Sept. 5 was a day I hoped would never come. That Thursday, my husband Tym died.
Over the course of a year, he had experienced a progressive weakness and shortness of breath. He lost a lot of weight. There was no diagnosis until Aug. 28, when we learned that he had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since there’s no cure, maybe it was best that we didn’t know for very long.
Tym had never spent a day in the hospital and forbade me to talk publicly about his failing health. He was a private person. He would hate me telling his story in the newspaper, but it’s one that needs to be told.
During the exhausting days and nights, hurrying to and from the hospital—and later the funeral home — I kept the car radio tuned to ’40s tunes, my musical comfort food. I didn’t want to tattoo a popular song with this nightmare.
Two months later, people ask me how I’m doing, and I don’t know how to answer. Some days are less awful than others. Nothing feels truly normal unless I get lost in a book or my writing or some task that takes me out of where I am and when this is.
I’ve learned to accept help. My first week alone was a short course in home repairs and endurance. I began to worry about stuff I didn’t know: how to change the water filter, how often to rotate the tires on the vehicles, when and how to change the HVAC filters, what to do about some dead trees out back. Some things had been left undone because Tym didn’t feel like doing them, and I wasn’t comfortable tackling the list that kept growing: rescanning the television channels, lighting the pilot light, hoisting cumbersome boxes to the attic.
In the middle of the upheaval, the coffee maker quit, the well ran dangerously dry, one of the dogs had to go to the vet, and the other began running over to the neighbors, no doubt looking for Tym.
I tried to be dutiful, notifying the agencies that needed to be told of Tym’s passing: the bank, his pension plan, Social Security, credit card companies.
The utility companies were a test. Upon learning my husband had passed, I was told I was now a “new customer” though we’d written them checks for decades. A security deposit and a credit check were mentioned.
While informing the phone company that my husband had died, my internet and email service were cut off. It was a coincidence, they said. That day I spent 4 ½ hours on the phone, being passed from one “technician” to the other. One of them pitched me a year’s repair subscription. Another said it would cost me $49 to reconnect my service, and I began to wonder if they’d ever dealt with a bereaved customer before. I broke down in sobs as my cellphone battery lost power.
Other companies were more accommodating. Hotels.com allowed me refunds for “nonrefundable” reservations for a trip we couldn’t take. American Airlines allowed me to cancel flights and recredit frequent flier miles, all the while offering profuse condolences. You see, Tym passed the day after we were to start a three-week drive to visit our son and family in California. We were to visit Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse and Yellowstone. Thank God we weren’t on the road when things turned bad.
Our son booked a last-minute flight to hurry home and say goodbye to his dad, explaining that since we couldn’t come west to visit him, he would come to us. If Tym knew the real reason Lantz had come home, he didn’t let on.
Loss can bring out the best in people. My cousin took an overnight flight from Los Angeles so he could be here. A neighbor spotted me walking the dogs one evening. She came out to offer condolences, then insisted I take home some sourdough bread she had just pulled from the oven.
Yes, I get teary when I see Tym’s favorite foods at the grocery store or find notes he left around the house. I want to scream when I have to identify myself as a “widow,” the sorrow-laden term that conjures up black veils and poisonous spiders.
Along the way I’ve learned about gratitude. I am grateful to have spent 40 years with such a kind and gentle man. I am grateful to have a son who dropped everything and traveled 2,500 miles the minute I called him. I’m grateful to have loyal dogs to watch over me, blessed to have good neighbors and supportive friends.
And finally I’m grateful that Tym and I chose to live in Catawba County. We moved here sight unseen as newlyweds in 1979. It was one of the best decisions we ever made.
After attending Tym’s memorial service, family members from out-of-state told me how impressed they were with our adopted family of North Carolinians who have stood by me as I lurch into this new, ill-fitting chapter of life.
Lately I’ve been finding feathers in my path—blue ones, white ones, black ones and spotted ones. They’ve been resting in the grass, flower beds, along the roadside and sidewalks. A white down feather appeared inexplicably on my car seat.
They say feathers mean that angels are near, and I know this is true. Many of these angels are the good people of Catawba County.
But the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far is this: Don’t put things off. If there’s something you want to do, then do it. If there’s somewhere you want to go, find the time to go. As the cliché goes, life is no dress rehearsal. Looking forward in hope will always beat looking back with regret.