Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Time To Talk

I recall that Saturday, May 13, 2006 morning standing by my husband's bedside, still absorbing the fact of his unexpected death during his sleep. The understanding and supportive police officer stood quietly across from me at the far corner of the foot of the bed. He had arrived at my home within a few short minutes in response to my emergency 911 phone call, after I discovered my husband's lifeless body whose facial skin was already cool to the touch of my fingertips and lips. The officer had offered his help with various questions as to what I might like him to do, or what did I want to do ... whatever. I just recall his calm, rational manner, but I cannot bring to mind many of the specific words exchanged between us.

I'm sure he must have inquired about the circumstances of my husband's death which I vaguely recall describing to him as I, too, was trying to make sense of it all. I think I told him of my husband having just seen his doctor the previous morning for a follow-up visit. For the prior two to three years, my husband had periodically undergone various tests to determine whether or not he had a small abdominal aortic aneurysm. Sometimes the aneurysm appeared to be present, sometimes not, but the medical action plan had been to track the small bulge for any increase in size. Tracking had been an ongoing problem since the bulge often was hidden from view during ultrasounds. The definitive angiogram or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests could not be administered since he had other serious medical problems making either test unsafe for him.

My husband had told me the Dr. said the results of this most recent ultrasound once again failed to reveal the aneurysm's presence, but they could not conclude it no longer existed, much less know its current size. Once I made that 911 call, I know I remained on the phone with the operator until the police officer arrived. I know I phoned each of our children, reaching my son immediately, leaving a message for my daughter for our later conversation, but I cannot recall making those calls, when in the sequence of activities I made them, or receiving calls returned. I do remember my son saying he would immediately begin making arrangements to fly home. He arrived later that night. My daughter and granddaughter came home at a mutually agreed upon later date, but we had frequent phone contact daily until then. I don't recall whether that day or later days I phoned others significant in my life.

I knew I must remain strong for my children and myself. I was very good at that with lots of experience. Always before for me, once the crisis was over would be time to emotionally let down. This time proved to be the same only to a degree, but different in so many other ways including the process that lay ahead of adapting to my life being forever changed.

Later the officer went outside to direct the emergency teams. I expected their arrival would be heralded first by the large red fire truck with sirens screaming, soon followed by a small red paramedic truck, from having experienced that scenario before numerous times when I had to call them for my mother. This time, when they arrived on my street, there was no siren since I presume they had been forewarned there was no life in the balance here. An advance directive clearly specified no extraordinary means were to be taken to prolong my husband's life, but he was past the point of having such techniques administered anyway.

Before the officer went outside to direct paramedics to our house, I stood by my dead husband's side, thoughts racing through my mind of those hours from the last time I had spoken with him, had seen him breathing peacefully in his sleep, until the moment I found him. So many words came to mind. For much too long there had been sensitive topics around the edges of which we skirted, that might gradually emerge from time to time. There were those topics with other issues of more recent vintage where the rocky barriers had only begun to be worn down, allowing our words to begin sliding more easily over their once razor sharp edges.

I told the officer, as though somehow he could call back my husband and we could rectify this matter that was pressing on my mind, "There was so much we needed to talk about...so much that we hadn't had an opportunity to yet say...."

In retrospect now, I pause to think, that fateful Saturday the 13th day he died was the same day and date we had begun our first full day as husband wife so many decades ago. We were married on the preceding Friday night the 12th -- the exact same day and date I shared my husband's last wakeful living moments, two months shy of our forty-third wedding anniversary. Just imagine, in forty-three years, we still had much love and laughter to share, so much more we needed to talk about.


  1. Such a poignant post! My mother was buried on her's and daddy's 50th anniversary, and I know they still had much to talk about. So do mr. kenju and I and I will probably be still saying that if I survive him. Take care. I think you will always be thinking about this on the 13th of May, no matter the year.

  2. Joared,

    I have been unloading on you this week, and now I feel very self-centered.

    How like you to put the other person at ease, when there is just as much inner turmoil going on in your own life.

