October 27, 2009. The day that is changed our lives forever. I was having a normal life as 6th grade science teacher, mom of 2 teenaged boys, wife of an amazing man and living the American dream life. Well not precisely perfect but pretty much it looks that way from the outside. Inside, we are normal and have our normal ups and downs. Kris and I have been married 20 years and looking toward empty nesting in a few years and towards retirement.
The night before was a little rough. The boys are typical teenaged boys. Neither was doing as well in school as they could and we were frustrated. They are brilliant and talented but being such a teenage dudes, augh.. We have yet another family discussion about grades and responsibility. Lots of yelling and frustration and send the boys to bed/their rooms for the rest of the evening. Kris and I stay on the couch on either end working and getting ready for the next day. Off to bed and work the next morning like normal. “See you later bye, I love you,” and quick smooch and out the door. Our last words and actions. Oh, how I would treasure them. Well, that was the last shred of normal we ever had as a family or couple.
Normal transitioned into nightmare in a few hours. What seemed so important became irrelevant. The worst day ever. Seemed like a normal day for me. However, something seemed off most of the day. There was this background kind of “hmm something’s not right…inkling.” I kept pushing it off as just me looking for a problem. Hmm, no texts from Kris OK, he must be busy. I know I am. It’s October and the fall wall is upon us teachers. I knew something this was up when I finally went to the teachers lounge to make copies, get mail, etc. and my principle said I needed to go into her office and talk for a minute.
I saw a room full of dour, sad, and serious looking people, admin staff, a police officer, and state trooper. I said, “No, I don’t think so, I have to make copies and get back to my classroom before class starts.” I’m thinking to myself, “No way am I going in there. Something’s up and it looks bad. I only have enough time to make copies before class. Gee did I do something? Did one of my kids do something at school? Eek, no way, don’t have time for that.” My heart is pounding and my stomach is churning. I’m near flight, fight, or freeze mode.
My principle seems tearful as she ushers me in and informs me, “No you really need to come in here, now.” I knew something really bad was going to happen, I can still feel that pit of the stomach this is BAD feeling as I write this. I was terrified something horrible had happened. Things that ran through my mind - Did something happen to a student? Did I do something wrong as a teacher? Oh, did something happen to one of my kids? Did Kris ride that damn motorcycle and something happened? Are my elderly parents ok? EEK, what the … ?
I can still see the room and remember who was in there - every Assistant Principle, the trooper, and person from county family services. They tell me to sit down and they have some terrible news. The trooper tells me he has to first ask me some questions. I asked him what this was about… “What the *%#% is this all about? Who’s in trouble or dead?” I’m yelling because I know whatever it is it’s bad. You don’t see a room full of admins and trooper when it’s just a routine gig.
Side Note: I’m originally from New York and I can go New York crazy in 0-3 seconds when confronted w/a crisis. I am able to deal with crisis just no beating around the bush. Give it to me straight. I just knew this was bad and wanted to know exactly what happened and wanted to know NOW.
That poor trooper never saw it coming. My reaction was so raw and deep. He didn’t quite know how to respond. He tried to calmly ask if Kris was my husband. “Yes, of course he is!” What time did I leave the house? Crap I don’t know early, between 7-7:30am maybe. No he had not left yet. He stayed up later than I working and was just getting up. No clue the boys if the boys were up getting ready, I assume they went to school. Kris was supposed to make sure. I kept just asking, getting louder – “What is wrong, What’s going on, Who’s dead. Where’s my kids, Where’s my husband?” I don’t remember all of the questions I screamed. I just remember getting more and more desperate for an answer. I had to KNOW.
Then he asked, “Did your husband ride a motorcycle?” Well yes, that #@*$% did ride a @$%*&& bike. Where is he? What’s happened?” I begin to really yell and scream. I was getting pretty hysterical now as I recall. He then tells me he’s been killed… in an accident. HOLY Sh*T…my brain explodes. I am SO mad, sad and freaked out I think my brain might just pop. I remember screaming – literally, and crying so loudly and screaming the F***bomb, no, no, no, no, F*** bomb…. I KNEW that #*$%@ would die on that damn thing.
I have no idea how long I screamed, cried and cussed. I know I was a hot mess and everyone in the office area heard the wailing and screaming. After a while, they let me get it all out and I was past the dry heaving sobs, I asked where, “Was it on 45? On the curve?” I knew he liked to go over 100mph around the bend. No, it was at an intersection near the house, less than a mile. WTH? A lady turned in front and he ran into her truck. Whoa, I never expected that. I then had a zillion questions as my brain tried to make sense of this. Was he in pain, did he die quickly? When did it happen? Why am I just now finding out? What took so long? I had so many questions and wanted to know everything. My crisis management and gather details brain kicked in. I knew I needed to know everything I could. The trooper explained the long investigation due to being out in the county on a county road; a state trooper and county sheriff were first on the scene after the EMS literally feet from the accident.
After this deluge of questions and answers, someone handed me a notepad and said please write down everything that needs to happen, who needs to be contacted, what you need done next. Mechanically, I did this to the best of my ability.
At some point, someone said, who else is next of kin that needs to be notified. “Oh crap, I have to do this? I think I’m feeling like I might puke again” was my reply. His parents need to know I responded. They asked for their phone numbers. I said no, I will tell them. I remember calling his dad and telling him. He was distraught and crying, that was awful. Next calling his mom, I remember asking her if she was sitting down (didn’t know she was in a car driving – she didn’t tell me) and telling her. She began wailing on the phone, which was beyond awful too. I can still hear the screams and crying. It still hurts, 7 years later to write this. I may have handed the phone over to the trooper I couldn’t take it. I don’t recall.
Then the next question was - How do you want to tell the boys? Brain explosion and awful realization number two. I just told my in-laws their son was dead, how the hell do I look into my son’s eyes and tell them their dad is dead? Their dad - who is EVERYTHING to them, their buddy, pal, parent, discipliner, scoutmaster, leader, mentor, goof ball dad, and their loving father.
Apparently the administration had already worked out a plan. One of the admins would go to the school, pick up the boys bring them to me and I’d tell them in the office. (This was their middle school they attended with lots of familiar faces and support for them and me as well). I must have said OK because while they are gone the family services person tells me all of the help and services they provide. Sadly, I never heard from her again. Well maybe she did reach out, I really don’t remember.
During the wait for the boys, they go get my stuff and purse. I wanted to go back to the classroom and tell my BFF but nope, they won’t let me. They will hold a staff meeting after school I find out later. I know they asked what I thought the boy’s responses would be and how to prepare. The oldest will be violent and angry. He might punch something or someone. My youngest, sad and angry and will withdraw.
Boys arrive and the eldest knows something is up. Youngest is scared and confused. They are 17 and 14 a senior & freshman - the joy of our lives. How do you break their hearts and ruin their lives by telling them their dad is dead? I remember looking at them, my eldest asking, “ What’s going on mom?” The youngest tearfully asking, “What’s wrong mom?” I tell them, “I don’t know how else to tell you but dad’s dead. He died on his motorcycle.” The eldest cussed, yelled, and promptly punched the wall – thank God it’s cement block and nothing is broken. My youngest falls apart bawling. We all start bawling for a good long time.
This is the first hour of a living hell called widowhood. There is more to tell. What a journey through grief and life it has been for us all.