The storm flew into my life without warning and with such a force that it brought me to my knees, threatening to rip apart the last remaining fragile threads of my faith. In a single moment, my life and that of my two daughters were forever changed and were faced with the task of sifting through the chaos and destruction this storm left of our lives. This is my story….
Nothing could prepare me for what I had to face that day.
It was Sunday, February 13, 2005. I was in the middle of giving report to the next shift at an assisted living facility where I was working as a nurse. My cell phone rang just as I finished reporting. It was my husbands phone number that showed up on caller ID but it wasn’t his voice that I heard on the other end of the line. It was a friend and team mate of his from the city league basketball team. He was calling from my husbands phone to tell me that Gary had collapsed after the game and had been taken to the hospital. He told me that he and his wife had my daughters with them, and that I should come to the hospital as soon as I could.
I distinctly remember that I didn’t believe that it could be that serious when I got off the phone. And as I made my way to the hospital, I began to come up with logical explanations for why he would have collapsed and needed to go to there. I was thinking something along the lines of dehydration. I imagined Gary hooked up to an IV in the ER, fully alert and oriented, but with his typical sheepish grin on his face as I walked into his room. I honestly thought that everything was going to be just fine, but at the same time, I couldn’t seem to get there fast enough as I hit nearly every red traffic light along the way.
When I first walked into the waiting room at the ER, I saw all of Gary’s team mates huddled together as a group. Before I could ask questions or say a word to them
or my daughters, a nurse came and asked if Gary’s wife had arrived, and she told me to follow her. I walked into the main part of the ER, and was immediately led to a room where I saw the tear-streaked face of my mother-in-law, but no sign of my husband. At that moment, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It felt as if I had entered another dimension of reality; a sort of twilight zone. I knew that if things weren’t serious, they would have been taking me directly to see him.
I was desperate for information as I was seated next to my mother-in-law in this tiny room. A man was also in the room with us and as I began my series of questions. He began to speak to me very slowly, TOO slowly, as he proceeded to tell me what happened to Gary when he collapsed after the game. He told me that once Gary collapsed, he was defibrillated twice before the ambulance arrived.
This does not compute…
I was shocked when I heard this because there was no mention of CPR when I received the call…
‘Once the paramedics arrived, they continued CPR all the way to the hospital…..’ (At this point, I just wanted him to get to the point and asked him what he was trying to say.)
‘They continued CPR for an hour…’ (Please! Just tell me! What are you trying to say!?)
‘I’m sorry, Samantha…they did everything they could, but Gary didn’t make it…..’
Nothing could have prepared me for those words. Nothing.
At that moment, I felt like I had been hit by a freight train. Complete shock mixed with excruciating emotional pain swept over me and flooded my conscience like a tidal wave as I tried to wrap my brain around the idea that Gary was no longer alive. There must be some mistake. Maybe I didn’t hear correctly. Maybe I’m only dreaming…stuck in some horrible nightmare. Denial, shock, and grief competed with one another but could do nothing to block the tears and the wailing sobs that I could not hold back.
I felt like a part of my own flesh had been savagely ripped from me. I felt like the part of me that was left behind was an open, gaping wound left hemorrhaging to death. I felt completely helpless and at a loss for what to do. I could only cry as bits and pieces of memories of my life with Gary flashed across my minds eye.
I don’t remember how long I was like this but once I settled down, another wave of pain and grief hit me as I realized that my two little girls were still out in the waiting room. They did not yet know that their daddy was no longer here. The idea that my little girls were now fatherless was almost unbearable to me. To imagine my children having to go through the same amount of pain as I was currently facing, if not more, was devastating to me. But it could not be avoided. So when my mother-in-law and I felt ready, someone sent for my girls and brought them in.
Jessica was 12 at the time, and Makaila, my youngest, was 5. And as my eldest sat on my lap, and the youngest sat on her grandma’s lap, the chaplain told them that their daddy had passed away. As Jessica clung to me crying uncontrollably, all’s I could do was hold her as I looked helplessly into the eyes of my youngest as she stared back into mine. And with trembling lips but no sound, she layed her head against grandma’s chest as a single tear slid down her cheek.
Life seemed so unfair…..
I don’t recall how long we all sat in that room holding on to each other. Time no longer had any meaning. But eventually, I asked to see Gary. I needed to see him with my own eyes. Although I had been told that he had died, there was a part of me that didn’t want to believe it. There was a part of me that still clung to the idea that perhaps this was all just a dream and that soon I would wake up and my life would be back to normal…that Gary would be alive.
As I approached the room where I knew Gary’s body would be, I tried to brace myself because I didn’t know what reaction I would have when I actually saw him. I was frightened, but my legs kept propelling me forward until I found myself in his room and standing beside his lifeless body. A sheet was laid over him and the intubation tube was still in his mouth. There was no color to his skin, and he felt so cold as I touched his hand. And yet his skin was still so very soft. I traced my hand along every exposed surface…up his arm, across his chest, along his face as I felt his whiskers underneath my fingertips. I ran a finger along his lips; the same lips I had kissed thousands of times since I was 18.
His eyes were slightly open and I could see his brown eyes still shining. It was at that point that I began to bargain with God. I believed that if I prayed hard enough…if my will was strong enough, maybe he would come back to life. As I held onto him and sobbed into his neck, I imagined that he would completely open his eyes at any moment, that his chest would begin to rise and fall with new breath, and we would have him back. I also laughed at my absurdity. Here I was a nurse, still in uniform with a stethoscope around my neck, praying to God with everything in me, and expecting my husband to suddenly come back from the dead! And as the moments passed, I knew that he was never coming back.
He was gone. Forever.
I had a difficult time leaving Gary’s body behind at the hospital. Intellectually, I knew that Gary’s spirit was no longer residing in his body, but emotionally, I felt strangely protective of it. I felt like I was abandoning him by leaving. Or perhaps unconsciously struggling with the terror that I was the one being abandoned, even though it wasn’t on purpose. I also knew that I would never see Gary’s body again once I left. But eventually, the fatigue from being up since 4am and the shock and grief of losing Gary, forced me to part with him, once and for all, and I drove home.
(Originally written in 2006.)
1. What lessons has various losses in your life taught you? Examples: Death of a loved one. Loss of position or job? Income? Possessions?
2. When loss occurs, we become acutely aware of the deficit or gap it leaves in our life. What ‘need’ did this loss point to that was being filled by this person, this title, position, job, or possession?
3. What have you learned to appreciate MORE or perhaps for the 1st time as a result of this loss?