The day Tom died, I lost more than a husband. I lost a family. From the moment I turned on CNN, the family I loved, enjoyed and belonged to began to fracture, as if the second the plane crashed, it became more than tortured steel and shredded rubber.
Tom was from a large, German, Catholic family, where he was the baby of seven. There was quite an age difference between the oldest and the youngest. I’ve always believed Tom was the favorite, the golden child, because he was most like his father and was the last child his mother could ever have.
He loved his family, but they exasperated him. He was closest to his father and endured his mother. He once told me he loved his mother, but he didn’t like her. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when they turned on me. There were signs over the years that I didn’t measure up. When we got engaged at graduation, she was planning a celebratory family dinner. I wasn’t invited, until she found out we were engaged, and then she felt obligated.
Tom’s first job took us to Fargo, ND. There was never any question I wasn’t going, although the wedding was 10 months away. The night before the moving van came, we moved my boxes to his house. As my boxes sat in their living room, his mother told Tom if I intended to live together, and then have a large “white” wedding not to bother sending invitations to the family, because none of them would come. Tom stood up against her and she finally backed down. She never apologized to me.
Years later, his family was incredibly supportive when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They flew in for my surgery and sat by my bed. Seven months later when I ran the NYC marathon, they were wearing sweatshirts with words of encouragement.
But, when we announced we were adopting, his mother wasn’t happy. The rest of the family was ecstatic. Weeks before Tom’s death, one of his brothers call to try and convince him not to adopt, but hire a surrogate instead. I was the problem after all, and with a surrogate, the family genes would be passed on. Tom hung up the phone in anger. It was the last time he ever spoke to his brother.
If these memories of the past didn’t raise a red flag, how they treated me during the funeral should have woke me up. Tom’s memorial service was held in the church we were married. His family wanted to memorialize the child Tom was. I wanted to celebrate the man he became. They wanted to have the Stations of the Cross; I wanted to toast him with Scotch and cigars.
It didn’t stop there. His brother insinuated himself into the investigation of the crash, claiming I was overcome with grief and he was acting on behalf of the entire family. He was notified of official information before me, such as the recovery of Tom’s remains. When he knew about the recovery of Tom’s wedding ring before me, the shit hit the fan. My attorneys took on the Nova Scotia government and I tackled the US State Department. But, as soon as all of his remains were identified, I closed the door on his meddling family. They wanted Tom’s remain repatriated and buried in their small town cemetery, I intended to have him cremated and his ashes scattered over the crash site. They tried to manipulate me by playing the church card, but I stood firm.
The day I scattered his ashes, his family was absent. They didn’t know. They would have turned it into a three-ring circus, but I made it about Tom. I informed his father in a very difficultly written, heartfelt letter. His family never forgave me for that, but if I had to do it all over again, I would change nothing.
An uncertain truce was called after I adopted Elliott. Although they attended her christening and showered her with gifts, they were sharpening their knives. I sued the airline after Tom’s death. I was the only person who had the legal right, but they effectively counter sued me. They seemed to have forgotten at the moment we said, “I do” all rights shifted to me. They claimed our marriage wasn’t solid, Tom wasn’t Elliott’s father, and they disclaimed Elliott as family, and claimed breast cancer wasn’t an excuse not to have children.
By the end, his mother said Tom married beneath him, it was my fault we didn’t live near home, and if I read between the lines, she wished it were me on the plane rather than Tom. One of the very low points during this difficult time came when a brother told me “they” had decided it was harder to lose a son than a husband.
My attorneys tried to protect me from the worst, but the damage was done. I became so paranoid I feared they would have me followed by a private investigator. By this time I had met Colby and I wanted to move on with my life. The amount of fear and anger this family was causing me was overwhelming. The hardest part of it all was I thought they loved me, I thought they cared, but to discover how they felt about me rocked me to the core.
Four years after Tom’s death, we were summoned to federal court in Philadelphia. The judge clearly took my side, but he went through the meditative process. In the end, an agreement was reached. The lawsuit was settled and I could move on. I exchanged “pleasantries” with his parents on leaving the courtroom. His mother was not warm and welcoming, his father was in pain. He hugged me a long time and I could feel how much he missed his son. He asked after Elliott and I gave him a picture. It was the last time I ever saw them.
I remember getting in a cab bound for the airport when I turned to my parents with tears streaming down my faces and said, “I can finally marry Colby.”
I lost more than a husband the night Tom died. I lost a family I loved, a family I enjoyed, and family I felt I belonged to.
How naïve I was…
Let me be honest with you and give full disclosure. We were not together. But we were very much together. Not sexually or romantically – but in every other way possible. We were a unit. He was my husband and the father of my daughter. We were madly in love and we fought equally as hard as we loved. But we couldn’t make it work because we had separate issues. When those issues aligned, they exploded and caught our lives on fire. We were, as the prolific Eminem says, “what happens when a tornado meets a volcano.”
