Treading and Waiting …

So it’s Monday, which means I just finished another counseling session with Caitlin. This one was longer than normal, because I talk too much, I ALWAYS go over my “time”, and because I haven’t seen her since Dec 18th, when she went to the Rockefeller Center Tree with me, to help me face the place where Don proposed marriage to me back on December 18, 2005.

I hope it is not too weird to say that I love this woman. Just as a human being in the world, I truly do love her. She means so much to me, and not in a creepy “What About Bob?”,obsessed with my therapist sort of way – but more of an “I’m more convinced than ever that Don put her into my path” sort of way. So I love her, for those reasons, and many more.

For about 15 minutes yesterday morning, I thought that Caitlin might be hurt or dead, and I had a mini-panic attack as I paced my apartment, re-living the same 15 minutes or so of that hellish July morning when I got the phone call from the hospital saying only: “We have your husband. You need to get here immediately.” Yesterday, I re-lived the 15 or 20 min it took for me to hang up from that call, get a car service, and then RUN into the E.R. waiting room like a marathon sprinter, where nurses and doctors surrounded me and took me into a private room and made me “sit down” so they could tell me the thing that would shatter my soul and make me break into ten thousand pieces for eternity – that my husband had a massive heart attack, and “he didn’t make it”.

Now, as someone who lost her partner to sudden death, I have re-lived that day many, many times. But it is always different. Sometimes I re-live the entire day, in sequential order. Other times, I re-live the first few minutes where I was jarred awake by the ringing phone, or the moment when I saw him lying in that tiny room in a tiny bed – just lying there, dead, with his white socks on his feet. Other times, I even re-live it as if I were my husband – from his perspective. I start picturing what it was like for him that morning. While he was at the PetSmart, stocking shelves with pet food. When he collapsed, did he know it was coming? How instant was it? Did it hurt when his head hit the hard floor? How long was it, really, before his manager found him and attempted CPR? How much longer was it before that ambulance arrived? Was he wondering where I was, or was he scared? The questions and scenarios are neverending, and I’m not entirely sure if they will ever fade to black.

But this was a bit different. Yesterday, my panic and fear and anxiety was more specific in it’s attack. It was focused on those 15 minutes or so where life was on pause – where you are just sitting in the water – treading – and waiting – for something, or nothing, to happen. And you have no idea whether the happening will be something, or nothing. Cries of despair, or sighs of relief. It was that awful thing of knowing in your gut that something horrific has happened, but not being able to confirm it, until you have more information. The living inside the hell of your own mind, to find out whether or not your life is about to change forever, or not. I did this all yesterday, as I was once again sweating and pacing and saying out loud to nobody and the universe: “No. This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening.” The same exact chant I said out loud, over and over again, on that unthinkable day, just two and a half years ago.

And so there I found myself, chanting the words again, begging my heart to please begin beating at it’s normal rhythm, instead of this frantic, lightning-speed thing it was doing. Yesterday morning, I turned on the news, and there was a huge 3-alarm fire in a high-rise apartment building in NYC. I had missed the first few seconds of the story, so I did not catch the exact address, but it had just happened only a few minutes before I started watching the story unfold, and they were showing the massive flames and smoke coming out of the high windows, a giant hole being slowly shaped into the side of the building. The whole thing was very “9-11-esque”, and Caitlin was there on that awful day. At the time, she worked at a bank inside one of the two Towers, and although she obviously made it out alive, the day, for her, was filled with trauma, due to all the horrific things she witnessed. The type of things that you really never forget. But now, beccause of her experience on that day, she is often able to relate to me and the many traumatic, P.T.S.D.-like emotions and experiences that I go through, as someone who lost their partner to sudden death. And here I was – watching this high-rise that looked like the high-rise where she lives, on fire. This is not happening. This is not happening. This really is not happening. Is it?

The address they gave for the building is the exact corner of the building where my counselor lives. The building looked a LOT like her building in the live pictures. They said the fire started on the 20th floor and went up above that. She lives right above the 20th floor. This was not good. There were just too many coincidences, and my stomach was doing flips. How would I cope without her? It’s only been 3 weeks without seeing her, and I’m about to lose my sanity. What if she is hurt? Or dead? Or NOT dead, but had to be in or around that building and be traumatized all over again by fire and smoke and chaos? Have I told her enough times and in enough ways how much she has helped me? Is it too late? Again? I kept trying to breathe, but nothing came out except for stifled sobs and terrified groans.

