My thanks to Taryn who has generously shared her story with the readers of Planet Grief through the ‘My Story’ section. It is harrowing to read, but ultimately it is a story of courage and hope and of survival.
For those of you in the depths of despair in the way that Taryn was, hold on to her final words. This is another widow whose message is the same as mine and so many of the other widows and widowers I have met: It will all turn out OK in the end, we promise you.
Thank you Taryn. Your words will offer comfort to many.
I was widowed at 40. With two boys aged 10 and 12.
Jimmy had a car accident on March 7, 2013 and died eight months later on November 15. He sustained a severe brain injury and never really woke up. He started off in an induced coma to manage the swelling of his brain, he eventually opened his eyes after about four months in the ICU, but could never move or talk or anything. He just looked at me with big earnest brown eyes for months and months, until the time came to switch off the ventilator, which was helping him breathe.
After we switched it off it took three and a half days for him to die. It was excruciating obviously. The whole thing was excruciating. I honestly watched him for eight months and a week. Every day. Wishing and hoping. Desperate for improvement. Willing him on. Begging him. One night I punched him, sobbing and begging him to get better. I was begging and sobbing on my hands and knees. It was a torturous time of care givers, nappies (diapers), catheters, feeding tubes, suction machines, wheel chairs, mattress protectors, medicine schedules, turning schedules, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychologists, counselors, sleeping tablets, anti anxiety pills, bills, lawyers, relatives, specialists. I was positive. I assumed he would get better. We had gone through tough times before and always came out on top. We were survivors. I researched brain injuries and went for triple opinions. Whenever someone said it was ‘”the most devastating of all the injuries” or “Jimmy will never be the man he once was” I would shrug it off. They didn’t know us. They didn’t know him. He’d be fine and we’d be fine.
I would lie in bed with him and hold him. Laughing and talking ad nauseum about this and that. For hours and hours. Talking about our children, our wedding, all the funny times we’d had. All the time he just lay there. He smiled once. ONCE. We managed to have a conversation once. His “yes” was an outward breath. “No” was just silence. I was hysterical. He didn’t remember the accident but he did remember the ICU. Sometimes he had pain. He did remember our wedding. The weird thing is I didn’t really ask him anything really important. “If you die would you mind if I got a boyfriend?”
That was the only time we ever managed meaningful communication. Apart from the time I asked him to do quick blinks if he wanted to die and on about the third time he managed to do them.
He had a living will, which explicitly said he would not want to live life as a vegetable. I but I also knew him and knew full well this was totally not his scene. I didn’t need the piece of paper or the quick blinks to know. He was a vibrant man. Lots of energy. Clever. Sexy. Everyone’s friend. I know people become saints after they die but honestly this one was a gem. I met him when I was 20. He wrote me love letters every week while I finished my degree at university. We grew up together. Made our life. I had plans for us. We were going to retire in Crete with a beautiful b&b on the beach. When he was non-committal about it I would get annoyed. If we didn’t believe it, it would never happen. We had to believe! Having him die on me at 40 was a total blow. To call it a shock is an understatement. “Shock” is a word I’d use for burning my finger. I felt like I was hit by a train that just kept on going. Knocked off my feet. I was a rabbit in head lights. Startled. Terrified. I had never paid a single bill. I am appalling at admin. I didn’t know the codes for the bank accounts. I used to forget to charge the tooth brush. I’m not a morning person and couldn’t get up until I’d had my tea in bed. Well guess what. I have made my own tea since 7 March 2013. And all the other stuff has kind of fallen into place. And I do have a wonderful boyfriend and we are moving in together in a month. He is also a gorgeous grey haired widower. I think I saw you called yours that? I won’t lie. It’s wonderful being in love again. He’s amazing and he makes life fun. But it’s also confusing. I’m a planner and this wasn’t part of the plan. I’m private and hate being judged. And sometimes I do feel judged. But I’ve also had a crash course on what’s important and what’s not in life.
And I think what I’ve learnt is that life is hard. We have to butch up and roll with the punches. We have to dust ourselves off and get back on our horses. We have to survive but it’s not only about surviving. It’s also about living and grabbing life and making life as wonderful as you can for your two sons. They deserve a happy childhood. They deserve to be kids and not worry about their mother. Especially when they don’t have a father.
So that’s my story. It’s not finished yet. I’m reminded of the line in the Exotic Marigold Hotel movie. “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright. It’s not the end.” That just about sums things up around here.