The story of my husband’s death is something people ask about a lot. I can’t tell it all of one blog, so we’ll take it in bits. Here, the story of how life turns course in a few hours.
First, in order to be a young widow, you have to be a woman and not of an age people think is OK for your husband to die – let’s say 65…or in my case, 31.
So it’s a typical weekday morning when you’re a 31 year-old woman with two little girls and your husband goes to work and so do you, each one with a kid on their hip.
Let’s say the night before the day you became a young widow you made a chicken casserole and put it in the fridge ready to pop in the oven because you knew when you all got back late that afternoon the kids would be melting down. Everyone would have their shoes and clothes off practically by the time they got in the door. A typical night.
He heads north to his newspaper job, singing made-up songs to the 20 month-old in the car seat in the back of the old, unairconditioned car. He’ll drop her at the baby sitter’s. Meantime, you head south to the city literacy council, dropping the six year-old off at a friend’s on the way.
Him: on an adventure to write a feature story about tandem hang gliding, featuring himself and his friend, the pilot. You: uneasy all day. A hot August day in Ohio, in the basement of a city church, distracted.
The glider crashes about noon. You: time is oddly slow and breathing is difficult. You can’t see clearly. Probably the 100+ heat. Him: dead.
Your dead husband and the dead pilot are given cool dark beds at the coroner’s while you interview some volunteers in the rugged afternoon heat. About 4 p.m. a few creepy guys come into the church and you mistrust them right off – bad suits, sneaky eyes. They pin you in a tiny office and force you to listen to something unbelievable and wrong and cruel.
This is not to be believed or endured.
They keep saying it until you double over gasping and then they start praying. Your co-worker, a tall black man, stands like safety across the room in a shower of rainbows coming through the stained glass windows. He holds his arms open and you run into them.
What can I do, he asks. You can’t stop the spasms of shaking and also, you can’t breathe. Your life has collapsed into the work of drawing breath.
I need a drink, you say. Everyone reaches for money to buy a soda from the machine in the hall. Coins spin into the air; time is strange and they seem to pause in the blue yellow red green light. Their tinkling as they hit the floor makes you jump. The man in the light is holding you up, holding the can to your mouth, helping you drink.
The men in the crappy brown suits walk you to your car in the city rush hour, hot streets, and there is an interesting moment when you hit one in the face, a right hook which puts him on his knees on the sidewalk.
You cannot remember your name or where you live. You are pretty sure you have children but not how many or where they are. They put you in your car with a friend, who is driving you back to your chicken casserole, to a life that no longer makes sense. You are dead calm, then a wild cat beating the windows to be let out of the car, then calm. You are sorry, you say.
And that is how you, or in my case, I, became a young widow.