Sunday, July 10, 2011

How Did He Die?

I’m at the bank, not my usual branch.
Comments are made about how tall my youngest is.
“He’s only 9?”
I nod.
What I want to do is roll my eyes, and hand her a card that says:

“Thank you for noticing that my child is tall. Hopefully he will be a tall man some day. I have trained him to smile and say “Thank you,” even though he has nothing to do with how tall he is or how tall he will be. Now kindly stop ogling and either lets finish our business or be on your way.”

That’s what the card would say.

But I haven’t printed it up yet so instead I say:

“Yes, he is tall. My husband was 6’6.”

I use past tense easily now, forgetting how ominous it sounds. When their eyes go wide, I assume, for an instant that it’s in response to my husband’s height. Silly me.

The conversational tone changes from light to tragic. Their realization that in front of them is a woman whose life truly is tragic. “Did you say your husband ‘was’?”

Here we go.

“Yes. I did. My husband died.” And depending on the situation I sometimes add ‘recently.’

And then it comes, the stupidest question ever…

“How did he die?”
Or if they have a modicum of politeness, it’s:
“Do you mind me asking how he died?”

Now here is my quandary.

I do mind. Now I do.

When he first died, I would recount the story in detail. Somehow telling it over and over again and getting the same reactions over and over again put more and more earth beneath my feet, a place where I could say “this is where I stand now, without a husband.”

Then right around the second year, I noticed that telling my story began to feel old. I felt like my piece of earth was fairly solid. I had tamped it down and built it up. It was called “my new life: the expected bad, ugly and the surprisingly good.”

As I stepped into my third year, (OMG my third year….. I remember in the beginning not being able to imagine what it would be like to live that long without him!) Wow.

As I stepped into my third year, I find the question intrusive. And voyeuristic and well, like I’m adding to their gossip mill.

Isn’t it enough that my husband died? If I tell them he died of cancer, unless they have experienced loosing someone to cancer, they will have a way-not-accurate-image of his last moments on this earth that will probably include him looking deeply into my eyes and him saying a few final words before his last breath is taken. Or something that is so, so far from the truth!

I have to admit. It’s the kind of question I would have asked before I was on this side of death. It’s the kind of thing I would have listened intently too, shaken my head. Then later, maybe months later, I would have shared with an authoritative tone in my voice “I met this woman who lost her husband to cancer and she said…….”

That would have been me. Missing the whole point. Because it’s not how he died that matters. It’s the fact that he’s dead that matters.

And this is what I want to tell someone when they ask.

“Its not about what killed him. What makes it so difficult is that he’s dead.”

So I resolve to use that line. I resolve to not tell anyone how he died.
From here on out, when someone asks me “how” I will reply:

“It’s not what killed him that matters, it’s the fact that he is dead that is so difficult.”

And in that resolution, I leave the house the next day.
And I find myself in a random conversation with a random person in line at the grocery store.

Out slips “He was … “

“Oh!” she says “Is your husband dead? “

“Yes.” I reply

“Was he shot?”

I give up.


  1. good lord.

    Voyeuristic and invasive - amen to that. And, also, unfortunately to the ~I used to ask such nosy things too.~

  2. Thank you, I am going to borrow your response..