September 16, 2020
This will not be a particularly lengthy blog post, but maybe a bit introspective. Today is a milestone of sorts. It is the fifth anniversary of my husband Frank’s death. I have never used his name in my blogs, but for this one I feel I must. He never liked to be the center of attention, so I have tried to respect that. Five years. So often it feels like a lifetime, but it can also feel like a nanosecond. So much has happened and yet, in other ways, time has stood still. Often, I cannot get out of my own head and I frequently find myself experiencing moments of crippling despair. They creep in at the most inopportune times. Damn you, despair! Please! Just leave me alone. What more do you want from me? Conversely, I have some really, great days. I have days when the realization dawns that I am so blessed with wonderful children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, siblings, friends, and the promise of a new life in North Carolina at the ripe, YOUNG age of 70. Now, if only this pesky COVID would step off and leave all of us to resume our previous existences, life would indeed be grand. Thanks, COVID! Get OUTTA here!
But enough already. Five years ago, at approximately 2:25pm, my daughters and I sat in a dimly lit hospital room in ICU as Frank took his last breath. It was the first time I was present as someone left this world and it was, for lack of a better word, a pristine moment. More about this shortly.
My family has experienced a substantial share of heartache over the years with the deaths of loved ones, both expected – my elderly parents and unexpected – my 27-year-old brother of leukemia in 1987 (He would have celebrated his 60th birthday last week) and my 45-year-old brother of heart failure and other issues in 2004. By far the biggest gut punch, soul-wrenching, life-changing, “I do not think I want to go on” moment was the death of my grandson in 2013. He was just a baby, a sweet, happy, adorable baby who brought so much joy to our family. Why does this happen? I was at a loss and felt so bereft and helpless, both at the grief and pain I felt but also that I could do nothing to help my daughter other than to just “be there.” I still sometimes cannot talk about it without a catch in my voice and a weight on my chest. Worst. Time. In. My. Life. But eventually that death like the others, somehow gets filed away and we “carry on.” Or so we are told.
What these five deaths, parents, brothers, and grandson, have in common, is that I did not witness them. I saw these loved ones “after the fact” so to speak. That experience is different, though the grief and mourning process are similarly acute. I must say, however, being able to witness the death of my husband in the company of the daughters we had together was a wholly precious experience. His health was on a downward spiral and we knew the time was imminent. The critical care staff at the hospital was beyond sensitive and gave us the space we needed to spend time both with the priest administering the last rites as well as sharing our own private family time – just the four of us. It was truly special and allowed us all to share tears, chuckles, hugs, and to comfort one another. And to thank Frank for being who he was, simply a good man. who loved his family. He was a kind man who despised unfairness, treated everyone with respect, loved stupid jokes, and revered those closest to him, especially those grandchildren. After everything was said, we were ready for the inevitable next step. My only request to the nursing staff was that no machines be on to indicate to us when “the moment” would occur. We wanted it to be quiet, peaceful, and organic (I usually hate that word, but it fits in this case.) We sat holding hands, holding Frank’s hands, stroking his face, just watching his peaceful expression. He looked the best he had looked in weeks. On some level, we knew that he knew, and it was transformative. We could see as the physical life slowly began to float away from his body. There was an ethereal essence as his breathing slowed and slowed and slowed until one final expression of shallow air announced that this was indeed his last moment on earth. At that instant we knew, as the color in his face dramatically changed coinciding with the nurse coming in to gently announce what we already knew. Frank was gone – physically – but never gone from our hearts. Five years ago, I had the distinct honor of sending my husband and my children’s father from one threshold to the next. I believe in God and I know he did too and trust that Frank is now blessed with his final reward. Being with him as he died was a gift I will cherish forever. It was and always will be a pristine moment in my life.