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Last week, a friend posted this question on Facebook: “So which fictional TV or movie mom would you choose to be your mom? This is in no way meant to disrespect your real mom. Just a little fun in the morning.”
My response: “Sarah Connors (Terminator), Joyce Summers (Buffy), or Mrs. Weasley.” Little did I suspect that I would soon be channeling these women as I shape the next phase of motherhood when my husband died in his sleep the following morning.
Like Alexander Hamilton, when I’m in a tough place, I write my way out. Writing helps to heal me, to channel my thoughts, and make sense of things. I simply cannot process just once through; I must write, read, revise, then learn.
Knowing I have that avenue for later reflection, in real-time, I shut down my emotional centers and just act. That’s how I was able to keep from crumbling as I struggled to wake my husband; as I called 911 and started chest compressions; as I stepped away to let the paramedics take over; as I informed my kids, one by one, that their father didn’t have a pulse and that I needed to follow him to the ER; as I texted my mother, my sister, my in-laws what happened; as I called my husband’s two best friends from childhood, one of whom headed to the ER while the other headed straight to my boys; as I stood outside the room in the emergency department where my husband had worked for the past eighteen years and watched as far too many people rushed in and out and did everything humanly possible to revive one of their own; as I looked around and saw that everyone not actively involved stood in stunned silence and waited; as I watched my in-laws arrive and face the impossible, unimaginable possibility that they would outlive their healthy, vibrant, health-conscious son. I pushed back my fears, trusted that those working on him wanted him to live as much as I did, and would do absolutely everything in their power to save him. If it were possible. Which, in the end, it was not.
By then, my sons had arrived at the hospital, as had more family and dear friends. Knowing, after a certain point, that there was an unavoidable truth to be faced, it was up to me to accept it and allow everyone around me to process it as well. And so I did.
There are moments every single day, every hour, that threaten to crush me. My house has been filled with well-wishers, and the cumulative weight of their grief fills the air. I have come to regard the living room as the grieving space for my in-laws, where their friends can console them for a sorrow no parent should ever bear. My husband was born and raised in Cleveland, so many of these people coming to my home have known him his entire life, and that level of sadness is more than I can process atop my own. And so I grant them that space. And I give myself the space I need.
This is only the beginning of my grieving process. In a few short weeks, my eldest will graduate from high school. In a few short months, a home that was already going to feel one-fifth emptier will now be twice as empty, and I can’t even begin to fathom how that new phase will work.
My sons need me. I know well I am not alone; I have an incredible village supporting me. And while this may sound trite to some, as a fiction writer and a lifelong fan of storytelling in all forms, I will seek guidance from those fictional moms whose strength helped stop the world from falling apart. Because I have to ensure my boys don’t feel that theirs have. They’ve lost their dad; they will not lose their mom.
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