Newly Widowed: Instructions Not Included

Newly Widowed: Instructions Not Included

When is the time right to tell the world my husband died?

When do I announce to everyone that I am (as the “On Being Alone” booklet points out) “newly widowed?” He always said – and I never understood it or really agreed with him – that “dying is a private business,” that when the time came, he wanted to die alone, just to sleep on.

And so he did. It was last week,  the day before our 22nd wedding anniversary, and it was when our daughter and I were far away in rural Derry, in the heart of Heaney country.

Image: Yvone Watterson

It might even have been around the time I was talking to blacksmith Barney Devlin’s son in The Forge on the side of the road at Hillhead, hearing all about the great night’s craic behind Seamus Heaney‘s The Midnight Anvil when Barney had hit the anvil twelve times to ring in the new millennium with another son listening in on his cell-phone in Canada. Posing for a photograph with Barry Devlin on the other side of The Door into The Dark I was happy to be back home and anxious to write about it, holding in my hands the anvil that made the sweeter sound.

All I know is a door into the dark.

Later (yet earlier in Arizona), I knew something was wrong when he didn’t answer the phone when: troubled, I sent a troubling text to my best friend to ask her to please go check if he was home and alright; nervously, she told me that, yes, both our cars were in the driveway and that our little dog, Edgar, was sitting on the couch, silently staring back at her;  she found a key under the doormat and then she opened the front door and tentatively called my husband’s name once, twice, and then a third time to no response; and when, finally, when she crumpled.

“He’s passed away! He’s passed away!” she cried. “He’s so cold. I’m so sorry.”

Then our daughter’s primal scream, a horrible, harrowing sound from somewhere deep within her, a sound I will never forget as she heard me tell my friend on the other side of the Atlantic ,on the other side of America, on the other end of the line to please call 911. Just. Call. 9-1-1.

Too quickly to be true, I heard the noise of our home filling up with strangers, kind and efficient, from the police and fire departments, the crisis management team, and finally the people from the one mortuary that agreed to take my husband’s body even though there was some as yet unresolved fuss over who would sign the death certificate.

If nobody would sign it, perhaps he wasn’t dead.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” I asked.

“Yes. He’s dead. Yes. I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”


They pronounced my husband dead at 1:10pm not a full hour after I had called and left a message for him to please pick up the damned phone. Replaying my voicemails, back in America, my lovely loving parents with my daughter and me now, I can hear the irritation in my voice, and it reminds me that I find it easier to harbor annoyance than worry, and that anger is infinitely easier to bear than sorrow.

Blue morning over the LIffey

A week before, I had been proud of myself, smug, having found the perfect anniversary card in one of those bijou boutiques that have popped up on the south side of the Liffey and then breezily asking the concierge at The Brooks Hotel to mail it to America for me as though I were playing Meryl Streep‘s Miranda Priestlyin The Devil Wears Prada.

For over two decades, we had an ongoing contest, my husband and I, over which of us would present the other with the best birthday, anniversary, Valentine, and Christmas cards. I won. Hands down. Every time. Even after he thought he was on to something when he discovered the new Papyrus store at the Biltmore Fashion Park. True, some of our years shone brighter than others – they sparkled – and browsing through dates and sentiments scrawled on cards saved in a drawer along with drawings by our girl, I see our story unfold from beginning to end. Stranger than fiction, It has everything you would expect in a page-turner. I’ll maybe write a story for you one day.

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