    Kman and I have been together as a couple now for six years. I can't imagine life without him now.

    I couldn't begin to say I truly understand given that you were graced with such a lasting marriage, but I certainly have a glimmer of what you must have gone through in 2006.

    My heart aches with this story, but I also know that you are a strong and unique woman.

    This couldn't have been easy to write, but thank you for sharing.

  3. Oh Joared, this post has brought tears to my eyes....so beautiful and ironic in its timing....in the timing of your married life together. I felt the same way when my husband died....there was so much more that needed to be said. I know this must have been a hard day for you sweetie....and no matter how strong a person you are...this had to have been difficult to write....I'm sending you many, many big hugs.

  4. Having only started reading your posts recently, I do not know if this is the first time your have "spoken" of this here. But, it does have that feel to it -- so much raw courage framed by a deliberate and direct tenderness. If a loving and supportive relationship endures 43 or 143 years, there would always be so much left to say, so much yet to do...

    Thanks for having the courage to share these very private and personal feelings with us...

  5. I haven't lost a spouse, just parents a ands the people you are supposed to lose, but there does alway seem to be things left unsaid. I don't think there's any way around it for most of us.

    Great piece.

  6. Oh Joared, I want to cry after reading your account of your husband's death. Instead I am strengthened by your words. You were so strong and brave to remain calm during this crisis. The mind must shut down when you have to cope with the unthinkable..
    Your dear husband died in his sleep. What a peaceful way to leave this earth.

    Thank you for sharing this.


  7. Thanks to each of you for your supportive comments and thoughts.

    kenju: Expect I will be unable to avoid having this date ever present in my mind. My preference is to think of other special dates including his birthday and our wedding. Will just have to see how memories evolve in the coming years.

    liz: You haven't been self-centered. There's much healing to be said for getting outside my own self-interests and thinking about others -- helps keep life in perspective. Before now I couldn't have written this, much less share the experience in this way on my blog.

    Joy: I'm sure you, I and many others experiencing loss (especially a spouse or life partner) have much in common. Knowing this, I do wonder why I had such reservations about sharing this story here.

    Winston: You are insightful as to the challenge I felt writing this piece. I really debated with myself about even posting it here. I have little doubt relationships of much shorter duration than mine, in which one member is left alone, can be just as challenging for that man or woman left to cope with creating a new life.

    anvilcloud: Think you're correct about our always having more we'd like to be able to say to those with whom it is no longer possible to do so, whatever our relationship. We all do have so many similar thoughts and feelings when we experience loss.

    chancy: I managed to stay seemingly calm in phone conversations I intentionally, somehow, was able to keep brief and short. Whenever my son or my daughter was present I felt their young adult strength. I truly realized they were no longer children, and we each felt safe with each other, allowing emotions to flow freely.

  8. Joared, this is such a heartfelt and open post, written so well and so vitally about something that must have been gutwrenching.

    I've heard told that two years is a huge marking point in grieving; the first year you just get through and the second you go through the grief then of transition. I can see with your writing that this is a huge turning point in many ways.

    This is really touching and I appreciate your sharing this.

  9. JoAnn,
    I was overwhelmed by your post. The circumstances you describe are so relevant to our situation as my wife and I approach our 55th wedding anniversary while coping with serious health problems. I only hope that my wife handles my passing with the kind of courage you displayed.

  10. motherpie: I became aware in a sudden instant mid-April of this year that a significant change had occurred in me. I don't know why, nor was there any specific incident that triggered it -- just seemed to be, and my mind became aware of what deep in my gut I realized I already knew.

    Mort: Sooner or later we all deal with similar circumstances, in one way or another. I guess we know how we would like to handle a situation, but we never really know how we'll react until it happens, I think. We often find strength within ourselves we never knew was there, and others worried needlessly might not be present.

  11. What a moving piece you wrote. It's so hard for the survivor to lose someone so suddenly but a blessing for the one who goes.

    My husband is gone 14 years and I still remember that very difficult first year, the second year was a little better and by the third year I was making a life for myself.

