I used to love the summers. I looked forward to them because the days were longer, kids were out of school, and everyone just seemed genuinely happier. If you want to know more of what I’m talking about read the lyrics to Will Smith’s, Summertime. Anyway, from as far back as I can remember the fourth of July had such happy memories. It always felt like a family reunion. There was food, family, fun, fireworks, and the occasional wild fire or maybe a trip to the ER. I never knew what was going to happen, I just knew it was always going to be a good time. That was, until seven years ago when my husband passed away unexpectedly on the Fourth of July.
July 4, 2013, became a surreal representation of the meaning of the word, “independence”. I became something I never thought I would be at 40, a widow. My husband, Bob, had a sudden, massive heart attack and died. The doctor said he didn’t suffer so I tried to take comfort in that but truth be told, there’s little comfort in anything anyone says when you lose someone you love. You have to hold on to those things (or at least I did) to get you through the questions and the unknowns that crop up in retrospect. What if I had been there? Could I have saved his life? Did he realize what was going on? Did he really not suffer? Why? Why did this happen to him, to me, to our children, to us? I realized that dwelling on these things would drive me crazy. So instead of dwelling on them, I kept moving forward.
My employer graciously allowed me to take as much time off as I needed to try to get through this trauma. For a while, family and friends stayed with us day and night. They made sure our basic survival needs were met; we ate, showered, and slept. They did everything they could to make our lives easier. Eventually, they had to leave and I had to face this new life and the weight of it all. No one could have prepared me for this—every day, every event, and every celebration without the person who had been by my side for almost everything else over the last 17 years.
The first year was extremely hard. I existed, I cried, and I prayed. I cried a lot at first, mostly in the shower because I didn’t want the kids to see how sad I was. I knew that I had to be there for them as best I could, until bedtime. Bedtime was the time that I both anticipated and dreaded. Anticipation of being alone and letting go; dread because I was left alone to let go. I felt free to cry and to try to process the loss while dealing with the events of the day. Maybe it would have been better that the kids (and everyone else) see me cry more. I guess I felt like I needed the kids to know that one of their parents was still around. I also felt like I needed to be strong and crying in front of everyone didn’t feel like an exhibition of strength. In hindsight, I realize the tremendous strength found in vulnerability and admitting the need for help getting through the tough times.
I dreamt of Bob a lot that first year. The first dreams were hard because he was so real and I got to hug and kiss, or talk to him. Maybe it was hard because I got to hear him and see him again. And then I would wake up and he wasn’t there. All that was there was the fleeting and untrustworthy memory of the dream. I had to see him and lose him all over again. As hard as that was, it’s even harder now not seeing him at all, not even in my dreams. I miss him.
As a family, we went through the motions, especially that first year. We had to figure out the new “normal”. Eventually, the kids and I somehow figured out how to get through the day to day. We “celebrated” birthdays and kept as many traditions as we could. We knew that we had to decorate for Halloween because it was Bob’s favorite holiday. We had to cook a turkey that no one would really eat that year. We got an oversized, overpriced, Griswold family Christmas tree and decorated it the same way we would have if Bob had been alive. Well, he was more of a perfectionist and Christmas light guru, but we did our best. We had good times during that year but nothing really felt like a celebration. And then we were back around to the anniversary of the day he died. A year had passed and we were still here and he was still gone.
I didn’t realize how heavily I relied on Bob until he wasn’t there. I didn’t realize how much I counted on his love and support to get me through the days. I didn’t realize how much I loved him until he was gone—and for anyone who knows me, they know that’s saying a lot—this man was the greatest love of my life. We were made to bring out the best in each other.
As I think about the past seven years, I can’t help but think about all of the things that he’s “missed”. Seeing the kids graduate from high school, the birth of two more grandchildren, the first day of college, the kids’ first tattoos. Recently, I started thinking about seven years into the future. If he were still alive, he would possibly be walking his youngest daughter down the aisle, or seeing his sons get married, or holding more grandchildren, and I would be listening to him complain about the cost of all of these things—you know, the good stuff.
Seven years after his death, I can tell you there are days that it’s still hard. I still break down and cry when I hear Head Over Feet by Alanis Morrisette because it was our wedding song. There are days when I don’t know how to help whichever child might need it at the moment and I wish he were here to help me figure it out. There are plenty of lonely nights where the other side of the bed has never felt more cold or empty. But there are also the reminders that he’s still here. When I look at the kids and see his features or mannerisms. When I hear any of them tell a long, drawn-out story about something that no one in the world would have any reason to know, I think of Bob. I can hear his sense of humor come through when they tell certain jokes. When I think of these things, I look forward to the next seven years. I’m no longer sad because of all of the things that he missed; I’m anticipating all of the things that he would hate for us to miss.