We were even openly dating other people. I would tell anyone who was interested in me, “If this is going to work, please know you’ll not only be dating me, but you’ll be dating my husband and my daughter.” I’d ask him who he was sleeping with and if they were any good in bed. No one understood us, not even ourselves.
We never divorced and we took our vows very seriously, even if we weren’t fucking. He was still wearing his wedding band when he was found unconscious on a basement floor. I was still wearing mine an hour later when his Uncle called me to tell me things didn’t look good.
Less than 12 hours before that phone call, he and I were eating dinner at a Japanese restaurant with our daughter. We both had soup and split a sushi roll like we always did.
Our daughter was 5 at the time and said, “I like it when it’s just the three of us. We should do this more often.” He and I both nodded in agreement and I told him I’d like that very much. Maybe we could have figured out how to fix the mess we’d made, but probably not.
He mentioned needing to the grocery store to get some things for our daughter since she’d be spending the night at his place the next night. So we went together. I remembered how out of it he seemed to be. After he put only one item (strawberry shampoo) in the basket, he shrugged and said he’d get the rest later.
By then it was raining and he walked us back to my car. As he walked away I said, “Dude, I don’t even get a hug?” and he hugged me in the rain. I told him to be safe. The second I got home I called him to make sure he was home safely. He told me he loved me. I told him loved him, too.
I didn’t hear my cell phone until the second time his Uncle called because it was on vibrate. When my husband didn’t make it to work that morning, they went to check on him and found him unconscious. Paramedics broke his two front teeth trying to insert a breathing tube because his teeth were clenched. They couldn’t determine how long he’d be without oxygen. They couldn’t figure out what in the hell happened.
The whole drive to the hospital, I was convinced it would end up being an overdose or alcohol poisoning. I yelled and I screamed the whole way there. I cried. I told the universe if it took him away from me, I’d fucking kill it.
As it turns out, his system was completely clean. No drugs and the only sign of alcohol was so trace, they said it could have been from using mouthwash after brushing his teeth.
They spent 4 days running tests on him to figure out what happened. Four days on life support. Four days of not sleeping. Four days of seizures, which I thought was a good sign (I was wrong). Four days for friends and family to trickle in. He was only 25 and none of this made any sense.
I rubbed his feet. I told him stories. I teased him. If he could hear me, I wanted him to know that, like I promised him, I wasn’t going anywhere.
On the fourth day, they fit us all into a little room and told us there was no hope. He was brain dead and, oh yeah, they had no idea why. They might be able to tell us once an autopsy was performed. We made the unanimous decision that he would never want to live on machines.
On that fourth day, they wheeled him into an OR and removed all tubes and machinery. They said I could stay until he took his last breath and at that time I’d be ushered out so they could retrieve the few organs I approved.
I held his hand and quietly sang to him. I told him I didn’t want him to go, but it’d be okay if he had to. My face mask filled with snot and tears as I watched his breathing stop and fade out into the silence in the room.
I went to the liquor store and the guy behind the counter said, “Jesus, who died?” Slinging my bottle of vodka, I crawled into bed until the world stopped making so much noise. It never has.
The days and months following I heard some lovely gems:
“You weren’t together anymore. Why are you so upset?”
“We should get the ashes until your daughter turns 18. Then she can have them.”
“You’re not his wife.”
“Why was he wearing his ring if you weren’t together?”
“Weren’t you guys dating other people?”
“Why are you listed in the obituary?”
So let’s get this straight:
I wasn’t really his wife anymore, but I was wife enough to pay the medical bills (because he was on MY insurance), pay for half the funeral service, get all documents in order and pay off all the remaining debt he left behind. I could answer any question you’d ever ask about him. I wasn’t really his wife? Fuck you.
I admit we weren’t normal or conventional.
But let me be honest with you. Full disclosure. I loved that man with a depth, passion, and ferocity I could never explain. I hated him because he was everything I wanted and we couldn’t make it work. He was my best friend and knew everything about me – and loved me anyway.
He loved the smell of pumpkin and drank coffee at all hours. He wanted tattoos but never got any. His entire life was dedicated to our daughter. He was a chef. He smelled like mint. He had the most beautiful brown eyes that he passed down to our daughter. He dressed really well, except he had awful taste in hats.
Losing him is the worst thing that has ever happened to me and it has stolen a chunk of my heart forever.
