I remember what I wore that day. What my boy was wearing. We never wore those clothes again. We gave them away. Down to my favorite red winter coat with black velvet trim.
Does everyone look at the time when they find a body? Perhaps it was years spent working at a hospital. Someone would ask me what time I found him.
Though it must have been hours earlier, when I saw the death certificate it documented the time of death as 5:17PM.
I still have the wristwatch. It hasn’t worked properly since.
And after the coroner removed my husband, I removed my wedding ring.
Maybe because it was a symbol of partnership dissolved. A spell broken. Would serve only as a reminder that I had been but a call away from someone who would come to my aid and defense. A lion in hiding that would sprint from the bush to strike down foe.
I looked at the ring, a lie I couldn’t afford. Couldn’t trick myself into believing a suggestion I had a loving mate. Wouldn’t allow myself the comfort that once I had.
Months later I found a support group of other young widows and widowers struggling with new reality. I barely made the cut. 40. I was the oldest. They‘d lost loves to accident or illness.
Tom’s death was neither unless one considers suicide the culmination of illness unknown until too late. It was certainly no accident.
On the day the therapist leader suggested it might be time to consider removing rings, I listened to the group describe the hellish road they’d traveled. They spoke of dead beloveds. Widowed by young moms who clung to life for one more day in which to etch a lasting memory; complete a video, finish a quilt or stuffed toy to leave behind, chronicle a special bedtime ritual, end a story. Wives described husbands who wouldn’t let go of life, couldn’t lay down their role as family protector and provider and instead lingered, and suffered.
And while the dying had worried they’d be forgotten, the mourners anguished over the worst of memories they wished one day might fade. Pain they’d seen and saw each night when they closed eyes on difficult days hoping to collapse in sleep. Instead they glimpsed pictures of events they least wanted to see. Hospital beds, medications, bald heads void of beautiful locks and cascading curls only recently captured in wedding photos they planned to peruse in the years that did not come.
In the refuse of these lives bereft was the moment of good-bye. It came when, “I just left for a moment,” “…only went to the bathroom,” “needed a glass of water.” It seemed the dying could not face the agony they’d leave behind and chose to slip away when they hoped no one was looking.
And then there was me.
I’d gone to work. Come home. Found my husband’s body in the garage directed there by a note left for me on the cold, white tile of the kitchen counter.
He did it on purpose. He planned his escape. He kept it under wraps. He tied up his loose ends best he could. A salesman who sold like crazy to keep commissions coming after he had left. Even called Neptune Society about his disposition and left instructions for me. Reminders everywhere. Of how to carry on.
Not committed enough to stay; content to direct lives in ashes. His. Ours.
Tears on his Dean Edell reading glasses.
Then he left. According to his plan.
While the others keened for loved ones who’d done everything to stay, mine had done everything to leave. They couldn’t go forward. They couldn’t betray the dead by removing wedding bands. I couldn’t betray myself by leaving mine on.
For me there was no knowing he’d rather have remained. No pretending he hadn’t chosen to go. I could not say out loud, Don’t you see? He’d rather die than be married to me.
I couldn’t turn back, couldn’t un-ring the bell. But it was easy to un-ring me.
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