I met Laura when we worked together in Tampa years ago, so I’ve known her more than a decade I remember when she and Henry decided to get married and I loved their very fun wedding. Here’s a random fact about us: She is such a proficient home cook that I asked her to cook dinner for us after Michael and I re-married July 15, 2009. She came to my little house and cooked. It was delicious. Yes, I’ve known Laura a long time.
So when I heard that Henry had been in a motorcycle accident I was worried. When he died from his injuries just a few days later I was shocked and saddened. He was 34. It was April 15 of last year, not long ago at all.
Laura is a young widow, 34 at the time, but from the day I met her she seemed exceptionally mature and wise. These are traits that she’s demonstrated in spades as she forges a new life for herself. I’ve been personally inspired by the things she’s said, written and posted on social media since the death of her beloved Henry and so I asked if she would answer some questions and allow me to post them here. She agreed. I’ll let her tell her own story about the shock, loss and grief she went through. But let me say this, first:
No two people grieve in the same way. This is her story. Your story might be different and that’s ok. There is no right way to respond to a loss. This is her way. Every individual walks through loss differently. No right or wrong.
Tell us a little about your relationship with Henry, what he was like, how long you were married, the things you liked to do together and how you learned of his death.
Henry and I met in high school. We were friends first and didn’t start dating until around the time we graduated. But from the moment he first kissed me, I knew we were going to have something special. I think we both had a thing for each other for a while, but we were both dating or being distracted by other people for most of senior year. We were together for a year when Henry enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. At the time I was devastated, but we vowed to stay together and we did. I kept busy in college while he was away and we saw each other every chance we got. We got engaged in 2003 after he returned from a year deployment in Iceland and we married May 2006, six months after he got out of the Marines.
Henry was the smartest person I knew. There wasn’t anything I didn’t think he was capable of doing. He was a ferocious reader. If it were a topic he was interested in, he would educate himself about it to no end. He was loyal to his friends, always had their backs. He was funny and quick on his feet. He was the type of person you could drop in any crowd, and he would be completely comfortable and get along with everyone.
Henry and I didn’t always enjoy the same things. For one, he hated the beach. While for me, sitting on a beach and soaking up the sun is in my blood. But we both loved to eat – cooking together, for each other, checking out new restaurants and visiting favorite spots.
Initially I didn’t like the idea of Henry learning to ride and getting a motorcycle, but I wanted him to be happy and I thought it was something we could do together. I enjoyed riding with him to other nearby towns, especially to waterfront towns with good restaurants where we could sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather or visit a local brewery.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when I heard of Henry’s accident. He had stayed home from work because he wasn’t feeling well. When I was getting ready to leave work around 6 p.m., I called him about dinner but his phone kept going straight to voicemail, which was odd. I was actually getting a little pissed off that I couldn’t get a hold of him. I assumed he was home, but then I got a call from one of our friends, and then another, telling me there was an accident not far from our house and they were pretty sure it was Henry’s bike.
No one knew what happened, or where Henry was taken, so I called the sheriff’s department and pretty quickly the dispatcher was able to tell me he was airlifted to a local hospital. My heart immediately sank. The word airlifted told me it wasn’t good.
I left my office in St. Petersburg and as calmly as I could, I drove to the hospital in Tampa, which entailed a trip across a very busy bridge at rush hour. Somehow traffic was abnormally light. I called my parents to tell them what I knew and asked them to meet me at the hospital, for which Henry’s parents were also on their way.
Henry’s injuries were extensive and after being admitted to the ER, he was quickly taken up to surgery. He almost didn’t make it through the first night, but by the grace of God he did. While his injuries were extensive, he didn’t have any brain or head injuries, so the next day he was pretty alert and was able to respond by nodding or shaking his head.
The next three days we spent in the ICU trying to get him stable enough for another surgery, which certainly wouldn’t be the last. There were a few bumps in the road, but finally on Friday afternoon we were able to get him into surgery to address his severe lower body injuries.
However, his vitals just weren’t strong enough and the doctors had to bail out of the surgery much earlier than they had hoped. Back in the ICU things didn’t improve and the nurses were concerned he might code. I had to make the extremely difficult decision – a decision I don’t wish upon anyone – on whether or not to go through extraordinary measures to keep him alive.
Knowing Henry, I knew he wouldn’t want to live a life where he wasn’t himself – whether physically or mentally. And knowing he was without oxygen to his brain for so long, he likely had suffered severe brain damage, and his other organs were shutting down. With the support of our families, I made the decision to not resuscitate if he did code. I then whispered in his ear, “I know you hate this and if you want to go, it’s ok. I promise I’ll be ok and I will love you forever.” I held his hand until he was gone.
It was the hardest three days of my life and the most difficult decision I will probably ever make. One I wasn’t prepared to make just three nights earlier. But by Friday evening I was at peace knowing that over those last three days, every decision I made was one that Henry would have made, and that we did everything we could, but his injuries were just too much to overcome.
The shock had to have been difficult to handle. Can you talk about those early days, what they were like and how you handled them (or if you did)?
Those first few days I was definitely in shock and I think I was in disbelief. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe he’s gone.
