My husband was not supposed to die.
We were supposed to grow old together, love each other, irritate each other, cheer for each other and care for each other as we grew old and tired.
I’m not sure how I know that is what is supposed to have happened, but I guess I could blame Jane Austen and Disney movies. Or maybe just my mother.
When my mom was only 7 years old, her older sister died in front of her in a tragic accident at a relative’s house. When you are 7, you believe the world makes sense. You still believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, best friends, and that marriage lasts forever. You believe the ground beneath you and the trees you climb are solid ground you can trust. You ignore the warnings and “be carefuls” of the adults around you because, after all, they are wrong about so many other things. They have clearly just forgotten to have fun!
The tree shouldn’t break. If it does, the ground should surely break the fall with pillowed forgiveness. Or, if all else fails, the clocks should be kind enough to let you wind them back to the part where you ignored your parents and you choose to play hopscotch instead of climbing that forbidden tree.
I never blamed my mom for being pissed. She was 7 and the world had already betrayed her and she even had to hate with suspicion the ground her feet walked upon. I don’t begrudge her need to hold on to the deeply held, and necessarily protective, belief that NONE of that day should have happened as it did. To have burst that bubble at the age of 7 would have meant she would have had to grapple with adult versions of self-loathing and grief — what could *I* have done differently, she would have had to ask. And that is just too terrible of a question for any 7 year old to grapple with.
My two younger kids were 8 and 6 when my husband, their Dad, killed himself. I often wish he had fallen from a tree or had been hit by car. I wish my kid’s issues were with the untrustworthiness of objects instead of the untrustworthiness of those they love most. I’d rather their rage be directed at wood and concrete than at their father. And (as psychologists have warned me) themselves.
And, sometimes I wish I’d been a child that had to process my husband’s death because what does it say that I was 36 years old when he died and I took it just as hard as if I’d been 6 or 16 or 60. It turns out, age doesn’t mature us on matters of trust and grief. It only changes the way the world expects us to handle ourselves. Surely by the time we enter adulthood we have learned to accept that death is simply a part of life? That it can happen to anyone at any time. That it knows no color or age or race or gender. Death is the only certainty, we’re told, beyond taxes.
Still, most of us load our expectations surrounding death with piles of shoulds. We should die when we’re old. We should die in our sleep. We should die surrounded by our loved ones. We should die with our affairs settled. We should die when it is “our time” — which is, of course, at a quarter-to-never, but who is counting?
The truth is, most people I know have clung to their 7-year-old perceptions of death and that it just plain shouldn’t happen and if it does, we have an injustice on our hands! Call the sheriff, call out God, file a complaint — HELLO? Death is not a part of my DEAL? Don’t you know?
Except that it is.
If there is one thing my husband’s death has taught me it is that death happens. It has taught me that I should never take a single breath for granted. Not my breathes. Not my children’s. Not our unconditionally-loving golden retriever. Not my fiance’s, my mother’s or my best friend’s.
When I was young, there was a book on my parent’s bookshelf titled, “I never promised you a rose garden.” I never read it, but I passed the title often enough to begin to ponder its meaning. Was I really guaranteed anything? What was I promised? Even the promises of the Bible I’d been taught were secure, didn’t necessarily mean my life on earth would see each of those promises realized. No one, I started to realize, ever really promised me anything. Except, perhaps, their imperfect love and attention. So many, I began to learn, weren’t even promised that.
The truth is, we’re damn lucky we get any time together on this earth at all. The tragedies that befall us as humans are numerous and unrelenting. I’ve witnessed so many, and so many quite close to home. Babies that have died in-utero before their parents could smell their sweet milky breath. Children that died of cancer before they saw their second birthday. Teenagers who died in car accidents on their way home from prom. Heros who died on airplanes trying to prevent further catastrophe. Mothers who died protecting their innocent children from the abuse of an anger-filled father. Soldiers who died on missions mere hours before they were to start the journey home.
We scream, collectively, “these things shouldn’t happen!” Where and to whom we scream it to, we can’t even agree. Yet, still, no amount of railing against the universe has cured cancer or stopped drunk drivers or prevented incurable diseases or stopped humanity from being deeply, deeply, selfish and flawed sometimes.
Not too long ago, someone actually said to me, “What if your husband died exactly when he was supposed to die? Because…well, that’s what did happen. So clearly it was supposed to.” If I hadn’t hired her to help me think differently, I might have ended her (or at least our interactions) right in that moment.
She has a point. The more we tangle ourselves up in the argument with what is an indisputable reality, the more we miss out on the powerful love that is present in the here and now. The love that is expressed in grief. The love that is expressed through hope. The love that now counts moments as precious and people as just passing through. The love that says I won’t waste another moment not loving because I’m angry at what should have been. The love that accepts that no matter what the reason behind it — death is. It is a certainty. If it happens, it clearly is supposed to happen, because it does.
So, I’ve learned (and even mostly accept) that my husband was supposed to die. Not because I condone his choice or I accept it as an acceptable choice for anyone else. But, because, what is done is done. I can’t turn back the clocks, or argue with God, or demand a redo on reality. The fact of his death is just that: a fact. It is unchangeable.
But, thankfully, I’m not.
Thankfully, I have whatever time I have left to love and hope and breathe and laugh and create and even grieve. And, when the grief comes, I no longer rail against it as if it were assaulting me in a sneak attack. I welcome it for the love it ultimately represents. And for the gratitude it inarguably generates.
Leslie McCaddon is a widow living in Southern California with her fiance, 4 of their (7) kids and the best golden retriever ever. She is the owner and founder of Widows Like Us, a coaching practice and widow community focused on empowering women to trust themselves to build a beautiful life, even after loss. You can follow her on facebook and instagram at @widowslikeus or visit her website at www.widowslikeus.com