As I waited for her to respond to my call and my email, which were both different versions of a crazy person screaming in all caps:”ARE YOU OKAY??? PLEASE SAY YOU’RE OKAY! PLEASE DO NOT BE DEAD!!!,” I felt as if it was the longest 15 minutes of my life. Except that it wasn’t. I already had my longest 15 minutes, back on July 13, 2011.

It was approximately 15 minutes or so before Caitlin responded to my cries of “YOU CANNOT BE DEAD!!!”, and told me that she was absolutely fine, and that it was not her building that caught fire, but the one right next to it. Right next to it? What are the chances?

So today, when we had our session and I heard her voice talking to me again for the first time in weeks, in that comforting and quiet tone that she has, I felt myself talking back in one huge sigh. Each time she spoke, her timber enveloped me and held me like a warm and safe blanket. I told her that she is not allowed to die, at least not before she writes the Forward in my book. She laughed, and we continued on with our conversing, the both of us possessing that incredibly dark humor that we use to cope with life and death. “Don’t you worry. I’m not going anywhere”, she said. And for now, I will just have to believe her.

That is, until the next time that I find myself waiting and treading water, inside of those 15 minutes of not knowing whether the something you will be facing, is something terrible and tragic – or nothing at all.

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11 thoughts on “Treading and Waiting …

  1. How terrible. I read about a couple of guys who were married who got caught in the stairwell of that building trying to escape. One of them didn’t make it. :(

  2. I have that same anxiety every time someone doesn’t answer their phone when I call. After calling someone 73 times, for four hours, it instantly becomes a panic. I hate those moments where you wait, and try not to freak out, but you can feel it there anyway. Creeping in like a dense fog to strangle you. Stupid anxiety. Stupid PTSDish symptoms.

    I’m glad she’s ok though! I can’t wait for your book!

  3. Powerful. Sometimes I relive waking up to the sheriff at my door to tell me Rich was killed in a motorcylcle accident out of state. I don’t remember letting him in. I just remember his words and then screaming he was lying to me. I’ll think about Rich sliding 60 feet on the gravel and going down a 40ft embankment. Did he know? Did he have time to think about what was about to happen. Did he think about me? Talk about PTSD.

  4. So sorry you had to go through this. I too lost my husband & love of my life to sudden death from an arrhythmia. Perfectly healthy police officer. We were at home with our two boys ages 8 & 5. It was Dec 28, 2005. We were playing with toys in front of the Christmas tree. His heart just skipped a beat the wrong way. It was horrible. I ran outside to scream for help and I fell and broke my foot. So when I needed to do all the funeral arrangements, I couldn’t because I was in a cast & crutches and just miserable. Then, when I think this is going to be the worst thing that could happen to me, a year & a half later I got diagnosed with colorectal cancer! I had 9 surgeries in two years and chemo and radiation. The hardest part was going through it all without my husband by my side like he always was. :( I’m ok now and getting stronger everyday. Hang in there & best of luck to you.

  5. My husband died suddenly in April 2011. I too have those moments of panic. I too relive that night, sometimes just the first minutes when the police came, other times the whole 24 hours. I’m glad I found you.

  6. Kelly can you write something about how hard it is to lose your spouse. Everyone compares it to other losses and I think that a loss is a loss and everyone grieves I just don’t think many know that with losing a spouse you lost someone you chose to spend the rest of your life with, someone you slept with every night, someone who was to be with you after the kids went off and made their own lives. Someone who you may have depended on emotionally financially and otherwise. All the shitty things that have happened in life where manageable because my soul mate was there to work us through it. Plus all the paperwork that you are stuck dealing with too. I just don’t know how to explain it to people in a way that they get it. There is this idea that you can always find another husband…

