Friday, July 5, 2013

Gone on the 4th of July

I used to be obsessed with all things holiday. That annoying person singing Christmas carols and stringing up lights in September? Yeah. That was me. Forcing my husband to search for his silly gifts in an elaborate Easter hunt, like a little boy? Guilty. Ordering that same husband to not only celebrate my birthday DAY, but my birthday "month?" Yeah. I was that girl.

But not anymore. Since the sudden death of my husband 2 years ago one week from tomorrow, holidays have gone from joyful to painful. Thrilling to torturous. Peaceful to dreadful. Christmas, which was always my favorite day of the year, has become a constant stabbing pain as I'm forced to watch families laughing and opening gifts under the tree, with their beautiful and happy children. Children that my husband and I will never get to have, because he died first. Looking at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the sight of my husband's marriage proposal to me, sends me into waves of anxiety and deep hurt, at the thought of what was, and what never will be. Every celebration feels like a lie. Family gatherings leave me feeling crazy, as if I'm the only person who even notices that someone is always missing, and nothing ever fits.

Today was the 4th of July. In my old life, the one where I was happily married to my very best friend in this universe, we used to walk across the street, invite a bunch of friends over, and watch the best fireworks display that there was. We lived in New Jersey, right on the Hudson River, just 10 minutes outside NYC. On New Years Eve and the 4th of July, our street offered the best view for fireworks, which often took place on a barge in the Hudson. Thousands of people came to our street to watch, and they would close off our road to traffic. All we had to do was walk across the street and look up. Instant holiday.

But that was my old life. In my new life, the one that I didn't ask for where my husband is randomly gone, this day carries with it a lot of anxiety, sadness, and guilt. Oh, that goddamn guilt. My husband died on July 13, 2011. His death was completely sudden, so of course, the days and weeks before his death held no special significance to us, at that time. Neither of us knew that every single thing we were doing, would be the last time we would ever be doing it. Every single one of those days was so ordinary, so blah. And although I try like hell and I scream at my brain cells to please remember something - ANYTHING!!! - I cannot recall one single memory from the weeks leading up to his death. Nothing. What makes this worse for me is that my husband was collapsing and dying, while I was sleeping. About an hour after he left for work that morning, I was jarred awake by my phone ringing over and over again. It was the hospital, telling me to get down there immediately. They would not say why - only that: "We have your husband." As I woke up on that July 13th morning, my husband was already dead. Massive heart-attack. No symptoms. No warning.

I have no last words with my husband. No goodbyes. No good morning. No goodnight. We both sort of fell asleep the night before, I think, and I cannot recall anything that was said to one another. The next day, I woke up, and he was gone from the apartment, and gone from this earth. Sometimes it still doesn't feel real. How can someone just disappear like that? And why the hell can't I remember anything about the days and weeks leading up to his death? Was our life really that dull in those weeks that I cant chalk up one happy memory?

I do remember one thing, and it haunts me. It feeds me with guilt and sorrow, and I hate it for having that hold on me. It was the 4th of July. We had two invitations to hang out with friends that night. Our neighbors down the street, a married couple, asked us to come to their apartment, have drinks, and hang out on their high-rise balcony and watch the fireworks. My best friend Sarah and her husband Julio also invited us over to their Long Island home for a night BBQ and fireworks from their neighborhood park. Or, we could just stay home, and walk across the street together and see the fireworks by ourselves.

Don did not want to do any of those things. On that night, he seemed really tired, kind of bored, and had a lack of energy to do much of anything. He was working his normal job as a paramedic, and had also picked up a second job stocking dog and cat food, as well as helping with pet adoptions, at our local Petsmart. He was exhausted:

Me: Boo, let's go to Sarah's place, it will be fun.
Him: You go, Boo. I'm really tired and I just don't feel like going out.
Me: But it's the 4th of July, I wanna spend it with you. Let's go to the neighbors, they have an awesome view from up there.
Him: Nah. I just don't care about fireworks really.
Me: Okay, well you and I can just walk across the street and see them then, by ourselves.
Him: Nah. You go. I just want to stay in tonight, play some guitar, relax.
Me: But it's right across the street. You're saying you won't walk across the street with me to see fireworks?
Him: I'm saying I don't care about fireworks.
Me: But they are right here. All we have to do is look up. You are refusing to look up?
Him: It'll be hard to look up when Im taking a nap. Go to Sarah's house. Have fun, Boo. I'm fine.
Me: Okay. I guess I will then.

I did go to Sarah's house that night, and I felt really sad about it. Don and I almost never fought, and this wasn't even really a fight either, but it made me sad that he didn't want to spend time with me like I wanted to spend time with him. And that he wouldn't walk across the street, simply because I wanted to. But now, since his death, I feed myself with guilt and ask: Why didn't I stay home with him that night? Why did I leave him? I should have stayed home. The poor guy was tired. He was working two jobs. Why did I make him feel BAD that he didn't want to watch fireworks? Why was watching fireworks more important to me than hanging out with my husband? These questions loop inside my heart, over and over, relentlessly.

And it bothers me that THIS is the LAST thing I remember about our life. This stupid, silly conversation about fireworks and being tired. After this night, everything else turns to fog.

