One way to help oneself heal from grief is to offer others honest lessons from experience. In this essay, included in the anthology On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties, Nina Abnee has done so with generosity. “What I Learned When My Husband Died” is about Nina’s life and marriage, the end of her husband’s life and how during those weeks, friends, family and the two partners rejoiced in one another’s company. Her essay offers readers the opportunity to reflect on their own relationships, friendships and community support. And very importantly, it comes to grips with regret, a wish to have handled marriage a little differently.
I heard the ringtone on my iPhone playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound,” a signal that “home” was calling. The digital clock on my dashboard said six p.m. Tears slowly ran down my face and dropped onto the steering wheel. I was struck with overwhelming sadness like a hot flash that randomly washes over you. I glanced at my phone on the passenger seat. It wasn’t ringing. Unless my dogs had figured out how to use speed dial, there was nobody home to call me.
Victor called me every night around six and every night he asked the same question, “What’s your Theta?” It was his way of asking, “When will you be home.” He was non-judgmental about the answer.
Whatever I said was fine. Will be on my way in five minutes. It will be hours. I’m in a meeting. I’ll call you later. And he knew that if I said soon, it could mean an hour or more.
He’d respond with something like, “The kids want to watch Friends at nine and we are having chicken for dinner.”
I’d reply, “I will be home by nine then.” And I would be. All very casual. Never an argument. Noneventful. But he always included a little incentive to get me home. Not the chicken. He only knew how to make three things for dinner and they all involved a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. Rather, something he knew I wouldn’t want to miss.
He knew how to gently reset my priorities and tell me to shut it down at work and come home without ever saying, “Shut it down at work and come home.”
The thing is, I didn’t realize any of this. I learned it the hard way.
We found out he was going to die three weeks before he did.
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