The hospice nurse woke me at 6 am seven years ago today.

It was the start of the worst day of my life.

It was not a wonderful world.

“Mr. Brett?”

“Ah…What is it?” I asked groggily from the computer room couch.

“I am sorry to tell you that your wife just passed away…”

(Uncustomary silence on my part.)

“Would you like us to call the mortuary?”

“No, thank you. I will do that. Please give me about 20 minutes…”

It was time for an unrestrained cry before making any telephone calls.

Later I rallied myself to make the dreaded walk down the hallway into the master bedroom. The lights were off. The oxygen canisters were silent. For the first time in my life I was coming in direct contact with a deceased person, my wife Robin of almost 22 years.

This was the same gorgeous creature that I took on our first date to Hamburger Hamlet in Pasadena, CA. She was the same one that I slipped a diamond engagement ring into her glass of ice-cold Liebfraumilch. I asked her, “Would you?” She replied, “Uh-huh.” She was the very same absolutely stunning woman, escorted by her father, who walked down the aisle to marry me. She gave birth to our daughter, Allison. She was and still is my very best friend in the world. I will always love her.

mommy1

So what do you do when you see your way-too-young-to-die, 50-year-old wife is no longer breathing without any pulse in her veins? Instinct took over. I kissed her forehead. Eventually I noticed to my horror that her diamond wedding ring was still on her already swelling finger. With the assistance of hospice and some aloe lotion we were able to finally wrestle it off.

Shortly thereafter, the mortuary van arrived.

I had to make an irreversible decision: Wake my then-16-year-old daughter, Allison, to give her the news and suggest to her to say goodbye to her mother…or let her blessedly sleep on an otherwise beautiful Sunday morning. I opted for the latter. The mortuary van took Robin away.

Around 8 am, I woke Allison. She instinctively knew by the look on my face that her mother had died. I hugged her. At that moment, I told her that I made a decision to not wake her. I asked her for her forgiveness, if I had made the wrong choice. I did not want the gurney and the mortuary truck to her last memory of her mother. She told me that I made the right decision. Whew.

Friends asked me why I never stopped Robin from smoking (as if I could). Sometimes she was proud when she smoked less than a pack-a-day. There was always the solo cup on the backyard table, regardless of the weather, with sickly dark water on the bottom and dozens of cigarette butts stacked up. There were also the excuses, the explanations, the rationalizations. The nicotine’s presence was there; it was always there.

She once asked me, if I would ever give her up because of smoking. I was silently thinking, if she would ever give me up because of smoking. I never tested nicotine vs. me. I feared the addiction. I was terrified of the answer. It was simply better, not to know.

Several years later, I was sitting with my long-time friend in the upper deck of AT&T Park in San Francisco. One team was coming up to bat; the other was heading out into the field. My friend was looking to the Bay. The loud speakers were playing Louis Armstrong’s, “What a Wonderful World.” Tears started to roll out of the corners of my eyes. This was the same song that Robin wanted for her memorial service. Those lyrics and Armstrong’s voice will always have the same effect on me.

In the aftermath of this life-changing experience, I have counseled widows/widowers that three anniversaries: his or her birthday; your wedding anniversary; and the annual date of the passing will always be extremely difficult.  Keep in mind that you can anticipate these dates similar to a hurricane being tracked across the ocean. You have time to mentally prepare.

Satchmo’s “What a Wonderful World” being played with no warning at the ballpark just clobbered me. There always seems to be that special song, that special picture, that special place, that special memory that makes the finality of death so difficult. There is no preparation for these sneak attacks on your emotions…and this does not spare a testosterone-laded male.

Robin always wanted her last piece of California real estate. Her tombstone: “Wife, Mother, Writer, Artist,” sits under a coastal pine tree at the Cambria Cemetery about three miles from the Pacific Ocean. I make a pilgrimage at least once a year. Others can’t go or won’t go. I understand. Really, I do.

cambria

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that her soul is up above. Stomach cancer may have taken her life, but not her spirit. If she could come back for just a few precious nanoseconds, I would ask her to describe the Kingdom of Heaven to me. Should I fear or look forward to my inevitable day when I will be carried out in the mortuary truck with my ashes eventually thrown into the Willamette?

Most of all, I want to ask if he she is proud of me. I always wanted her to be proud of me.

“I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.

“I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.

“The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do
They’re really sayin……I love you.

“I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world

“The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are there on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do
They’re really sayin…*spoken*(I ….love….you).

“I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
*spoken*(you know their gonna learn
A whole lot more than I’ll never know)
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself …….what a wonderful world.”

http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

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