It's been a year since life suddenly changed forever


On the day you read this, I'll be getting ready. Ready to walk through the one-year anniversary of my husband David's death. His unexpected, unprepared-for death.

I started chronicling just days after David left me on Jan. 27. My first blog entry, written at 86 hours post-death, was titled "That phrase, 'I'm no longer someone's wife,' is not rolling off the tongue."

The posting was a mass of pain and the only sure move I could make at that moment, spilling my trauma all over your monitors.

I'm at a loss how to adequately describe these last 365 days, so I hope you'll forgive this stream-of-consciousness writing. Just getting the words from head to hand took all the effort I could expend -- there was no leftover energy for structure. No spirit to try for the tightly woven or delicious turn-of-phrase that makes writing so fun.

The first item on my list is to give praise. The love, the pure grace that has been extended to my family has been life-changing. I've said to any number of people, "If you have to lose your spouse, I don't think there is any better place to be."

The community on both sides of the state line has buffered this loss, given us all manner of physical, emotional and spiritual gifts. Amazing mercy has been poured out, bringing "Love thy neighbor as thyself" to life.

There are too many examples to record in one newspaper column, but understand that every light you lit for us, we hope to emulate -- it's too beautiful not to share.

But even as David is arguably the most written-about, recently dead guy in the Valley, I've refused to relinquish some things. Example: Except for a handful of paragraphs, I've not read a single self-help book about grieving. I'm sorry for the hard-earned money some of you spent and I do expect to one day be able to pick those up. But not yet.

By every account the local grief support group run by Hospice is great medicine, but I turned down that invitation, as well. In dissecting my response, I found I wanted this pain of mine to stay pure, undiluted, to sear me to the core. Why? Because when you lose the love of your life, it seems like it should hurt like hell. The way ripping off one half of your heart feels ... pain insurmountable, unsurvivable. Never wavering.

When that finally eases, it will be by the grace of God. Maybe I'm the guy on the rooftop shunning lifeboats while waiting for rescue from the flood ... we'll know if I end up drowning.

I have learned some quirky things about this situation, which I suspect are not widely known. They seem too weird to put in writing. Like going into the closet and donning my husband's shirt, hoping some of his skin cells fall on mine. Who can say why.

Or hugging his pillow to my side, saying "Get over here, you."

I run my fingers over the pages of last year's calendar, thinking, "The last time I touched this page, I was married."

There's the Jan. 19 square -- 11:30, XXXX Pleasant St., blue/white, flat roof, before bridge.

When I wrote that appointment, I was writing as a whole person. I was going home to a husband. I haven't touched the squares past Jan. 26, 2009.

You find yourself playing the most awful games with yourself. If I go into Safeway and lose track of time, will David somehow be in the dairy case, waiting to scare me when I reach for the milk?

If I go to St. Mary and skip down the up staircase, might he not still be cooking in the cafeteria, his infectious grin like dessert?

The worst came when the kids and I finally played Wii again. For those who don't have this Nintendo game, you need to know that each player creates an animated character, an avatar, called a "Mii."

Typically you design it to look like yourself -- mine is chunky, wears glasses and can't decide on brown or blond hair.

So we selected Wii baseball, and who comes trotting out onto the field? David, in Wii fashion ­-- gray hair and beard, square-framed glasses, blue eyes ... it took my breath away. How can David be alive in Nintendo land but not here? He's batting, for goodness sake! He pitched a no-hitter inning! How can he be dead?

I've called the old cell phone number to see if someone else has it. When someone answered I said, "I'm sorry, I have the wrong number." And now it is the wrong number.

There is the stack of pictures I keep handy to look through, searching for any hint in my husband's eyes of what was ahead for us. Here, on Christmas Day, was there something foretold in the way he didn't quite smile the same?

It's enough to make me crazy, which seems like a nice respite from the darker moments.

Did you know, when you've lost the love of your life, that flickers of suicide will jump out at you without warning? When you're waiting to pull out of a parking lot, say, and your brain registers a Kenworth truck barreling down toward you. Your foot thinks about lifting off the brake for a slimmest slice of time. It's unnerving and seems disconnected with my real self.

Because my real self is too exhausted to do more than pour milk for the kids and wash my face before bed, frankly. My real self can only read fiction, for the most part, and watch happy movies. More than one sad country song and I switch stations. And no NPR, it's damned depressing.

Suicide would just be too much to manage.

I know some of this is simply raw and I'm sorry about that. You'll recall I worried early on about how much to say, when it would be too much sadness. But you guys ... I don't know how to say all that should be said. You've let me be myself, you've taken it all and no one -- to my face, anyway -- has said, "Enough."

You gave me permission to be brutally honest and I've taken it to my broken heart.

I no longer cry every hour, not even every day. I suspect soon I'll write a little less about David's death, that life will offer up new material. Because, I've been assured, that's what life does.

I wonder if I'll ever date again, if I would ever have the courage to let someone into my life in that way. If I'm attractive enough, how I feel about dating while I have kids at home, if anyone else will ever make me laugh "that way." Or if that time is over for good. If there even is "someone."

I'm guessing you'll know when I do.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or at or by calling 509-526-8322.


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