy died last night. He had a seizure in his sleep and he died.” I held her, I hugged her, I cried, she cried. Her first words to me were, “Now we have another saint in heaven to pray to.” I was floored. This amazing little girl. I was so grateful to have the framework of angels and saints and religion to help her process this, help all of us process this. We got down from the upper bunk and knelt next to my youngest, woke her up and told her, this sweet little baby girl. She was confused, sleepy, sad. So sad. We said an Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then I told them that the house was full of a lot of people right now, all wonderful, nice people that were all there for no other purpose but to help us. Maggie still needed to go to the bathroom so there was no delaying going out there. I don’t think any of us wanted to open that door and go out there, didn’t want to let the light of day into that sweet room, didn’t want to move forward into this new reality. But we did it. We opened the door and all together walked out and moved forward, because you always have to. Whether you like it or not.