Till Death Do Us Part

Forty seven years and six days after we spoke our wedding vows; we were forever parted by death.
In the middle of an August afternoon, my husband laid down for a nap and never woke up.
He is on the "Blue Side of Heaven" now......as Alan Jackson sings.....telling everyone about me and hugging our loved ones who went before. I am sad and guilty and angry and lost. I did CPR until the paramedics arrived....but none of us could save him. I feel sorry for him as there was still so much more we......he.....wanted to do! I am angry because we hadn't planned on this.....his parents lived well into their 90's......why couldn't he????

I feel lost and clueless; unsettled and without an anchor. I have lots of love and reasons for living.....the greatest being our five grandchildren. He wouldn't have wanted them to have to learn about death so early. And now I have his pictures all over the house and the kids talk about what a great cook he was and I am not! They are worried Santa will leave less presents around the tree since there will be none for Grandpa. They ponder how Santa knows this; does he have a phone number for God?  They love having turns sitting in his chair, watching his TV.....and I do too!

It's been a rough couple of months. My heart is full and my mind is sad and I want to write it all down. I am alone after so many years with this man....my newspaper man. He was my editor from the day we met working on the college newspaper at Western Michigan University.  Now.....here's a disclaimer everyone......this is the first piece I've written since he passed away. He was my editor and cheerleader for almost 50 years....so I don't have his expertise to literally call on in the other room....or email it to him and ask "whadaya think?" 

I save old letters. I re-give letters. I kept the letter my mother-in-law wrote to my husband on his 40th Birthday telling him about the day of his birth......a snowy January day in Chicago. I gave it to him this year on his 70th Birthday to enjoy again.
We kept a copy of the letter my husband wrote to his father the day his Dad turned 96!  I just gave that letter to our son last month on his 44th Birthday....five weeks after his dad died.

Now I am again saving letters and cards and messages......wondering how I'll ever write again....how to write from my broken heart where once everything flowed through seamlessly. I've woven love and life and family into my writing ever since I was a kid. I bound everything I wrote.... letters, diaries, essays and observations, notebooks from Marriage Encounter and our travel journals.... into two big binders which I labeled Write From The Start for the earlier years.....and Write From the Heart for the rest.

After our 10th anniversary...he began climbing the career ladder. The kids and I followed him cross country several times as he welcomed challenges as  Editor in Owensboro, KY, Salem, MA, Norristown, PA and even on the island of Aruba. He was a great leader, a great writer and a great storyteller. He was a great friend and mentor. He coached youth soccer and hockey, served our church community and sat on the boards and committees of local businesses and charities in a variety of  cities and towns.

But most of all....he was ours. Father to our first born...a son conceived Christmas Eve in California and born the 25th of September! Three years later, our daughter was born on a snowy day in January just like her Dad. These two were our world.....the pictures, the home videos, the scrapbooks...all revolve around their baby years, their growing up years; their schools, scouts and sports. Next it was choosing colleges, occupations and then.....spouses. We bought our last home here in Georgia and called it our empty nest! But in the blink of an eye......the nest was soon filled with five precious grandkids!

These two amazing adults have been my strength when I was weak, my voice when I couldn't speak as we had to deal with the funeral home, the obituary, setting up services in two states and  greeting old friends, neighbors and colleagues. When I couldn't write....they put their own way with words together. My son wrote a beautiful tribute to his Dad which we used for the obituary; my daughter created programs for two different sets of friends, family and former coworkers.

Hurting as they were, they also found the strength to tell their children that their beloved Grandpa was gone. He died on a Monday. The older girls started their new school year Tuesday morning.....I made my son promise not to tell them (or get on a flight) until after their first day. He arrived Wednesday morning.

 My daughter and son-in-law.......both of whom met me at the hospital and took the rest of the week off.......told their three youngsters the next day after school too. My heart was breaking for them, for the kids and for my husband....who cherished each of these kids so very much.

A few of the letters I now treasure came from unexpected places. My daughter's childhood friend in Massachusetts for example. Growing up without her own father around......her lovely note detailed the great influence my husband had on her whenever she spent time with our family. My daughter read this letter at both services; reminding parents to "never underestimate the impact you have on the friends of your children. You may think you're coaching their little league, giving rides home after band or making sets for drama. But being there as a role model is influencing not just the type of people your kids become....but their friends as well."

Another letter mentioned admiration for his network of long time friends. It seemed every few weeks there'd be contact with someone else he'd met or worked with over the years. And he was a mentor to up and coming journalists as well. He offered these words of advice to my cousin as she headed off for an interview as a newspaper columnist: "always be curious...and always be caring." She got the job!
Among all the professional accolades he received from former bosses and colleagues; and the embellished retelling of stories from fellow softball and hockey players...was the recurring respect for him as a guardian of language and as a true team player! Oh what a smile that would bring to his face!

Although the kids and I are sad and have our moments when the tears just fall or we have to turn away.....we've realized that all these years he was equipping us for this. He made us strong in so many ways. He was a take charge, larger-than-life-kind of guy......and I leaned on him for so much. He'd lean on me sometimes when he didn't have his cane.....and he'd apologize! I never felt bad for depending on him to give me a wonderful life!

Inside my sadness, there is a happy kind of comfort. I am so very glad we traveled as much as we did after retirement. We went to Australia; we took our oldest granddaughter dog sledding in Alaska; we spent months on the beach in southern California with the girls and riding our bikes.

He bought a 57 Oldsmobile Cutlass to keep out there.....and loved driving it every chance he got. We went to spring training in Florida and Arizona for years; we flew business class whenever we could, he bought current best sellers at Costco every Tuesday and he enjoyed 3-4 newspapers every morning! I am glad we pulled off the January birthday surprise with my son flying in overnight and ringing the doorbell at 8 AM......and that the four of us spent so much time reminiscing about their childhood at the most expensive restaurant in town!

I am glad we wasted days doing nothing, I am glad we spent money and I am glad for his traditions of coloring Easter eggs and carving Jack-o-lanterns with the grandkids!

Our love for each other was always evident......he showed me every day how much he loved me with jokes, coffee in bed, signs taped around the house on holidays, making my burgers or tacos just the way I liked them or bringing me a glass of wine after a hard day. He was the love of my life...and  I told him again and again with little love notes or whispers in his ear!

Because of that love....I will be okay. I can do this, Sweetheart.......but it's going to be hard without you.