I’m a television producer by trade, so when I was given the news that the man I had left 2 hours earlier, in the home and life we shared, was now dead, I fell apart briefly. But then my professional instincts kicked in.
A half-hour drive from home and in shock, I started making calls – to people who could rush to my son’s side, now alone in the house with the police and my husband’s body; to my in-laws, whose only son had just died; to my extended family, who could fill the house and chase away fear; to my friends who could comfort me during the excruciating free-fall.
I was in a crisis and that’s what a producer manages.
G., who has limited language skills, was brought to me. I was told I needed to relate to him that his father was dead. I looked G. in his eyes and said, “Your father is dead. He won’t be coming home”. Ok…uncomfortable. G. had no idea what the phrase meant. Back to the phone. I had to organize a funeral home, set up a memorial, make the Thanksgiving dinner that was sitting in my car trunk. From then on, my memory fades.
For almost 2 months I was able to operate in this way: things needed to be done, so I did them. Zombie-like or not, I was able to get them done. But once the utilities were changed over, accounts were transferred and death certificates were distributed and filed, the mourning began. And it’s something I cannot organize, manage or produce.
Everyday is like wearing a tire around my neck – my shoulders are tight in the back and my chest feels like it’s being thumped constantly in the front: like I literally have a broken heart inside.
I have the confusion of survivor’s guilt – why wasn’t I there? Did I bring this on? When I saw J. bent over his desk 6 hours before he died, in the wee hours of the morning, didn’t I understand a primal instinct that something was really wrong? Why didn’t I force him to go to the hospital when he told me he wouldn’t go.
Then, there’s the knowledge that my sons no longer have a father. Is that shameful? What do we do without a father – how does that work? Why us?
Then there’s the trauma of knowing he died in my desk chair, in our bedroom. That the paramedics placed his body on our bed, the one I sleep alone in now. That our blankets and some of my clothes had to be thrown out because of what the body does when it’s finished with rigor mortis. I have new sheets, pillows and blankets but it doesn’t stop me from waking up at 4am to imagine the scene as it would have been on that very day…
I cry most when I’m driving, but once I thought to myself, “Would I even take him back if he wasn’t dead now?” I clutched my head – did I kill him? No Silly! You learn in therapy - it’s the heart’s way of protecting itself. Or is it?
Days turn into weeks and so on, but these thoughts are relentless and exhausting, with only a small amount of light that creeps in unexpectedly. It becomes painfully obvious to me that the easiest way to end it would be to kill myself.
But I still have to work because I still have to set the pace for my children, who need so much care because they themselves have no idea of what’s going on. And therein lies the rub: you keep going because your children provide purpose. They are the legacy. They are the fight that keeps you boxing, even though you’ve been hit square in the face so much you’re almost blinded.
I sit here typing in front of photos of happier days. I’ve begrudgingly de-activated J’s Facebook page. I’ve sold his car, meaning I will never again blow him kisses good-bye as he leaves the garage. Every day I trudge through the indignities of letting go. I weep and I shuffle slowly, afraid that I’ll lose sight of the past in search of the future.
Everyday, I stare at his toothbrush in the bathroom as it leans sadly down in our toothbrush holder. It waits silently, as I do, for the off chance he’ll return to brush his teeth.