The day Eric died, I had a therapy appointment. In fact, given what he told me before I drove him to the ER, it’s likely that he was already experiencing intermittent symptoms of a heart attack while I was talking to my therapist. My car was at the office parking garage. I had walked about 10 blocks to the appointment, then stopped on the way back to get a B12 shot, and all the while, he had chest pain and his arms hurt and he knew something was wrong. He was afraid that if he had a problem with his heart, he would be grounded – no more flying. He’d only recently fulfilled his life long dream of becoming a pilot.
If you’re wondering if I’m mad at my husband, who came home and took two aspirin but still didn’t want to go to the ER because he might not be able to fly again – yeah. Yeah, I’m furious. But this post isn’t about that, although in a different way, every post is about that.
The subject of the therapy session was, essentially, that I needed to crack my shell open a little and learn to trust my friends. Be a little vulnerable. Ask for help when I need it. That sort of thing.
At some point while I was waiting in the ER, still thinking everything would turn out okay, the nurses said a chaplain was on his way. I said no, absolutely not – Eric was dead set against religion. They asked if we had family in the area. I said no, he had no family in the area. Then they clarified – the chaplain, the family – the idea was to have someone there to support me while I waited. I hesitated, thinking the chaplain might be okay if he didn’t try to say anything religious to me – but then the nurses asked about my friends. And I remembered my therapy session, just a few hours ago. Yes, I said. Yes, I have a friend I can call. And I called my friend, and she answered, and she was a hero, coming to sit with me, bringing chilled water with a slice of lime, chocolate bars, and phone chargers. All her idea. She knows a thing or two about hospital waiting rooms.
And we talked about this and that, and I conveniently put out of my mind what the surgeon had said on his way to the cath lab, and we agreed that when Eric got out of this, maybe he would work a little less and exercise a little more, and really change things up. Maybe this was just the scare he needed.
But that’s not how it worked, and an hour or two later, I found myself sitting next to the body of my dead husband, with his mother on a plane, and I had to ask my friend to drive to the airport after midnight to pick up a mother who didn’t yet know that her son had died. I cannot imagine what I would have done that night without her. I cannot imagine receiving the news without her next to me, someone to crumple into as the surgeon said the words that still don’t make any sense. I walked into the ER with a husband who calmly spoke to the intake nurse about his symptoms. I walked out a widow.
And the next day, I found myself in a house with my husband’s mother, with a million people to notify and things to do. I’m not really sure why we chose to have the memorial so soon after his death, but we did, so we had very little time to prepare.
And yeah, I had to ask people for help. I had to trust. I asked a friend to pick up catered food for what I could only think to call the “pre-party” or the “reception,” and I still don’t know the right word for “giving people from out of town a chance to see you in a more intimate setting before the actual memorial.” I asked our next door neighbor to drive around finding newspapers with Eric’s obituary. I asked a friend – actually a fraternity brother of Eric’s who lives right down the street – to print some things because my printer was acting up. More times than I can count, I called to ask someone to please act as the “point person” to let everyone in a particular social group know that Eric had died. What a burden to put on someone. But I couldn’t do it alone.
And other people stepped up. Friends came with food – so many that I had to ask them to hold off a bit, because the fridge and freezer were already full, I knew my mother would want to cook, and nobody had any appetite, anyway. I found that I had friends I never even knew – friends of Eric’s who were so kind and wonderful to me.
And now I’m going to have to rely on other people. Eric and I were a team. We were smart and we were capable, and between the two of us, we never had to ask for help. That’s not going to work anymore. I’m going to need to figure out how single people handle it when they have a medical procedure and need someone to stay with them all day. I’m going to need to do a better job of maintaining friendships. I’m going to have to ask for help.
I don’t believe in any god or supernatural entity, and it’s a good thing, because I keep thinking that this is all the universe’s way of driving home the lesson of vulnerability and asking for help. In the bible, God took Job’s family from him just to prove a point. I always thought it was a bullshit story whose only possible takeaway is that the Christian God, if he exists, is capricious and cruel. (Disclaimer: I am neither a theologian nor a Christian.) And that’s what this feels like. I wasn’t getting the message about vulnerability, so the universe decided to force the issue and use my husband as a lever. I know it’s my little monkey brain trying to establish causality where only coincidence exists. If only I had been more vulnerable, I wouldn’t need this lesson, and Eric would still be here. Perhaps that’s easier than dealing with the senselessness of the death of someone who meant so much to so many people. Whose friends and loved ones filled the pews, and then the extra bay of pews, until there was standing room only. Perhaps it’s the only way I can make sense of the fact that people much older, people ready to die, are still alive, while my kind, loving, funny, brilliant husband is dead.
There must be some way to wrap this up with a conclusion, but I can’t think of it. Much like the conversations I’ve been having. “I’m so sorry, but …” people say, and then they trail off, because they realize there’s no “but” here. “It’s awful, but …” I say, and then I trail off, realizing there are no mitigating circumstances, no silver lining. Just me with my regrets and my guilt and my anger and my grief.