On Sunday, Nov. 17, my beloved daughter-in-law died at her home in Lexington. When my son, Charlie, called and said his wife was en route to Chandler Medical Center, my wife and I immediately left what was a dinner commemorating my granddaughter’s 18th birthday and headed toward Lexington. We were not even outside Ashland before a distraught Charlie called and said Kathy was dead.
That began one of the worst nights of my life. When we arrived at the emergency room two hours later, Charlie was in a private room set aside for family members when a loved one dies in the emergency room. Fortunately, a dear friend who is a physician on the staff at UK was there to give Charlie whatever comfort he could. My wife had called our friend and even though he hardly knew Charlie and Kathy, he immediately left the comfort of his home and time with his family to be with Charlie. Now that’s what I call a true friend.
When my wife and I arrived, our friend quietly left us alone so we could weep and grieve in private.
Later, we offered to get a motel room for Charlie, but he surprised us by saying he wanted to spend the night in the place where his wife had died. Because there were photos of Charlie and Kathy on every wall of their small duplex, I immediately did not think that was a good idea.
Then I thought of two good reasons why Charlie could find comfort in his own home that night: Dante and Barkley, their two dogs. I think dogs — who come closest to being like God by loving us unconditionally — are natural nurses. When my mother died in January, I was home ill with the flu and unable to be at Mom’s side at the moment of her death. During that time, my dog, Prissy, stayed by my side and I found comfort in her presence. I was hoping Charlie could find some small degree of comfort from Dante and Barkley who are both freer with affection than my Prissy.
On Monday, my wife and I took Charlie out to breakfast, where he ordered a big meal and ate almost none of it. Then came the difficult process of notifying family members and making funeral arrangements. Fortunately, a minister at their church was able to help immensely in this area, as did Charlie’s biological father, who is a minister.
Late Monday afternoon, my wife and I headed back home to Ashland. One reason was strictly practical. We had left home in such a rush Sunday night that I did not have any of my medicine, and we diabetics should never be far from our medication. Even my insulin pump ran dry that day, and I needed to refill it ASAP.
But beyond that, it seemed like we had done all we could do. Charlie seemed to be coming to grips with Kathy’s death and was planning to go to a prayer group at his church. (He later called to say during that prayer group he had felt the presence of God for the first time since Kathy’s death.)
On Tuesday, my wife returned to Lexington and I went to work. My presence seemed to surprise a number of co-workers. Several of them asked what I was doing at work less than 36 hours after Kathy’s death.
My response was we all grieve in different ways. If I had taken bereavement days and stayed home, I would have spent the day thinking about Kathy and Charlie and crying. I didn’t want to do that because I could see nothing positive that could come from it. So I went to work.
My office here at The Independent is my comfort space. It is a place where I feel like I am in control and when the rest of my life seems to be spinning out of control, I can come here and find a degree of peace.
At work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I found myself often thinking about Charlie and Kathy, and when friends and co-workers stopped by to offer their condolences, I could not talk about it without weeping. While I had been raised that “boys don’t cry,” I was unable to “man up” and keep the tears from flowing.
Nevertheless, I pressed on. When I felt another bout of the blues coming on, I worked. If that didn’t help, I worked some more. On Wednesday evening, I went to our Thanksgiving dinner at church and then to choir practice. While the tears still came to my eyes when I tried to talk about it, I knew that was just part of my grieving process. Eventually, I would get past it, and I have. Mostly. It is just that when I least expect it, the tears start flowing again.
Charlie is coming home to Ashland for Thanksgiving, and he even plans to prepare the turkey, something he had planned to do before Kathy’s death. This Thanksgiving will be much different than last year’s holiday. Not only will Kathy’s chair be empty, but my daughter is separated from her husband; she and my granddaughters are living with us. My youngest son and his wife also are separated. As someone who strongly believes that marriage is a lifetime commitment, I don’t much like the fact that none of my children is living with spouses, but what can my wife and I do?
There is one thing I am particularly thankful for and that is for the time Charlie and Kathy had together. Although that time was much too brief, Charlie is a better person because of Kathy’s influence in his life.
For months, we have all been praying that Kathy would be healed, and Charlie asked why those prayers were not answered.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I do know that we serve a loving God and that there is a reason for this. We just don’t know what it is yet.”
JOHN CANNON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (606) 326-2649.