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Personal Essays | Life Lessons, Rebuilding After Loss

By Rebecca Link

My biggest regret in life is not having said goodbye to my husband before he died. Actually, no one even called to tell me he had passed away.

Almost six months before, my husband and I separated after three short months of marriage. We had been together for four years prior and, after enough nagging, I finally got him to propose. I was in love with the idea of being in love, and, nearing thirty, I felt that I should be getting married like our other friends. He was only 25 and probably not ready yet. It was doomed from the start, with my constantly forcing him to do what I felt were “adult” things when he was perfectly happy working on old cars, riding motorcycles, strumming on a beat-up guitar, and fishing. Tommy was a simple man. Not in the sense that he was slow to catch on but that he was carefree and always happy. He was comfortable with things as they were and did not have an aggressive approach toward making them different or better. I, on the other hand, am one of the most outgoing, ambitious people I know. I don’t settle very easily. Except when it came to us, I suppose. One thing I think we did have in common is that neither one of us had very high self-esteem. I was constantly unhappy with him not pulling his weight in the relationship and he was not happy with my constant bitching. Regardless of the discord, I don’t think he wanted to separate.

Tommy had moved back home with his parents and I stayed in our house until the papers could be served after our required six-month waiting period. It was Sunday, June 16th, 2013, Father’s Day. He and I had spoken that morning and it was not a pleasant talk. He was to be served the divorce papers the next day and he assured me that we would be headed to court. My stomach felt like a burning pit, as it usually did after one of our conversations, but I went on with my day.

Later that afternoon, I got a phone call from his sister Meagan. She asked me in a panic if I knew what the passcode was to unlock his cell phone. I asked her what was going on and she told me that Tommy had been in a motorcycle accident and was in critical condition. My first reaction was to head to the hospital but before I could even finish my thought, Meagan said “Don’t you dare come up here.” I told her I wouldn’t but that I would appreciate her keeping me in the loop. She hung up on me.

I called my mom and she came rushing to the house. We sat together in the afternoon sun of my kitchen crying and debating whether we should go to the hospital or not. I knew that Tommy had started dating a girl and I assumed that she was one of the people Meagan was trying to notify from Tommy’s phone. I knew that she would be by his side along with his family and felt that there was no place for me there. I was probably the last person any of them wanted to see, especially at a time like that, so I decided to give them the space they needed. I begged his sister over the next few days for information, which she gave to me sparingly. It got to the point where I threatened to come to the hospital unless she kept me informed. That got me nowhere so I called up to the Trauma unit and demanded to speak to the nurse. I identified myself as Tommy’s wife and insisted on being given information. She replied that she was unaware of any wife. That was maddening. Although we were separated, we were still legally married, and as his wife I was the decision maker and power of attorney by default. I did not intend on abusing this privilege and was still trying to respect the family but I wanted to know his status. His family finally disclosed that I was indeed his wife and I was given updates.

I called the Trauma ICU every morning on my way to work and every evening on my way home. All the nurses knew me by name. They told me that his lungs were very “sick”. He had been thrown over his bike and landed 20 feet away. He had a broken back, broken ribs, lacerated liver, and lungs that had been smashed inside his body. They told me that they had to keep draining them and that he was on a special bed that rotated him to keep the fluid from pooling. They said I wouldn’t recognize him. I wanted so badly to be with him, to squeeze his hand, to apologize for everything. I prayed to the heavens that if God spared him, I would make things right.

Driving to work one morning almost two weeks after the accident, I called and got the less than friendly nurse who I’m sure was sick of hearing from me. “Good morning Sarah,” I said, “Calling for the morning update.” “No one called you?” she replied. I said “No.” With no emotion in her tone, she informed me that Tommy had passed away in the middle of the night. I hung up the phone and pulled over. Hysterical, gasping for breath and shaking, I called my mom at work and told her. I headed home and spent the day crying in bed, unable to process what had happened. How was this possible—that one of the nicest people I have ever known, someone that I was married to, shared a life with, woke up next to for so long could be taken away so young? Out of all the people in the world, why Tommy? And, what did this mean for me still being his wife?

Over the next few days, his family made funeral arrangements that I was not invited to. The only thing they contacted me for was to go to the funeral home to sign his cremation papers. While at the funeral home, I asked if I could see him. This is an image that will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life, but I had to see him with my own eyes to believe this had happened. I chose to have an imprint of his finger pressed into a pendant, and since his family was planning on spreading his ashes in various locations, I had a tiny urn of ashes reserved for me.

Now, four years later, I have remarried and have a beautiful baby. When he was born, I remember thinking “with old life comes new.” That me creating this new being can somehow replace loss and that Tommy is somewhere up there in the clouds smiling down on me with love. Moving through these new chapters in my life has been a significant part of my healing and has helped me forgive myself and Tommy. Although I feel sadness that he will never get to experience these joys, I feel he would be happy for me, and, in some way, that this is the universe teaching me lessons and showing me that everything is going to be all right. I am grateful for these experiences, no matter how difficult, and I will instill these values of love and forgiveness in my son.

 

 

Rebecca is a #millennial living outside Washington, DC with her totes adorbs baby, a naughty Puggle, and a husband who graciously puts up with her shit. When she is not rotting away in her cubicle, she is usually eating snacks, drinking wine, or wiping baby puke from her clothes. Her writing has been featured on Sammiches and Psych Meds and BluntMoms and you can find her leading a pack of wild women at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/AMBIMOMS/

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