I grieved for Paul. Deeply. Intensely. Bitterly. In many ways, I grieved for Paul harder and more terribly than I have ever grieved for anyone in my life.
There was so much left unsaid.
It was sudden, he’d been recovering well, there was no reason to think he would simply stop breathing later that night. He brought the dogs and our sons back to me earlier in the evening; we shared a glass of wine, then he hugged and kissed us all, even the dogs at the insistence of our young children, and told me he’d see me on Friday.
He was wearing khaki pants, a vibrant red sweater and hard soled shoes that clicked on the hard wood floor as he walked toward the door to leave the house we once shared, forever …
When he’d been taken to the hospital weeks earlier, I’d been there. His condition so dire he commanded the focus and attention of my entire team. Out of habit I began shouting orders, giving direction, taking the lead – not thinking or even knowing in that moment I could not act as his physician. After being gently escorted to a chair in the corner of the exam room, I watched and listened in fearful, helpless agony as professionals I had trained tried to save the father of my children, my friend.
And they were successful, despite the overwhelming odds against survival, he survived, and his recovery continued to be remarkable.
So when the phone rang early the next morning – and Paul’s physical therapist told me he had missed his session, I wasn’t terribly concerned. I thought he had merely forgotten; admittedly this would be uncharacteristic of Paul, but he had a lot on his plate professionally at the time so I let it go and actually smiled to myself knowing that despite the divorce I was still his emergency contact.
I called his cell, my call went straight to voice mail. I called his house, the machine answered.
Still I wasn’t alarmed. I had coffee, a shower, ate breakfast with my children, called the hospital to check on a patient …
when all of a sudden I thought I should walk over to Paul’s and check on him – he lived less than a mile from us and it was a gorgeous morning. I grabbed the keys to his house and suddenly felt a twinge of fear.
By the time I got to the end of our driveway, I was running. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t change my mind and drive – except running is one of the ways I always deal with fear – it was a decision I made without knowing I had …
Paul never forgot anything, nor was he ever late for an appointment, and if he had to cancel an appointment, he was diligent about calling to reschedule – something wasn’t right; when I opened his front door tears were flowing freely, my hands were trembling and I could barely speak to call his name, my throat seized in anxiety and trepidation.
I found him in bed …
there were no frantic efforts at resuscitation, no calls for emergency assistance, no pleas for him to breathe; it was obvious he’d been gone for several hours. I don’t know how long I sat there with him – I remember knowing that once I made the necessary calls, I would set into motion the process of grief and mourning. The father of my children was dead. My childhood friend, my husband of twenty three years; I can’t recall ever having felt so cold or stricken.
There had been prostitutes and high priced call girls during our marriage – I had found out during our last year together, after John came into my life and our marriage fell apart. He had an illegitimate child. Paul had raped me, beaten me until I was virtually unrecognizable, called me a whore a bitch, the Ice Queen. Screamed at me. Lied to me. Raged. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling, in that terrible moment, that he’d died of a broken heart.
When John arrived at Paul’s I was in the living room, the coroner was in Paul’s bedroom and I’d made the paramedics coffee, which they were drinking in the kitchen. The scene was surreal, and I was in shock. John wrapped me in a blanket, and then in his arms, and whispered, “I understand. It’s OK to grieve, even grieve hard; if something happened to my first wife, I’d be lost to all I would feel.” I cried then, sobbed; I sounded like a wounded animal … I was enraged, desperately sad, confused and overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.
To say I have fully processed Paul’s death, even today, would be untrue; he was, in many ways, an enigma to me. I don’t understand how it is that a man, any man, can be so good and so terrible all at the same time. We are all darkness and light, I comprehend that fully, but for Paul these things didn’t exist in contrast, each to explain and make valid the other; he was literally defined by both.
I will always regret the pain I caused him, always wish I hadn’t married him to save me from knowing myself. I accept responsibility for my part in what happened between us, and I have forgiven him for what he did to me.
But I didn’t break his heart, he did …
we must all learn to reconcile within ourselves who and what we are.