Monday Mournings: The Death of a Spouse

Today, I am pleased to have a friend from school on the blog.  Originally from New York, Corin Hirsch is a food and drinks writer who now resides in the lovely state of Vermont.  

DW:  Who was the person that died?
CH:  My husband, Nicholas Sayer.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
CH: 30

DW:  How old was Nicholas?
CH:  28
DW:  Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
CH:  It was sudden. Nick was a tree surgeon, and was working in a pine tree when he slipped and hit some wires with his shoulder and was electrocuted. He likely (hopefully) died instantly.

DW:  Did you and the person talk about death? 
CH:  Strangely enough, we were watching a film a few nights earlier when Nick became reflective about a brush with death when he was a teenager. He imagined out loud what people would say at his funeral, and we also joked about what each of us would do if the other died -- hover around and vet potential partners, etc. He insisted that if he didn't approve of the person I was dating, he would unleash supernatural forces to drive them away.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before this person died?
CH:  Yes, my mother died suddenly when I was 10 and she was 35. I had also lost two of my grandparents by that point.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
CH:  My family and friends were immensely supportive, even as they grieved in their own ways. My father was a rock, and friends of ours flew in from the UK (he was English). A few stuck around until his memorial service a few days later. Without all of these incredible people, I'm not sure if I would have made it through without resorting to Class A drugs. (I'm kidding, but only by half). 

I was in shock for a long while, though, which didn't wear off until nearly a year later. Then, depression set in. Naturally, people move on with their lives and sometimes their patience can wear thin with a person who's blue. I tried not to impose much on others beyond the point of reasonable expectation, so grief became more private and in some ways, more insidious.

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?
CH:  The night before Nick died, I didn't go to bed when he did because I wanted to stay up late and work on a poem for my brother and his fiancee, who were getting married a few days later. (I was supposed to read the poem at the wedding). I regret that....but on the last morning I saw him, I uncharacteristically offered to ride with him to work, at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in the morning. I remember looking at his hands in the car and thinking how much I loved those, and him. When he was walking into work, I lingered and stared at him, and he turned at the door and gave me a puzzled smile before heading inside.

DW:  Was he buried or cremated?
CH: A friend of Nick's went with me to the funeral home to pick up the ashes, and I rode home with them in my lap. They were still warm. Some of his ashes are buried at a cemetery in Surrey, where his family can visit; his stone overlooks the South Downs, his favorite place to wander in the woods and spy on animals. It's an almost mystical place, on the grounds of a centuries-old Christian church.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
CH:  Depending on circumstance, shock can last a long time, and completely bend your sense of time and location. And though the sting of the loss never completely goes away, life does go on — that's a cliche, of course, but you realize how quickly the world swallows up our memory. The people who knew Nick will never forget him, but in a generation or two, who will remember him, or me, or you? It's very humbling, and when you grieve someone's death, you can see that process happening in real time.

DW: Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to Nicholas? 
CH:  Wilco & Bill Bragg, Remember The Mountain Bed. I had listened to that song all autumn while running in the woods, and its lyrics were (and still are) resonant. Nick's brother learned it and played it at his UK memorial.

That, and Tom Waits 'Take It With Me' Nick listened to it a few times before he passed and once I caught him tearing up to the lyrics. It makes you wonder, did he know somehow?

This goes out to Nicholas.