The night my husband died
“How do you use the panoramic feature on this new phone?” my friend Meg asks me as we admire the setting sun.
“Oh, I just took one last week. Let me show you,” I offer as I kick off my blue Sperry flip flops and walk over to the sand. Meg is my attractive next-door neighbor, a single mom who looks stylish in ripped jeans or librarian type glasses.
My husband, Mike is busy chatting with the new member of our Long Island, New York beach community under the pavilion where fans help keep the gnats away. Mike is his charming self and asking our new friend about the winters she spends in Key West living in an RV. We have talked about someday retiring to Florida so it’s more than just idle curiosity. Since she has recently moved to our neighborhood, the conversation has changed to organic methods of eliminating late summer crab grass. When I first met Mike, he had owned a landscaping business while attending business classes at the community college. He now practices law but is full of information on the benefits of using boiling water or vinegar solutions instead of fertilizers to protect polluting run off into the bay.
“Be right back,” I tell Mike as I walk with Meg down to the water’s edge. The vibrant colors in the sky are definitely frame-worthy! To the right, a full moon is rising over the harbor, to the left an orange and pink late-summer sunset. Together we figure out how to hold the phone camera steady and sweep 180 degrees to get both the sun and moon in the same frame. Stunning!
When I return to my dusk-veiled circle of friends, Mike has left. I guess he has either gone to use our HBCA clubhouse restroom or just headed back to the house. The gnats are beginning to outnumber us by the shore, so I invite the few neighbors still on the beach up to our second-floor front deck to hang out. I pack up the chairs, towels, and cooler and walk across the parking lot to my house. I’ll light citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes away and maybe order a pizza. I’m starting to feel hungry.
As Meg and I cross the parking lot, we see a police car speeding down to the beach clubhouse followed by an ambulance. Lights are swirling and soon the local fire department chief pulls up.
“What happened?” Meg asks one of the volunteer firemen as she shifts the heavy beach bag on her shoulder.
“Cardiac arrest,” he tells us. Oh no, I think. How awful for someone to have a heart attack during this kid’s birthday party. We had seen all the excited teenagers getting dropped off earlier and heard the music as we sat under the pavilion on the beach. What a scary scene for the partygoers I imagine as I approach my front door. It’s a good thing they just installed that new AED device in the building for emergencies like this.
Our beach cottage was built in the 1920’s and has hosted a lot of families over the years. It is a narrow three-story structure which you enter by the side door and walk up a flight of stairs to the main living area. At the top of the stairs to the right is a den and sliding doors to a small back yard. To the left, is our dated kitchen with beige cabinets whose hinges continually break and a light blue Formica countertop. The best part of our house is the front deck that we enjoy daily as we look out on the peaceful harbor and nearby beach. I walk through the kitchen and turn on the lights to the front deck where I’m expecting guests. As I’m lighting the scented candles on the bar height dining table, Carol who lives next door calls over from her deck, “Kristin, what’s going on?” Our homes are very close together and it sometimes feels like we live in a college dorm, just with separate little houses.
“A firemen told us that someone had a heart attack,” I tell her. “Are you guys coming over?”
“Sure, we’ll be right there,” she says.
When she and her husband Dennis have joined me, we watch a second ambulance arrive at the clubhouse. More lights are flashing, and people are coming into the cul-de-sac at the end of the street to see what is going on.
“IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR HUSBAND!” my erratic neighbor Frank yells up to me from the street.
No one ever takes anything Frank says seriously, but it occurs to me that I haven’t seen Mike since I was on the beach. I quickly leave the deck and run inside. He must be in the den watching TV in his favorite green chair, I think, but he isn’t there, so I skip steps up to our third-floor bedroom where my bed is still made. By the time I go back downstairs to the front deck, the first ambulance is leaving, and the DJ has started playing music again for the partiers.
“Get in our car,” Dennis and Carol urge me and off we race to the hospital. Carol reaches into the back seat to hold my hand as Dennis drives. She reassures me that it may not be Mike and I squeeze her fingers.
We rush into the Huntington hospital emergency room and give the woman at reception the name of our beach community, Huntington Beach Community Association or HBCA, where the ambulance came from. A nurse directs us to a room. I stand outside in the hall, afraid to go in. What am I going to see? Maybe it’s not Mike. My legs feel weak. I ask Dennis to go in first, while Carol holds me up and we watch Dennis disappear into the room.
Ambulance workers rush in and out of the emergency room. I recognize a doctor. I taught his son kindergarten 14 years ago.
“Jack, what happened?” I ask in a faltering voice.
He stops mid-stride. The look of shock in his eyes as he recognizes me. “We couldn’t get his heart started,” he stammers, then he walks away.
Dennis walks out of the room and slowly nods to Carol and me. We all walk in together, the two of them supporting my elbows. I see my husband laying on the table. Mike is still barefoot and wearing the Old Navy swim shorts I gave him for his birthday. I recognize the light blue Salty Dog t-shirt we got on our last trip to visit my sister in Florida, and it is his face with the scruffy gray, been-vacationing-for-two-weeks-beard.
As I walk closer, I’m relieved to see that his eyes are open. I think, he must be OK. But as I touch his arm and feel that reassuring bicep muscle that always makes me feel safe, his skin is eerily cold. His eyes are open, but he isn’t there. Why is he not moving? My knees are shaking. My teeth begin to chatter. My heartbeat pounds in my ears. Where did the big bump on his head come from and why is there blood on his knees? This cannot be happening, I yell, “WAKE UP!”
I am approaching the 7th anniversary of my husband’s death and need to share our story. Working through stages of grief and seeking justice takes time and effort. This book is for anyone who has been through the trauma of loss and is searching for peace and hope.
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“Kristin’s ability to bring the reader into her world, during the darkest of days will leave all who read this inspired.”