I’m watching the outer bands of Hurricane Ida sweep through the treetops around my house. A dreary and wet day on the outside. A somber and quiet day on the inside. The last few weeks have been a blur for me and my family. I told my son on Monday morning that we got through last week. We’ll get through this week. And then the next week after that. “But today is the first day of the rest of our lives.”
I don’t even know if I really understand what that means. I’m sure I don’t. But as I reflect on the recent events, I am full of dread and full of hope all at the same time. Dread because I know that life is different in a way that I never thought about until now. And the hope is there because I know my faith is solid and I have tons of support from folks like you that continue to check on me every day.
My sweet Beth passed from this earth at 9:52 pm on August 22nd. Me and the kids got to visit with her for a while before the nurses stopped the machines. We couldn’t be in the room while they turned everything off, so we huddled together in the MSICU waiting room. Aaron, our preacher prayed with us. My shoulders shook in waves of sobs. My girls held on to my arms, one on each side. Then the silence embraced us.
I could hear sniffles from across the room. An older gentleman. A younger woman quietly weeping. I became aware that we were not the only ones hurting. He spoke up first as he got ready to leave.
“How long were you married?”
He was far enough away that he had to raise his voice to get our attention. Our backs were to his corner of the room, and I guess he had been sizing up our situation for a while. One older guy. Five younger folks. Children there to be with their Dad. It wouldn’t have been hard to figure out.
“43 years this last May,” I said.
“I got you beat,” he said. “Fifty years for me and my wife. They just took her off the machine a while ago. She was gone pretty quick. I’m sorry for your loss.”
He stood and headed for the door. His daughter was already down the hall and gone. I turned to catch him.
“Hey. What was her name?”
He had already pushed the glass door open when he turned back to look at me. ”Patricia Ward. We live up in Manchester.”
“I’m sure we’ll be praying for each other.” It was the only thing I could think of to say to a stranger with whom we shared an unbearable grief.
Jessie came into the room. He was the nurse who had been helping us in and out of rubber gloves and plastic garments and masks for the last hour. We listened in a numbing disbelief as he told us she was gone. There was no pain. No suffering. She went peacefully. And I wondered how many times he had had to tell some family these words. How difficult this whole pandemic has been on guys like him who see the worst of it every day.
The next few days, surrounded by my three kids and their families, we looked through the tubs of pictures that detailed much of the last four and a half decades of my life with Beth and the joys of family. We laughed and we wept, and we told stories into the late-night hours. Sleep didn’t come easy for any of us. My life was upside down. Their lives were swept up into a whirlwind of decisions and trips to the funeral home and plans for the coming service.
An avalanche of food poured into our kitchen. Thank God for those who fed us and cared for us. We turned back flips for those who thought to bring us paper plates and towels, and some of the finest plastic cutlery I’ve ever seen. Every dish and every gesture of kindness was wrapped in an unexpected love that just blew us away. I hope you’re reading this.
On Thursday, the first wave of cards filled my mailbox. I’m a terrible card sender on occasions like this. Beth did all of that with grace and a finesse that I don’t possess. Cards came into our little house in the woods like flood waters move into low ground. Cards from cousins, from local friends, from high school classmates, from out of state, from places and people I hadn’t thought about in years. Each one of them like a soothing melody in the midst of our grief.
The one thing that struck me was that they were all addressed to “Paul & Family”. For the first time I was forced to think of me without Beth. In the last 43 years we had never received not one card in our mailbox that was not addressed to the both of us. “I am no longer a couple,” I thought.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that anyone was cruel. I’m not saying that anyone did anything wrong. How else could it be but “Paul & Family”. That’s my reality now. But it was one of those little things that poked my soul to the core. Grief can sometimes be a punishing adversary.
The other day I went to see my doctor. I wanted to do what I called a post-covid checkup. I felt like I was 99% over it all, but I wanted to be sure my Doc thought I was okay. I felt a need to be okay for my kids and my grandkids. He gave me the thumbs up.
When I got to his office, though, they handed me the standard paperwork to fill out. One of the forms asked me to update my personal information in case there were any changes. For the last 27 years since we’ve lived here, I have laughed at that page. Nothing ever changes. Everything stays the same.
Until now. At the top of the form, my status was listed as married. I had to cross through that and write the word widowed. I had to think about that. Not only am I now not a couple, but I am a widower. My new status on record. My emergency contact had always been Beth. I crossed through that one and left it blank. Another wicked cut from the razor-sharp talons of loss.
I want you to know that I am fully aware that I am not alone in this grief of mine. The funeral service this past Saturday was proof of that. Really, there’s been evidence of how full my life is all along these past several weeks. But the funeral was the celebration of love and life and faith that I had hoped it would be. Our friends came to be with us. Those who couldn’t come made sure we knew that they were with us in our hearts. Nothing about Beth’s funeral was sad. The tears shed were not for her but for us.
Know this. I am proud of my kids and what they have done over this dark time in our lives. They have shined like the sun. I wish you could know them. Because if you saw them. If you heard them. If you witnessed their rock-solid faith and hope. Then you would know my Beth. Her imprint is everywhere in their lives.
And you would know that we are going to be just fine in the days ahead.