It is now 3 years and almost 11 months (next week)since my beautiful husband left for work and never came home. In that time, I have (and still do) been to grief counseling weekly, tried many different widowed support groups, become a member of several online and in-person groups for widowed people, found support through Soaring Spirits and have given my comedic presentation at Camp Widow 6 times, written and performed a one-act, one-woman show about my husband’s death, and – oh yeah – I’m still smack in the middle of writing a book. I have found many, many ways to grieve and process and begin the path to healing. On most typical days, I have the knowledge and feeling that although this is devastating and life-altering and the hardest thing I have ever been through, I will be okay. In the beginning, I did not believe this. I could not see that I would be okay, for a very long time. Until one day, I could. It will never be okay with me that he died, but I will be okay.
And so that leaves me with a very new kind of grief. It is a feeling I have felt before, many times actually. But it’s stronger now. Lately, it is stronger, because my own grief is weakening and making room for other things. And right now, the main thing I keep asking myself is this: What about him? What about Don?
When I really sit down and think about it, the very thought of my husband’s often tragic life and then tragic, sudden death, still floors me. The unfairness of the cards that he was handed since the day he was born – it upsets me a great deal. My husband Don was born as an “accident”, and he was the product of an affair. His two older sisters were already 18 and out of the house when he was born, so he grew up as an “only child” with him and his mom. His mother lied about his birthdate and changed the record of it on his birth certificate, (she was Head Nurse at a hospital and had access to do this – and yes, I know this sounds like a bad episode of General Hospital , but it’s true) so that his father wouldn’t find out he had a son. My husband grew up in a house with a man who his mom was dating at the time, and a man he thought was his father. This man was abusive to his mom and both sisters, and Don witnessed several acts of abuse as some of his youngest memories. When he was around 2 or 3 years old, he recalls being held over a 3rd story balcony by this abusive man, with the threat that he would be “dropped” if his mom didn’t do what this man wanted. Eventually, Don and his mom got away from the evil asshole, and spent much of his childhood moving from town to town. Don’s mom was a nurse who worked 2 and 3 shifts to raise him alone, and so he spend much of his childhood alone in hospitals, hanging out with nurses. He learned to entertain himself early in life, becoming very smart and resourceful.
At around age 20, Don finally found out who his real father was. His mom decided they should meet secretly, because Don’s dad had his own wife and family, and it still needed to be kept secret. They met, and it was awkward. That is how I remember Don describing it. For the next few years, his dad and him had a secret relationship where they would call each other now and then, and a few times, Don and him would go play golf together or have lunch or something. But mainly, his dad didnt pay him much attention, and Don would call him once a year on Father’s Day. His dad would talk for literally about 3 minutes, and then make some excuse why he had to get off the phone. It was heartbreaking watching my husband try like hell to have a connection and get some basic love from his own father.
The real tragedy? His father died in 2006, about a month before our wedding. Nobody told us. Nobody knew Don EXISTED – his dad’s family was never told about him, so nobody knew to contact him when his father died. About two years later, we found out because we got a letter from a sweet woman named Cynthia, who wrote: “I dont know you, but I think you are my half-brother. I wanted to let you know that our dad died.” From there, Cynthia and Don would begin a phone relationship (she lived in Arkansas), trying to get to know each other and piecing together the affair between their father and Don’s mother. When it happened, why, what the details were. They knew very little, and found out not much more. And then, before Cynthia and Don would ever meet in person, he dropped dead at 46. I found out through Cynthia after my husband’s death, that their father had died from the same thing – a massive heart attack. He was 86 years old. I also found out that he had a heart-attack in his 40’s, and a bypass in his 60’s. He never once told Don about any of this. That is how little they spoke to each other. He couldn’t take 5 minutes to tell his own son that he had heart issues in his genes, and that he needs to get checked out. The type of heart attack my husband had is called the “widow maker.” There are no symptoms, and nothing shows up on basic x-rays as being wrong. His blood pressure and all that stuff was normal. He was literally fine one second, and then dead the next. The only way they can do testing for it is if it’s in the family and there are risk factors. The test for it is a high-risk and expensive test, so they only do it when the person has this in their family. Could my husband have lived a longer life , had he known? I don’t know. But I’m still angry as hell at his dad. I’m angry at him for not being a dad to my husband, and Im angry at him for cutting his life short. And the worst part is – I cant even yell at him for it – BECAUSE HE”S DEAD TOO!!!
Don’s mother is a whole other story, and this blog is already way too long, so basically I will say that she was a manipulative, controlling, lying, not very decent human being. Don spent his childhood living with her, and half of his adulthood looking after her, out of guilt. His sisters had left her long ago, and so he stayed nearby, living a few streets away in Florida for years and years. She slowly ate away at his soul and spirit, and when he met me and made the decision to move to New York to be with me, he was more than ready to finally leave his mother behind. It is such a long story that is impossible to get into here, but she was not a good person. She died a couple years before my husband did. So both of his parents were already gone when he died.
Don wanted a family. He wanted a little boy or girl to teach baseball to and play guitar with and hang out with and help them to be somebody special in the world. He never got to have a father and he never got to be a father. We never bought our first house together. We lived in a run-down apartment in Jersey that we vowed to get out of in a year or two and create a better life for us. We never got kids or grandkids, or houses or new jobs and careers and birthday parties and retirement and vacations and mid-life crisis and old age and on and on and on. We got 4 and a half years. And we struggled financially. A lot. We shared a run-down car and lived paycheck to paycheck, and we had each other and we had love. But he was never around to see things get good for us. He was never around to see things get better. He had a shitty childhood and a shitty adulthood, and then he finally found happiness in us, and he died. Like I said, I will be okay. At least I get to live. My husband has to be dead before he got to have an amazing life. It still breaks my heart into a thousand little pieces, how crappy things were for him. It’s just NOT okay with me. And maybe that is why I spend so much time and energy trying like hell to find ways to honor him. He deserves that and so much more.
My husband never spent a lot of time feeling sorry for himself. That is not the kind of person he was. He didnt talk about this stuff much. Once in awhile, we would be lying in bed and he would bring it up, or he would say out of the blue , something sooooo heartbreaking, like: “Why doesnt my dad want to know me?” There would be tears in his eyes after hanging up the phone with his dad, or when he called him to tell him we were engaged, and he said: “Congratulations! I gotta get going. Tell Kelley to take care.” Never had time to give to his son, who was the best person I ever knew.
So what about Don? Yeah, he is dead now, so many might say that wherever he is, he is “okay” and feeling no pain and none of this earthly stuff matters to him anymore. I wish I could believe that. I wish I REALLY, actually believed that. I don’t know what I believe, truthfully. All I know is that he is now energy floating around in the universe, and maybe he is okay with everything and “at peace.” But how the hell do I find peace with it? How do I stop grieving on behalf of my husband, and his life that never got to bloom? I wish like hell I knew how ……