Facing the nightmare

It was six months ago at 10:36 PM EST that you died with your dear head in my lap. I am going to finally verbalize the details of that terrible night. We shy away from these things because the memory is excruciating; the recollection of it does terrible things to your mind and heart, but it is important to truly say goodbye. It is therapeutic to eradicate, or at least ease, the nightmares…the PTSD…to verbalize it in the open. Catholic culture is very persistent on open caskets at wakes. The belief is that it forces one to acknowledge in the deepest part of our being that our beloved is truly, irreversibly, forever from this world, gone. I have relived those moments in the wee hours of the night, with heart-pounding desperation, to alter the ending. But alas, these six months I have crawled through on my belly, seeing nothing but the parched desert before me and tasting nothing but the grit of sand in my dry mouth. My conjunctiva are chronically abrased from inconsolable and constant crying and wiping endless tears that will simply not stop pouring out of this oh-so-broken heart. The deepest part of my being, he who was my soul mate, was torn from me in such a sudden and violent way, I could not, and perhaps still cannot, believe it is so. 

Our littlest girls and I sat out on the balcony of the house you provided for us, watching the sunset over Lake Stevens. You would have liked it, and that is why it brings me no joy. For you are not here to hold my hand as the sky turns soft, velvet, iridescent peach. We decided to try to share our very favorite moments that each of us had with you. We found pictures on my camera of those moments. Each girl, in her turn, saw the love you bestowed upon them alone; love just especial for them. And each girl, in her turn, softly cried on my chest. I, for my part, still cannot even think, look, or recall your dear nearness and be able to speak. We all came and huddled together in a circle of love and mutual pain, seeking consolation, dropping tears like rain upon each others’ hair, kissing each others’ heads repeatedly, rubbing each others backs—but mostly just clinging to each other in the impossibly aching bond of mourning. And, after I tucked them all in, kissed their sweet, smooth brows—reassuring them that Jesus and you were both watching over them, guarding them, loving them, protecting them—I decided it was time to face that night exactly six months ago.

We’d had a fun day having my head checked out at the little local hospital an hour away, after a fall at work. I knew they wouldn’t find anything physically wrong. If they were to do a psychological workup, however, they might find issues, I remember thinking. After we left the hospital, we decided to play all day in the new fallen snow. Its pristine, pure, white blanket begged for us to fall on our backs, like children, and make snow angels, which we promptly did. Then, as usual, we fell into each other’s arms, kissing wet, cold lips in the familiar expression of unending love we would oft repeat to be “forever and for always.” Remember how it mortified our children to see their “old” parents constantly kissing, holding hands, and expressing fond expressions of love to one another? You were my “knight in shining armor,” and I was your “beautiful bride.” No one else had to acknowledge the veracity of these things, as long as they were true to you and me. And they were. We tried cross country skiing with donated skis and boots, laughing and falling often, and harassing each other for our lack of skill and prowess. It didn’t matter. The sky was so blue with just wisps of white passing overhead, and we were together, which was all that truly mattered to us for the past 37 years. 

We were not attractive or dressed appropriately as we sat at our favorite little corner table at the Loon Lodge and gazed, mesmerized, admiring the beauty of the mostly frozen beauty of Rangeley Lake. Though our noses were red and running from the cold, our cheeks blotched and ruddy, to each other those were the dearest, most attractive faces in the entire world. We held hands, as always, over the little candle that flickered in the center of the pure, white linen tablecloth and sipped our Pinot Noir slowly and deliciously, talking of nothing and everything. We reminisced often. In the earlier days, it was always where we saw ourselves in five or 10 years. Now it was gazing back on those years in all their complex but irreplaceable beauty. How did we get to be THIS old, we would often ask each other, fondly adding because the other certainly did not LOOK this old. Eyes of love see only beauty in the features, visible and invisible, of their beloved. I am so very thankful that at that moment, for some reason, perhaps the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I said to you, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.” You laughed and asked me why I said that. I said I didn’t know, but it was true and I wanted you to know it. I am so glad there was no unpleasantness in that day, nothing to mar what would turn out to be our last day together on this earth.