  7. Hi there Kelley. You don’t me, but I’ve been reading your blog for several weeks now. Let me state right off the bat that I am not a widow, and that I would never claim to feel anything even remotely close to how you feel. As with any horrible tragedy, the only people who are able to understand and relate are those who have been through the same. And, thank the Universe, I haven’t. Yet. Therein lies my problem…you see, I suffer from debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety; the condition runs in my family and I have had these episodes since I was twelve.I have even been hospitalized for it at one low point. I have three children, two from my first husband, and my baby from my second (and what I consider, my “real” husband). The love of my life, the man I was ALWAYS meant to be with. I don’t regret my kids from my first marriage, but I do regret that marriage. My husband now, my real husband, my Darin…he is EVERYTHING to me. I know mothers are ‘supposed” to say that about their kids and not their spouse, but if he were gone, I wouldn’t even be able to function as a person, much less a mother of three. And he IS my world, my heart feels it so strongly, and I love him so much. When my depression and anxiety make me feel like I can’t go on, all I have to do is glance at him and my heart fills with such love that I know I can make it through. Kelley, lately I have been having a lot of anxiety about something happening to him. It’s not that I have a “bad feeling” or an ominous premonition, and he’s not sick, (thank the Universe). It’s simply that I know that something COULD happen to him, just like it happened to your husband, and the husband of an acquaintance of mine, and Katie Couric’s first husband…you get my point. It COULD happen. My Darin could suffer a sudden heart attack, or get in a fatal car accident, or be shot while walking out of a store, or be diagnosed with a terminal illness…the list goes on and on, and the possibilities are unbearable to think about…yet I ruminate on what I would do if the worst happened, how I would cope…and that’s how I discovered your blog. I Googled “husband died” and came across your blog. You write beautifully (I am a writer as well) :) and the story of you and your beloved husband and his death drew me in. Every relationship is special and unique, but your feelings for Don are similar to my feelings for my Darin. And many of your speculations and thoughts are things I have thought about as well. Like how awful it is for people to expect you to ‘move on” after a certain period of time. Move on??? If my Darin died (I can barely type those words without a shudder), I would NEVER move on. I would never “get over it”. In my heart I know this…there would never be anyone else for me if he died. No one serious, anyway. There simply is no replacing the love of one’s life. I hope you won’t be angry at me for telling you that I relate to your blog…not because I know what you have gone and are going through, but because many of your thoughts validate what I believe I would feel if Darin were to die. The love you and Don have (yes, have) for each other reminds me greatly of the love Darin and I share. There are so many women out there who dog their husbands, complain about their husbands, mean-spiritedly gossip about their husbands, etc. What is wrong with those women?? Are they with the wrong man?? Because I never have and wouldn’t dream of bringing my husband down. All I ever want is to build him up and up. Sure, we get in the occasional argument, but we both still recognize the great love that we share, it’s always there, backing us up when we disagree on something or one of us is cranky or having a bad day. Kelley, I love my Darin so much, and the way you write about your feelings for Don are SO similar to how I feel about my husband! That is one of the reasons I read your blog. Another is that I NEED to know that IF the worst were to happen, I COULD continue to exist in this world (“existing” would be all I could muster). I don’t know how you feel, but your blog is proof that you DO exist, even after the death of your husband. Also, I enjoy reading about your happy moments with Don, like your Cape Cod honeymoon, and the cute nicknames you have for each other. :) I call Darin “Dare Bear”, “Bear” for short LOL. I just love him so much…more than he can imagine. We don’t have much money, and we don’t have a big house, (LOL small bungalow!) fancy car, or anything like that. But we have each other, and that is all we ever truly need.

    You know what, Kelley?? I even worry about something happening to ME. What if I die suddenly, or get a terminal illness, et. etc.?? I never want to be without my husband, not in this life or the next. I want a guarantee that we will grow VERY old together and die together peacefully. I want a guarantee that there IS an afterlife, and that we WILL be together in it, somehow, someway, recognizing our love for each other right away. But there are no guarantees, and that fact is what fuels my anxiety even more. Your writing has brought me to tears, made me laugh, made me literally sob…but most importantly, it reminds me over and over again how frighteningly fragile this earthly life is, and how important it is to truly cherish every moment, even the stressful ones. It has given me a glimpse of the worst blackness I could ever imagine, but it has also shown me that, as clichéd as it sounds, true love NEVER dies. I can literally feel the love that you and Don share just by reading your words. I am a stranger miles away, but when I read your blog, I can feel how much you two love each other, how strong and unbreakable it is. For that reason, it is a joy to read. The love overpowers the darkness.

    LOL I hope you’re still reading this long message…I tend to go on and on! Thank you for taking the time to read MY thoughts, and thank you for sharing your LOVE story with the world. And of course I know that there is nothing that I can say that will make any of the pain of losing your husband go away, but for what it’s worth, I am so, so very truly sorry about your loss. My heart hurts for you…but I’m glad to have stumbled across your blog and am honored to have the chance to read about the beautiful love you and Don share.

    • Stacey, your reply made me tear up at the thoughtfulness and compassion that you possess, and no, Im not offended at ALL that you would relate to me or my story even though you arent widowed. I really like what you said about how “the love overpowers the darkness”. Thank you! And thank you so much for sharing some of yourself with me, and for reading. Always for reading xo

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