Monday Mourning: The Sudden Death of a Spouse

Today I have Alyssa Rogers Williams on the blog. Long story short, we were roommates back in San Francisco in the early 90's. When we lived together, Stevie Ray Vaughn died. I wasn't familiar with his music at the time, but Alyssa was a fan. On the 25th anniversary of his death, which was a big deal here in Texas, I thought of her and looked her up on Facebook. Turns out we both live in the same city. How odd is that?

Alyssa has a double degree in Political Science/History from SFSU and Masters in Classics from Cal (University of California Berkeley.) After student teaching, she abandoned academia for the tech world and we moved to Austin, TX. Her husband became an IT expert and she designed web pages. They co-owned a Garage Rock Festival in NYC called. CAVESTOMP: The Garage Rock Festacular along with The Vipers leader and NYC talent booker Jon Weiss and eventually Little Steven Van Zandt.

DW: Who was the person who died?
AW:  My husband of 10 years, Christofer K. Gast.

DW: How old were you at the time?
AW: I was 33 years old.

DW: How old was he?
AW: Christofer was only 34 years of age.

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
AW: It was an incredibly sudden death. He had a very severe headache, It was an aneurysm, which we found out later. We went to bed and our Labrador retriever woke me up, pawing at me. I looked at him and it was quite frankly horrific. It was clearly death. Eyes slightly open, mouth blue tinged, very white. I called 911 and did mouth to mouth and was initially hopeful with a rattle, but then realized it was just my CPR,Yet by his warmth it was clear he had just passed. EMS were there quickly and tried to resuscitate for at least 15-20 minutes but I knew. The dog knew. The most overriding feeling was numb disbelief as if in a bad dream.

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away from you when you were grieving?
AW: The support was immense. We were living in Austin and within 15 minutes my best friend from childhood was there, my cousin who lived there and another cousin came from Houston to let me rest and handle the flow of  calls. It was immensely overwhelming and I think that support was so incredibly necessary. Our two best friends from SF and LA were there by the next day. However, some definitely felt awkward and some of his oldest friends from his hometown of San Diego were in such grief they were just paralyzed.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?
AW: There was nothing to do differently. Life was beautiful, he'd landed a dream job 10 minutes from home, brand new dream car and then poof! In the span of 6-7 hours all of that....gone. If I had known the headache was THAT bad I would have insisted he go to the ER, but he'd had a stressful day at work and a headache didn't seem that dire.

DW: Was he buried or cremated?
AW: Chris was buried, mostly because of his parents and my parents more  traditional feelings. This was difficult. I'd have preferred cremation, but his parents and sister wanted to "see" him one more time. That was when I broke down the most, open caskets seem a macabre mockery of life. If I'd truly honored wishes he'd have been burned on a Viking ship and  sent out to sea. (I don't think that's allowed? ;). But I knew he wouldn't have really cared, he'd have wanted his parents happy. He was quite ambivalent about death and always felt he would die young.

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
AW: Yes. I did learn that many of the clichés are true, One of which is that time passing helps immeasurably. But I also learned that everyone grieves so differently. I'm very private and can compartmentalize and outwardly people would comment on "how well" I was doing, unaware of nights spent in unspeakable grief. I was also very angry. I guess mostly at the Universe because his death seemed so premature at 34. He had so many friends, his life was good and we were happy. I had to do a lot of reading on death and grieving (highly recommend) to get  through subsequent days that felt so meaningless.

DW: Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to the person?
AW: YES! As a musician, music lover and part owner of a large music fest, the songs chosen were deeply personal for him. No traditional hymns etc, We had personal eulogies and the focal piece a song from Arthur Lee/Love that represented the beauty and fragility of life and to the vibrant beat in which he had lived. The service was how he would have wanted it. People speaking from their hearts and the beautiful music overall saying goodbye to him.

Thank you for sharing on the blog, Alyssa!  I really appreciate it.  If you'd like to share, contact me at thedeathwriter @ gmail dot com