After dinner, we picked up the girls from friends who had them after school and, once home, began a highly competitive and serious snowball fight. It got dark early in the winter in the mountains and we were all tired, so we tucked the girls in bed, prayed with them and kissed their foreheads. You and I, however, decided that it was a full moon, and its reflected rays on the sparkling snow was too much to resist. We bundled up again and decided to shovel the driveway. It was Thanksgiving the next day, and we wanted to be able to just enjoy it. We were far from our original home and the rest of the family, so we were to join friends from our sweet little church for dinner and fellowship. We shoveled snow at each other, and pushed each other down the deserted, moonlit road on the girls’ toboggans. Exhausted, at 9 o’clock or so, we came in and donned our warm nightshirts, and cuddled up together, as always saying, “I love you.” We kissed each other good night as the cat forced his way between us to purr himself, and us, to sleep.  

I suddenly awoke at 10:30 or so, hearing a muffled sound coming from the kitchen. I felt the bed beside me, and you weren’t there. I had a strange, sick premonition of something I did not want to see, to face, out there—vague, nebulous senses not acknowledged in the moment. I stumbled down the hall to the kitchen where the light was on, and you were laying on the floor, curled up in an unnatural position, holding your arms flexed strangely, the left side of your face suddenly asymmetrical from your right. You were rocking slightly back and forth on your curled back. I stupidly asked what was wrong. Had you fallen? You said something then; it was garbled and faint. It was either “Jane” or “pain.” I think the latter, but I hope still today that my name was the last thing on your lips because it was the last word you ever said. You quickly became more and more quiet as I ripped the phone from the cradle calling 911, knowing it would not be soon before they could arrive. We lived, as we desired, far up Saddleback Mountain. I yelled into the phone at the poor dispatcher who told me to put an aspirin beneath your tongue even as I knew it was not your heart. I did it anyway, because there was nothing else to do. I watched as your fingertips grayed and the same deadly grey encircled your eyes. I held your head in my lap, kissing you and begging you to not leave me…to stay…oh God, please stay!!!!  You became quieter and quieter. I watched the pupils of the dear brown eyes that had always reflected my love become larger and larger until there was no iris remaining. I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed at the top of my lungs. “No! No! No! Don’t go. Please don’t go!” The girls came tremulously out from their rooms, awakened by my screams, their faces frozen in fear as they watched me hold your head in my lap and repeatedly beg you not to die. I knew I should stop. I should do something to help them, but I just couldn’t. I knew you were gone but I knew you had not gone far yet. I sensed you leaving, hovering perhaps, over the scene as you left that now worthless body behind. I beseeched you, please, please, please come back. I knew it was vain, but there was nothing else to do but CPR and so I began; 20 compressions, two breaths, like clockwork I mindlessly worked on your empty body. I looked at the clock; it was 10:38 and time stood still, a moment frozen in time by an event so unexpected and so unimaginable that it tore me asunder, leaving half a soul, and changing me forever. The paramedics arrived at 11:00 PM.  They took turns, diligently practicing the eternal mantra of 20 to two, with shocking defibrillation every few minutes. “Asystole,” they kept repeating. I hung on every announcement, even thinking I heard “systole” once, but no. I knew you were gone and all the CPR in the world, by these good and capable friends and neighbors who were the rescuers and firemen of this dear town, would not bring you back. They kept trying, however. They tried for an hour, until after midnight, when the fire chief gently asked me if I wanted them to keep trying. I let you go. There was nothing else I could do. You had gone anyway. I cried out at the top of my lungs to no one and everyone until I was hoarse with the effort to express the despair in my heart. I banged my head against the floor on my knees in that beautiful living room, with the girls kneeling by each side. The fire still crackled in the hearth, the moon still shone reflected rays on the crystalline snow. But nothing was beautiful anymore.  I held both of them, one in each arm, as we shook and quivered in the surreal moment of what had happened, none of it reality—only pain, shock and more pain.