And now, today, and every 4th of July, even when the fireworks are right outside my window, I refuse to look up and see them. I don't want to see them. Not without him. Not without my husband. It sounds incredibly stupid, but watching fireworks on the 4th of July feels like I'm betraying him. Like I'm leaving him to go hang out with my friends and look into the night sky without him.

It feels wrong, and I feel crazy, but sometimes crazy is my best friend, because my real best friend disappeared into the night, that night. Gone on the 4th of July.

Pictures: Our street in West New York, New Jersey. Don grilling at our friend's house on a typical 4th of July. 


  1. That sounds especially painful... and I understand your feelings.... sigh..... thank you for sharing a very real struggle of what such a great loss looks like, feels like, and how it's experienced in life.... Hugs....

  2. We all beat ourselves up on the "what ifs" but it changes nothing Kelley. I have holiday anxiety and I don't know if it will ever change. My husbands family and all my kids and grandkids were at a cook out yesterday but I just couldn't face it...once again. I have told some of my in-laws that it is just too painful because I only see the big hole left by the loss. I think one day we will be able to look at the fireworks or do whatever brings on that special memory.

  3. Kelley, I would guess that for those of us who lost a spouse suddenly your post hits home. I found myself doing exactly what you are doing... the would haves, the could haves, the should haves.... why didn't I do this that or the other. I have just hit year 3 and those feelings do start to disappear. The reality is that none of us knew that in an instant our spouse would disappear just like the fireworks fade into the sky. Be nice to yourself and forgive yourself.

    I was fortunate that I came to this blog about 3 weeks after my husband died. One of the writers gave me the idea of journaling along with telling the death story. I recreated on paper those days leading up to his death. Without the document, I would not be able to remember either. I was truly blessed because those days were very good for so many reasons.

    Hang in there Kelley and thank you for sharing!

  4. Kelley, there are no easy answers... I wish there were.. Thank-you for posting your thoughts, which mirror those of so many of us.... If only...



  5. Kelley, I don't know if this will help but my husband died suddenly from an accident yet he had been chronically ill for 10+ years. I remember after reading your story that he told me a couple years ago that he was glad that I had gone out and had a good time with friends. The fact I went out and had fun, came back home happy and was with him at that moment made him happy - happier than if I had stayed home the whole time. He needed his time to recoup from the day without feeling guilty. Take Care, M

  6. I understand, Kelley. Holidays are still hard for me. Not due to any specific memories, just because he's not here with me.

    Your 4th of July conversation is typical of married folks. We've all had them and never placed any importance on them. It's only after they're gone that we put an emphasis on every. single. word. Perhaps we should just embrace the 'ordinariness' of those conversations and the love that made them possible. He demonstrated his love for you by encouraging you to have fun without him that night. He knew you loved fireworks. I hope one day you're able to look up on the 4th of July and recall the happy, special times when you and your Don shared that view. Hugs.

  7. for years we did the same thing... went next door where there was food, drink and friends..there's a video posted on my FB page of a portion of our last 4th of July together. Randomly our shenanigans were videoed and I am so grateful...
    Like you, I don't really care anymore. Maybe some day I will...but...
    I did see 2 brush fires on the way to my old neighborhood though... I wonder if that means anything ;)
    Oodles of love for you Kelley!

  8. I met my wife 36 years ago on the 4th. I am thankful for all the good memories I have. Although painful at times, today I couldn't survive without them. Moving forward is hard, but she would always want me to do. Doing things now is different without her, especially what we had done together, but still has a lot of meaning of what I had. Now to put it all in perspective of where I'm at and try new and different things in life. Yes I have questions and no answers, many things I'll never know as she took it with her.
    Amazing many of us have the same feelings, I, we, are not alone in this which does help in our jounneys for survival and continuing on with life.
    Peace be with you..

  9. Kelley Lynn,

    I understand. My name is Leslie and my husband Stewart too passed away suddenly just over a year ago - May 10, 2012 at the age of 52 from an undiagnosed Pulmonary Embolism (blood clot).

    He also loved to grill out and had used the grill a few days before he died – the grill hasn't been used since then.

    This year on the 4th of July I watched Barry Manilow on the PBS "Capitol Fourth" special because we used to watch it together. We also used to watch fireworks but I only watch it now on TV.

    We have 2 daughters (now ages 20 and 16) who are keeping busy with school and summer activities. I know their dad is very proud of both of them.

    I didn’t choose to be a widow and I appreciate you taking the time to write about your own personal experiences and sharing them with those of us who didn’t plan this.

    Thank you for writing this entry and I'll be thinking of you,


  10. Hi Kelley, I lost my husband two days before you lost yours, on July 11, 2011 and something similar happened to us for the 4th of July a week earlier. We usually spend the 4th at one of his sister's house together with our children, but they were out of town and I didn't go with him to her house. I was tired and wanted to stay home and he wanted to go as usual. Had I known it would have been the last 4th we would have together, I certainly would have gone. He died early that next Monday morning at the gym of a massive heart attack at 39 years old and I didn't even get to say goodbye. The other night I couldn't even sleep thinking about him so much. I had to sing songs to God to get to sleep. Thanks for sharing your story so we can share our story too. I hope you are continuing to be comforted as you go through tomorrow.

  11. Kelly I am sorry for your loss.
    I cannot move through holidays without tiredness and sadness. I am in North Bergen and those fireworks are loud when you are so close to Boulevard East.
    Best to you