I am not the type of person who can relax when there are things to be done, so as much as I wish I could have just stayed in bed to cry, that’s just not me. I had service arrangements to make, affairs to get in order and Henry deserved one hell of a celebration of life.
What were some of the most helpful things friends said or did?
I think in those early days, the most helpful thing friends and family did was not leave me alone. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of text messaging and phone calls going on behind my back to make sure I had a constant babysitter. My sister and best friend stayed with me, my brother helped with my dogs and friends came over to hang out and bring me food. After a week or so though I was ready for a little space.
In the following weeks or months, I still appreciated people coming over to make dinner or invite me to go out – to dinner, paddleboarding, watch a movie, brunch, etc.
What wasn’t so helpful?
Telling me to “stay strong” drove me crazy, livid actually. And it was usually people that didn’t know me very well who said it. If they did know me, they would have known that I was being extremely strong.
What were the most notable changes in your life after Henry died?
Obviously coming home and he not being there was a notable change. Not having him there to kiss hello or kiss goodnight, or to cook for, or to wait up for when he was working late, was a big change.
I didn’t sleep as well anymore, or I should say I didn’t get enough sleep. I correct myself because I think it was more of a choice. I avoided going to bed at night. Not just because he wasn’t there, but also because I felt relief that I got through another day, and I was in no hurry to wake up and have to do it all over again.
Having so much more responsibility on me was a big change. I had to take over all the bills, deal with legal and medical affairs that were beyond my areas of knowledge and expertise, and figure out what to do with all of Henry’s stuff. (And there was a lot of stuff. That man had a lot of hobbies!)
But just like when he was in the hospital, every decision I made was with Henry in mind and what I knew he would want. So I gave things with sentimental value to his family and friends that shared the same hobbies and interests. And I enlisted the help of friends who could share their expertise when it came to some of the items that I inherited.
It’s been a year now. How has your grief changed? Has it?
I’m not really sure how my grief has changed. In the earlier days I had some anger, and a little might still be there under the surface. Not with anyone in particular and not in a “why me?” way. Just with the situation in general and some of the adversities I had to face.
I definitely don’t have a lot of patience anymore. I had a low tolerance for bullshit before, and now it’s pretty much nonexistent. Going through a tragedy like I have really opens your eyes to what is actually important in life and what is worth stressing out about, and what is not.
I miss Henry; I miss having him to share my life. We had a lot of problems over the years, but I didn’t just mourn the loss of him. I had to mourn the future I envisioned us sharing.
I feel like I’m in a good place now. I have built a new life for myself and made some necessary changes to make myself happy. I am optimistic for the future and I hope that I can serve as an example to others going through a similar loss.
Can you say a few words about how moving forward is different from moving on? And what gave you the strength to go on with a full life?
My source of strength over the last year has really been fueled by my desire to make Henry proud. I hope he is looking down on me with pride, seeing that I kept it together and every decision I have made has been with him in mind.
That is my advice to anyone going through a similar loss. You have to keep living your life in a way that would make your loved one proud and happy. Henry wouldn’t want me to break down or not move forward with living my life in a way that makes me happy. So I have chosen to keep living, to build a beautiful new life for myself, to surround myself with those who love and support me, to seek out new adventures and to do the things I enjoy.
I’m also a realist and very pragmatic person. Since Henry passed away, I’ve known four other women who have lost their husbands, women in my age group. I recognize that I’m not special. I’m not the only person who has experienced loss.
For me, moving forward is about building a new life while keeping the memory of your loved one close to your heart. Alternatively, moving on is without someone, or the memory of them, in your life.
What would you say to people whose grief is new?
It’s ok to have rough days. When you feel like you have a million affairs to get in order, just do one thing at a time. Make one phone call a day, one decision a day, whatever it is.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Yes, everyone says let them know if they can help, so let them, and be specific.
Don’t stop doing things you enjoy, and don’t feel guilty about it. Your loved one might not be here anymore, but remember that they wouldn’t want you to be miserable.
It’s important to take care of yourself mentally and physically.
What are your favorite memories of Henry?
Henry had the best laugh, and I loved making him laugh. He could be very serious sometimes – about life, the state of the world – but he also enjoyed the simple things in life – sitting outside by a fire while playing ball with our dog Oliver and enjoying a good cigar with a really good beer or glass of Scotch. He also gave the best hugs, and whenever I was stressed, it would give me great comfort when he would hold me and say, “Everything’s going to be ok.”
What didn’t I ask you that I should have?
What do you most fear?
I fear that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. I know I have all of my friends and my family, but I’m (relatively) young and I still have a lot of love to give. I want someone with whom I can share my life.
Laura, thank you so much for this. Readers, I hope you were moved and inspired by Laura’s honesty, strength, courage and wisdom– and can see her personality and mindset in her responses. Which really is one of the points: since each of us is different, we come at loss and grief from different perspectives. As the year goes on I’m going to pull out a few of her points and discuss them in individual posts. But if there is something she said that caught your attention, I hope you will share in the Comments below.
Oh, and Laura? I think you’ll find someone with whom you can share your life and when you do? That person will be damn lucky. And I know you’ll have Henry’s blessing. XOXO
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