Anyone else would have known

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.

 

“Cooking is love made visible”

Steve died on a rainy, cold Thursday in November.  The days leading up to his death were good ones and at the time, seemed like just simple, normal, everyday days. But looking back on them, they were indeed special and I saw that right away. That specialness gave me comfort after he died and it still does. I am not sure if it demonstrates evidence of a bigger plan, one that we know nothing about, or if it’s just blessed coincidence, but either way, those few days bring comfort and peace to a time that was anything but.

Two days before he died, I made dinner in the afternoon before I went to work as I always did. I worked in the evening’s part time and I was such a good 50’s housewife that I would almost always have a home cooked meal on the table before I left. I cannot get over that now – how together I was then and how organized and energetic. I often lament about the fact that I am such a different mother now than I was then and how my girls only really know me as the mom I am today. Which is often a hot mess. I used to exercise every morning, I used to volunteer all the time at their school, I worked in the evenings and yet was up, bright eyed and bushy tailed every morning. I never napped.  Almost always, I cooked homemade meals and my kitchen and house were clean and tidy. That changed after Steve died – I changed. I do not necessarily think I am a “worse” mother now than I was then but I am different and I often feel like a slacker compared to the old me. But death and grief change you in a way that is difficult to describe. You are tired all the time – for a long time. You feel like you are moving in slow motion and you feel heavy. You feel sick and like everything is wrong in the world. Whenever I was out in public I felt like a spotlight was on me – even at 10pm in the stark aisles of the grocery store. You are expecting to see your loved one walk in wherever you are – but they never do. You are all of a sudden an only parent and that realization alone is enough to take the wind out of your sails. Some of the early grief emotions do go away but some linger for years, some linger forever. Whatever that saying is about walking thru a storm and coming out on the other side a different person – it’s true. But the person you have become is richer, deeper and stronger than the person you ever were before. More tired for sure – but way more empathetic and appreciate of love.

So I made dinner on Tuesday and I honestly don’t remember what I made. But – it was quite obviously lacking. My husband commented that it was not a very hearty meal, not so great. He actually said, “Why don’t you make Chicken Pot Pie anymore? I love your Chicken Pot Pie.” I kind of flipped a little. You know why I didn’t make stinkin’ Chicken Pot Pie during the week? Because it takes hours – and it’s worth every second because it’s so damn good – but it takes hours. And I was busy! I had 2 girls, the house, bills,getting ready for work, getting them after school. A dish like that was not something I would attempt on a school day. But –

The next day, I said to the girls, “Let’s surprise Daddy. Let’s make Chicken Pot Pie tonight. And those delicious Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies that he loves.” I did have to work that evening but It was a day the girls got out of school early so I shopped in the morning and got everything going and then they helped me finish up and make cookies. It was all ready when he got home at 5:30 that night and he walked in and could smell the amazingness coming out of the kitchen and filling the house. I told him what we’d made and he smiled big. Really big and gave me and the girls huge hugs. I had to rush to leave the house and get to work. I kissed him and the girls goodbye and left. As I pulled out of the driveway and turned to drive away, I looked in the big front window. Steve was waving to me and I waved back, smiling.

Later that night, he called me at work. That call could have gone either way. He could have been calling me to tell me something was wrong, with the kids or with something at the house. He could have been calling, upset with something I had done (not terribly uncommon). We could have argued. But it was a good call, really good. He called to tell me thank you – for dinner, for the cookies, for thinking of him and for going to the effort. He called to tell me he loved me. He called and asked me about the pregnancy test that he saw on the shelf in the bathroom. I said, “There’s always a pregnancy test in the bathroom.” That’s not uncommon when you are trying to get pregnant. And then we talked about our plan to have another baby. “We’re really going to do this?” he asked, with a smile in his voice and a hint of uncertainty. “Yes we’re going to do this,” I said. “The girls will love it, they’ll have more family when they get older and so will we. This will be good for us. And just think how cute it will be.” He said OK. He really wanted this. I said I loved him and I then I said, “Wait up for me.” He said he would try. He told me he loved me and hung up the phone.

When I got home that night, he was asleep. I never wanted to wake him up when I got home late so I let him sleep and I watched the news and fell asleep. He died in his sleep that night. He died with a full, happy stomach after enjoying his favorite meal, in his bed, in his favorite sleeping t-shirt and boxers, after talking to his wife about having a baby, and telling her – and his girls – that he loved them. He never would have chosen to go, but I think looking down on it, he was satisfied with his dramatic, final exit from this world.