Every time Mark was late, I imagined my husband riding dead on the train, slumped in the seat while commuters pushed past his limp legs until a conductor noticed he hadn’t moved. The police wouldn’t have to say a word as they stood on my doorstep, looking down at their feet with guilty faces, knowing they’d get to go home to their wives and kids which somehow made them feel responsible for my destroyed life. They wouldn’t have to say a word. I’d know why they were there, just like a good soldier’s wife who knows deep down the doorbell could ring any day.
I also worried if Mark took too long running weekend errands as I paced at the door, waiting to hear his car pull in the driveway. Then, I’d do anything not to get caught, like a teenager whose parents came home unexpectedly.
“Nothing Mom. Just about to go clean my room like you asked,” the pimply-faced kid would call out, shoving the joint in between logs in the fireplace.
“Oh nothing Mark,” I’d say. “Just washing the windows.”
Being gone too long also meant long enough to crash to the floor at the Stew Leonard’s meat aisle, with all the Saturday shoppers crowding around screaming for someone to call 911.
Death could also come at home during a longer than usual nap. I’d catch myself tip toeing into the room to watch his back for signs of movement or hold my finger under his nose to check for inhalation.
Sometimes if my finger accidentally grazed his nose, he’d startle awake.
“For God’s sake, Laura,” he’d yell. “Leave me alone. I’m fine.”
He always said he was “fine,” but we both knew he wasn’t.
He refused to discuss it, even after doctors told us he’d be lucky to live another three years given the condition of his heart and the number of stents keeping the blood flowing. Instead, he’d comfort me when I suffered panic attacks so forceful my teeth chattered and my body shook like a wet dog pulled from an icy pond. Mark would lay his 6'4" 280-pound frame on top of me to stop the shaking as he stroked my damp hair, kissed my forehead and face, and promised over and over again not to die.
Sometimes I wanted to run away screaming for someone to give me back my carefree single Manhattan life. I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted and with whomever I wanted. No husband. No children. No mortgage. No problems. I had a great job, all kinds of friends and social events, and a really nice apartment. Life was fabulous and I was younger. Plus, I had beautiful clothes. The only thing I had to do was water the houseplant every few days.
Marriage, two babies, a mortgage, and mounting responsibilities later, I loved him and I hated him for giving me everything I never knew I wanted.
Alone in my bed last week, I realized while I sometimes still cry about him, I no longer cry over him. There’s a big difference. Mourning is a process that has no beginning, middle or end — just turning points. And this year, it didn’t feel like another being had moved into my body at various times to make it do all the right things, especially around the holidays, like bake my daughter’s birthday cake; not look at photo albums on his birthday; actually acknowledge Thanksgiving by hosting a beautiful dinner party for family and friends instead of mourning it as the day he died by escaping the family table to hit a beach or a ski resort; and for the first time, buying a Christmas tree without bawling my head off like I had done the previous year, which made the nice man feel so badly that he forced me to take the tree as his present to my family.
I’d also planned to spend my birthday, which is New Year’s Eve, at my friend Kim’s annual party with all the married couples this year rather than haul off someplace as far away from my life as possible. Perhaps going to the Dominican Republic last year taught me the invaluable lesson that there’s really no escape — you take yourself with you wherever you go. I spent the next year really getting my heart and head in the same place and now I had proof that I, Laura Fahrenthold, had truly beaten grief!
Only I awoke wrapped in a blanket of Mark. In my dream, we were kissing in an open, grassy field and falling down laughing because we were so happy to see each other again…that is, until he floated away up and away from me, off into the sky, like a deflating balloon bearing the face of his crooked smile and I-love-you eyes. I’m not sure which happened first — remembering my dream or the grief burst.
For the uninitiated, it’s a term I made up to describe the sudden, shuddering eruptions of intense wilderness crying that end almost as quickly as they start. They come from deep down in the tissue box, socking you completely out of no where and for no apparent reason. Here you are mindlessly vacuuming the carpet or sitting at the bus stop waiting for the kids or grocery shopping when blamo! You’re in a fit of tears.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that morning marked the anniversary of his funeral. I’d never really noted the date but there it was, out of the blue and into my heart.
When it was over, I wondered if this was his way of telling me it was still OK to always keep him in my dreams.
Laura Fahrenthold has been a crime reporter at the New York Daily News; a private investigator; a features editor at Woman’s World Magazine where she interviewed more than 50,000 women; and a press secretary for an elected official in a city of 198,000. Life was going great with two adorable little girls, a big happy house and her strong, handsome journalist husband until one night in late 2009 when he suffered cardiac arrest. Laura writes about her life and family on her blog, LauraFahrenthold.com. She is the upcoming author of a memoir on surviving the death of her husband.
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