    Mort is so right -" we often find strength within ourselves we never knew was there."

    Life goes on and we march with it.

  12. Such a moving post, in which I recognize so many of the feelings you express.
    Thanks for sharing this, I know how difficult it is to write about intimate things, but somehow, I've always found it helped.

  13. Joared--what a poignant tribute, memory. I am sure this was both painful and cathartic to write.
    Your experience brought back memories, as my father in law died suddenly many years ago of an aneurysm. Such a shock. He too had just seen the doctor and been pronounced healthy.
    I pray succeeding years will keep the memories alive, and help heal you.

  14. So much pain, so much courage. I was deeply touched by your sadness and your strength. How quickly our lives change without warning.

  15. Mille, Claude, pepe, kgmom, Pam:
    Thanks for your comments here. I know so many of us have had or may have similar such future experiences, and yet, they're all so highly unique events for each of us.

  16. Joared:
    You have really given us a gift here! I'm so glad to know that someone else feels the way I did when my mother died - that you still had so much left to say to each other. I'm comforted to know that even the longest, most compatible partners can feel that way at the end as well.
    Your piece is also a prescient warning to me to voice what I need to to my husband of almost 35 years now, before it's too late. I tend to take our lives together for granted, as if we'll go on forever. You've given me the wake-up call here that I needed. It's a wake-up call because it's authentic. You know from firsthand experience.
    There are many people who can benefit from this; I'd look into publishing this piece Joared, in a wider forum. You might look at the personal essay section of AARP Magazine. I see that as a good fit.

  17. ml: Glad these words resonated for you as I've found so many others, including yours, have for me. Even with all the medical problems my husband had, our realistically recognizing their implications, we still took our life together for granted, then, suddenly, there was no tomorrow as a couple.

    Thanks for the suggestion about AARP, perhaps I'll explore that idea.

  18. Always walking by your side in my heart. Sorry I have not been around for awhile - what a achingly beautiful story - unconditional love is a gift that even death cannot take away.

    1. Suzann, though several years have passed, I've returned to read all these words again. Your kind thoughts remind me of your loss and your evolution into a new life.

    2. Suzann, though several years have passed, I've returned to read all these words again. Your kind thoughts remind me of your loss and your evolution into a new life.

  19. I've started this comment at least three of four times but each time I lost my nerve. So here it goes.

    On this date--July 10, 1995 my wife Rose died. We miss 37 years of marriage by 3 weeks. My adult children, my two sons and daughter were holding her hand telling her how much we loved her as she departed.

    She entered the hospital June 14 with advanced stages of ovarian cancer. After a hysterectomy, one chemotherapy she could not 'turn the corner' as the nurses would hopefully say almost everyday. I grew to dislike that expression because she could never 'turn the corner'.

    One thing I am most grateful for is that we had no loose ends, no unresolved issues. I must of said "I love you" a thousand times after she entered the hospital. And yet I wanted to tell her that once more. I wanted to write it one more time.

    Months later I kept wanting to tell her how much she meant to me. While cleaning out her dresser drawer I found the Mother's Day card I wrote to her just weeks before she entered the hospital. And there they were. All the words I wanted to say to her in my handwriting. Needless to say the card is a treasure.

    Our marriage far exceeded my expectations. For that I'm grateful.

    Joared thank you for your courage in writing your story. It touched my heart!

    1. I've been prompted by a recent conversation with a dear old friend to read again what was said here several years ago. Again, I'm moved by your courage, Bob, to share your personal feelings here about the loss of your wife.

  20. This is the first time I've read this. You remind us so poignantly of life's fragility--here one minute, gone the next. It's ever been a mystery, and I suppose this is one of the roots of belief in an afterlife. Your blog is full of intelligence and compassion. I'll be thinking about the lessons of this post today long after I've signed off and gotten on with the laundry and other swell stuff....

    So glad to be connected!

    1. We all know how fleeting life is, but I'm not sure we fully realize -- and then a life leaves our earthly presence.