I grabbed the phone and began to punch in the kid’s numbers, the sisters, the brothers, blurting our in monosyllables broken with erratic cries, that you had died. I begged those with their phones silenced for the night to call; please call now! I called Pastor Scott and Janet. I called Allissa. They came. They came and held us. They sat on the bed and on the couch and just held us. The longest night began. Your lifeless body lay on the floor in the kitchen, just before the refrigerator, covered in a blanket I had grabbed from the sofa; a pillow under your dear head over which the blanket also lay. At about 3 or 4 in the morning, the undertaker showed up. He asked the girls and me if we wanted to look at you one last time; to say goodbye. Avari wanted to, but Amaya shook in my arms, her emerald eyes wide with terror, mumbling something about fearing you would be a skeleton. Damn all the horror movies, zombies, and Halloween specters that so many find “harmless!” So Avari and I said goodbye to your body, though clearly you were far from inhabiting it any longer. It was not even you. That was so clear. The you…the real you…the warm, wonderful, kind, gentle, patient, godly man of impeccable integrity and faithfulness was gone. Your broken and spent body, your “earthly tent” was all that remained. So we said goodbye to it—taken, in literally a moment, by a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, although the death certificate would say a massive heart attack.

I know you are telling me it is time to let that memory go now. That is not what you want me to remember, to dwell on. There was so much more—years and years of beautiful memories that we had spent together. Cello and violin music plays, sad strains that stir the soul and cause my heart to move sadly to and fro in the rocker as I watch the sunset once again. Will I ever be able to listen to the moving melody of Saving Sarah Cain with peace? So I have said it all; I have put it down in black and white on paper. Will the traumatic memory of that night cease to be the lingering crisis of my dreams? Will I be able to look at your picture, to reminisce without  paralyzing tears and pain? Will I be able to choke out your name, to recall sweet memories now? Or at least begin to, without the terrible, breath-taking pain of recalling your leave-taking? In the beginning, I scoffed at those “Stages of Grief.”  Now, in hindsight, I see them all: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think I will always be in one, or all of them, for the rest of my earthly life. I love you Scott. And, as I said at the beginning, “Tarry awhile, my love, for I pray I shall not be long behind.”

7 thoughts on “Facing the nightmare

  1. Nancy

    I also remember it like it was yesterday. It was a sad day for all of us at the health center. Scott became our friend, and as I always said, you were the kindest provider I have worked for in Rangeley. Think of you and the girls often. Hugs Nancy

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  2. Karen

    I had to break down and cry as I read this. I’m so sorry that you have had to go through such a nightmare. It is therapeutic to talk about it and for people to share their memories of Scott with you. Sometimes, people are afraid to bring up the name of your loved one that died because they don’t know how it will affect you. They don’t want to make you cry or upset. But when they don’t say anything, it is as if your loved one didn’t exist or mean anything to them. I have appreciated my friends that would talk about Mike to us. I can’t say that I know exactly what you have gone through since I haven’t lost my mate, but it is also devastating to lose one of your kids. Now we are going through another kind of loss with our daughter, but God is good. We keep going one day at a time with God’s help. We are weak, but He is strong! You can’t get past this nightmare on your own, but with God’s help, you will do just fine …. one day at a time.

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  3. I can understand your pain as I myself lost my husband of 20 years just two years back. But life does not stop there. Think of all the wonderful time you spent and the lovely memories you built together. Write about him, talk about him, and just don’t bother whether people like it or not. It takes time, it takes a lot of tears and it takes forever to heal. It’s okay to be sad, to cry, but it is not okay to give in to grief. And believe that he is there by your side. I feel that earlier Abhay, my husband, could see me only till I was in his periphery of vision but now that he is gone, he has become stronger and bigger and sees me all the time. Smile for your husband, because he would never want to see you in pain. Ask yourself, “Would he have ever left you if it were in his hands?” If the answer is no, don’t hurt him because it is not his doing. Another thing that gives me solace is that I am going to meet him after this period of separation is over, as you yourself have said. But what will you tell Scott when you meet him. Go on and live your life so you will have a lot to share with him when you meet again.
    I feel what you must be going through. You can always write to me personally if you want. Take care friend. Love and hugs.

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    1. oh Shruti, thank you for sharing! I am learning and growing stronger day by day. Sometimes the pain is so great I don’t think I can bear it and I wonder if I am ‘normal’ because it has been 6 months. Your ideas that have helped you are wonderful and I will try to incorporate them. Thank you for taking the time to care and to write.

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