He was my husband.
dead..wtf? my life my future, my love? what the hell just happened?
i sit there, in the ER. all i can think about is my son, at home. not knowing. HE DIDN’T KNOW..his dad is DEAD!!!
friends have started to arrive at the ER, (friends….i got friends)…i don’t know how they knew (susan? yes)…and i have to comfort them, but my son is at home. TAKE ME HOME!!
so, of the friends who have arrived, i take sheri and david. david drives me home, sheri following in my car.
as we drive up..i see the kid in the driveway. HOW???HOW????
i get out of the car, and he starts to scream. i will NEVER forget that howl. later, i will learn that the same howl emanated from me in the ER..i don’t remember it. but the kid’s…i’ll never forget that sound as long as i live. the sound of a heart breaking, both of our hearts, broken.
prior to leaving the ER i had told them i was going to go get my son and could they please clean everything up so i could have him see his dad. they did great…when we got there…well, tom looked as good as a new corpse could. we cried, and held him, and talked to him and cried and cried and cried….
and there were more people there by that time. because, because my husband and i are so lucky to have the friends we do, did. when we were on the way to the hospital, my friend susan, who i called, called her husband, and the word started to spread.
and some came to the hospital, but most people went to another friends house. and when the word came that tom was dead, well…all those gathered headed for my house. and the word kept going out. and by the time my son and i got back home there were 40 people in the house . and an hour later 80. and food, like the loaves and fishes…..
i can’t write anymore tonight.
maybe a little more. this is MY story, our story, but grief.. god, grief is binding. and there is so much neo-natal and child grief on this board that i cannot read it because it KILLS me. but i know it, just differently.and i pray that someone else will come on with a story like mine because i need to be identified with. if you’re reading this and not posting…please do.
i’m thinking i should tell my story.
or attempt to.
i am being nudged because there is a new site coming up and it’s about..READY FOR THIS…grief.
all kinds of grief, the grief spectrum. whatever.
anyway, i know about it. way too much. and i also realize this is an attempt, because it won’t be right.
not that it’ll ever be right, but i figure i’ll have to hone this to make it really readable, or good enough, or…
wtf? good enough? for who?
jesus, it is what it is. i write like i write. i feel what i feel. (sense the anger? i seethe a lot, sometimes it is a murderous rage, often directed at my dead husband. it’s a nice side effect of ptsd. as is depression and drinking and eating too much or too little – done all)
january 21 2006.
i feel my husband get out of bed, roll over. “morning”
..i go back to sleep.
(it’s a saturday morning, it’s 7:30 am..yeah, i go back to sleep! don’t judge)
maybe, MAYBE 5 minutes later i hear my son running down the hall, screaming “daddy fell and there’s blood”.
up like a shot, into the bathroom, where he was feeding the dog. water everywhere. did he slip in the water? “No. i passed out”….
calm me to crazed son ”call 911 and then get me some pants.” (i thought enough to ask for pants. i’m great in a crisis.)
husband not in pain, but says he’s having a hard time breathing. so we sit him up (BTW… we is me and a 13 year old scared shitless piece of love). we wait for the ambulance. it seems like hours..under 5 minutes.
i am CALM. SO CALM. i put on pants, i hold husbands head. i speak soothingly to both my guys. i call neighbor to come over to stay with son while i go to hospital. ambulance comes, and as they get him loaded and i see i can’t go in the ambulance, i grab water and my knitting…and then i BRUSH MY GODDAMED TEETH (WTF? what was i thinking?), because i figure i’ll be at the hospital for a while, and. and. and…i can’t remember if i told him i loved him. (drives me insane to this day)
i called my friend to meet me at hospital and took off. got a call en-route that ambulance was changing hospitals…what? why?….so i pull a u-turn in the middle of the street and head to the 2nd hospital. still..calm enough to call friend and tell her. weird.
(Later i find out that the 2nd hospital was trauma center. great)
when i arrive she is there, we go in. i speak to a nurse who IMMEDIATELY brings us into the ER. at this point….well, the dread is setting in. i breathe, say to susan “this can’t be good”.
AND NOW I NEED A BREAK…saving as draft.
(BTW..it’s been almost 5 years. i still can’t breathe, often, when i tell my story. and now i’m back, 6 days later to, hopefully, finish).
and i walk into the ER room that has doctors hustling and bustling (that sounds like a song from Oklahoma) and all i can see/feel/hear/ KNOW is that there is no life in that room. because, the only life i cared about is not there. the doctors kept working on tom as i held his hand and cried and asked for “a xanax, PLEASE”…, but he was gone, we all knew it. and there was a point when i just asked them when were they going to stop, so i could leave and get my son (my son, our son…how was i going to tell him?) and then they stopped. and called the time. and it was truly over.
(crying again. i wonder when i ever will not cry telling this?)
my husband and i met in 1985, married in 1989 and he died in 2006. our son was 13. my son will be 18 on september 21st, and the pain is still acute for him. but we’re going to get tattoos, SO FUCKING THERE! (tom HATED tattoos…we like them)
i’m older than most of you who will read this. i didn’t know about blogging when tom died, i wish i had. it would have helped.
the only thing i regret about that day, in terms of my choices, was the choice to leave my son at home. it seemed right at the time. i believe it was a mistake; we were without each others most important OTHER person at the worst moment of our lives.
i have never written all of this before, and it is filtered through several years. but, it is exactly how it was, because i will never forget it. and there is more to say about that day, and friends and how to deal with grief, for yourself and others, and i will.
i know i will because now i NEED to.
and i trust that this new site will be a safe place for us all.