I was twenty-four when I lost my baby, my first child. Nineteen weeks isn't long when measured against a life. I remember feeling chilled all the time and voices seemed so far away; as if there was a group in a room down a long corridor talking to each other. But they were talking to me. I just didn't answer. But then no one expected me to. I have a fuzzy white star that I keep out hanging off the handle of my roll top desk. It has a softly embroidered face, eyes closed, a sweet smile. The key on the back turns the tiny parts inside and, if I can stand to hear it, it plays “Twinkle twinkle little star.” I don't listen often and if I'm in public and for some random reason that some starts to play, I have to leave the room. I can only listen to it on my terms. It's been twenty-seven years. I still have questions that have no answers like, will my son know me should we ever get the chance to meet? Was he old enough to be afraid? Did he know to be afraid? Did he know my voice? The one I can't ask out loud in my prayers is, "Will he know my voice?" It’s not a grief that is resolved. It is one that lingers until it is part of the fabric of your being. My baby died.
“You can have others," they told me in that comforting callus way people have.
My mind was screaming, “Shut up," but they weren't listening to my expression.
And now I am forced to take that journey again. And it is a journey. "It's not the destination but the journey." I don't want to take this journey and yet what are my options?
My husband died suddenly. One moment he was asleep. Then he was dying. There was nothing I could do. I called to him, screamed for him. I performed CPR while calling 911. His face. I will never forget his face. It will haunt me forever.
And then they came and made me walk away from him while they tried to save him, to bring him back, I don't really know. The doctor at the hospital told me that from the sounds of it, he was gone before I really knew anything was wrong. The sounds I heard was his body shutting down. I could not look at her after she said that. She walked off down the hall and left me to my shock.
He He had (has) the most powerful life force of anyone I had ever met. He was more alive than anyone I'd ever seen. You could feel it coming off him. He loved life and took it in with all his senses. He was unconquerable. He was a United States Marine, Force Recon with three tours in Vietnam, Grenada, and countless other missions in his memory. It haunted him. He hid it behind a gregarious nature that was always smiling, always out-going, and always ready to laugh. He was more than I had ever dreamed of having. I am his opposite.
I always stood against the wall. I am an introvert. He is the extrovert. I am an artist. He was the soldier. He called us the hippie and the Marine. I called us the Dragon and the womanNshadows. He found me and he saved me.
When he hugged me I felt safe and loved. I adored this man for everything he was. I never knew love was so much like the blending of souls to make one.
"If ever two were one, then surely we."
He was flawed and imperfect and perfect for me. He gave me my smile, my joy, and my belief in loving for eternity. I know he didn’t want to go. We had plans. God, knows everyone has plans but so did we. Our plan was to grow old together and live by the ocean. But then he fell asleep and started dying. Right now, I cannot describe it. I can only see it playing out in my mind over and over. The film starts at 11:29 PM every night and I can't fall asleep until after 3:45 AM, the time the hospital told me I just had to go. I hate mornings, mournings. I am so tired I can't speak.
I am distraught and terrified and so lonely. My life is over. Not over over, but over in a way that I will never retrieve. It’s almost as if I don’t want to “get over it” because that might mean he meant less than he did and that is not true. He means everything to me. My grief for him is of the same magnitude as when I lost my baby, yet it is so vastly different. I lost what could have been in both of them. I lost a child with the first, someone I wanted so desperately to get to know. I lost my soulmate with the other, someone I so desperately wanted to have stay with me until I died. Bicenntenial Man. "See ya."
His death means I can no longer touch him, hear him, see him, sleep next to him, or feel cherished and loved in the way only he could give to me. It means that the very person who could hold me and comfort me to get through this can't help me through this. Again, I hear people talking but they sound so far away. I nod and take part but it's like they are all on a slowly turning platform and will soon fade from my view, from me having to pretend to listen. Or maybe it's me that is on the platform and I'm going back around into the darkness from before. Before he came and found me. Before the dragon rescued me and kept me safe from all those stupid knights in shining armor.
I’m a widow now. I’ve joined a club that has no list of membership, no special uniform to distinguish you, and no dues other than the ones you pay privately to yourself and to that pain in your heart. It has no clubhouse other than the one you can go to in a utilitarian room that houses your widow’s group but also may tomorrow host a bridge club, a fund-raiser committee meeting, and so on. No one can look at you and see that you’re a widow. Widows don’t cut their hair anymore, well, I did but I think I’m in the minority. They don’t wear black anymore although I find it’s all I want to wear. We don’t recognize each other if we happen to pass on the street.
Oddly enough, a man recognized my husband, though they’d never met, as part of a select group. We were on the train going into Boston and a man was sitting across from us. He and my husband sort of sized each other up, then they both had cryptic smiles. They nodded to each other. The man spoke one word to my husband, phrased as a question. “Vietnam?”
My husband nodded once and said, “Semper Fi.”
The man smiled and they clasped hands on each other’s wrists. The man said, “Brother.”
And the moment passed. They spoke no further. It was a singularly mysterious moment, one Marine recognizing another. After we departed the train I asked my husband how he had known. He told me that, of all the places he'd been in, there is just a certain look about a veteran of Vietnam.
I don't have that gift and from what I can tell, other widow's don't either. I can’t detect a widow if one walks by and no widow has walked up to me to embrace me with that kind of camaraderie. When I walked into the room for my first widow’s meeting, they all looked like normal women to me, smiling and talking. I was the only stand out. I was the only one crying, but I was new. I went to the second meeting last week. I was still the only one crying though I know I wasn't the only one hurting. I was given this website, this blogspot address, by one of the other widows. She looks so young to me. Is it easier or worse to be so young? Is it harder for me to see anyone else because I can only see his face in front of me? Is it my carrot on a stick that keeps me moving? Am I a good widow, kind to other widows, or am I still so raw that I can't see anything but my own pain?
How do you say, “good morning” to someone who is mourning? How do you know they are mourning if they don’t tell you? How do you say “good-bye” when you know it’s the last time? How do you say good-bye when you don’t know it will be the last time you can speak to them? Are the good-byes you know are the last ones more heartfelt than the good-night I shared with my husband on that last night of his life? I don’t know. I could spend the rest of my life trying to answer these questions and all I would still come up with is, I don’t know. All I do know is that everyone lives through death, someone else’s death. I know that it is intimate and can run a spectrum of relief, guilt, numbness, and from feeling nothing to feeling like all of you died with them. I am aware that nothing I feel or do or say or not say or not do is considered wrong. It's grief. Who's going to really take the hard line and try to correct you on it? It's mine, ours, to live with, to call for help for, or to sit quietly alone with and really get to know yourself. Introspection is a powerful tool and there is no better chance for introspection than what grief can bring you. People may talk to you. They may talk at you. Ultimately, regardless of who died, how they died, and why, you will end up alone with your grief to face a world that may not know, or care, that you’re trying to face a life that’s changed overnight whether you were ready for it or not.
Good mourning or good morning. It’s all the same to me right now and that’s normal. I’ve been through it before. As, most likely, you have. Maybe someday we’ll meet, and surprisingly, we’ll see in each other the lack of a certain spark of joy. We’ll nod and one of us will say one word posed as a question. No, not “Vietnam.” One will ask, “Mourning?” And the other will know how it’s spelled.