This is Barbara’s story, as told by Katie Ryan…
We were married twenty-nine years when my husband told me he wasn’t feeling well. I took him to the doctors but they said he’d be fine. It was Christmas Eve and everything was perfect—Terry was dressed to a tea, we went to church, we sang hymns. When we came home that night, he sat in his favorite chair and watched TV just as usual. The next morning was just as perfect. I made us some coffee, put on music, and we danced around the living room. He pulled me in, hugged me very tight for a moment, and whispered in my ear, “This is our last Christmas together.” I didn’t know what to think at first but looked up at him, thinking God is going to take him from me. That night we went to my daughter’s house and had our last Christmas dinner as a family.
“I didn’t know what to think at first but looked up at him, thinking God is going to take him from me. “
A couple days later, my husband went to do some landscaping for the church even though he wasn’t feeling too well. He had just retired the year before but kept busy helping out at church and gardening in our yard. On his way out the door, he looked at me and said that if he called but no one answered, I should call 911. I told him not to worry; I told him we’d meet up later. He said alright and that was the last time I saw him alive.
I was at the pet store later that afternoon when I hadn’t heard from him yet and started to worry. I called him around five and left a message. I would learn later that he arrived at the hospital at 5:11. It was 5:29 when the phone rang. The nurse at the other end told me he came in with a very serious condition and I needed to get to the hospital. “Don’t drive too fast,” he told me, “everything’s okay.”
I was so stunned in that moment and remember being absorbed by my denial. I was still shopping, gathering my things, checking out when I looked at the cashier and told her I had to leave. I called my daughter on the way to the hospital to tell her what was going on, only to call my pastor moments later explaining I had no idea what was going on, that no one would tell me. Knowing my husband and how huge the pine trees were at church, I figured he had fallen off a ladder trying to prune the branches just right.
“I was so stunned in that moment and remember being absorbed by my denial. “
I got to the hospital and walked in the door when I saw a nurse come up behind another nurse and whisper something. As she led me down the hallway, I felt as though I was walking and walking and walking indefinitely. They left me in a little room, saying the doctor would be with me in a minute. My family hadn’t arrived yet. I called people during that time, I waited, I got frustrated and scared, but I must have known deep down what was going on. I must have known he was gone. My daughter walked in with my pastor just as all the doctors filed in. He had had a massive heart attack at 5:29 and they had done all they could do.
Since then, it has been a very hard journey. We met when he was twenty and I was eighteen. I remember the first time I saw him: I was sitting on the front porch of my apartment as he was stepping out of his car. At that moment, he told his friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” I remember falling for him the moment I saw him. That was the beginning of our thirty-four years together.
“I remember falling for him the moment I saw him. That was the beginning of our thirty-four years together.”
He wrote me a letter on our last Christmas day and instead of typing it like he thought he would (with his one index finger as he always had), he decided to handwrite it. In it he said, “I’m starting to come to a place in my life where I’ll find peace and having you by my side is just the icing on the cake. I’m honored and comforted that you are by my side.” We were blessed in everything.
Even to this day, I find little reminders of him. I never put cat food on the counter—and I mean never—but I came downstairs one morning to find a little piece of cat food in the shape of a heart and I knew it was from him. A few days after he died, I dropped a dish that held all my rings. It was in the shape of a heart and broke straight down the middle. Just the other day, I was eating potato chips and thinking of him when I pulled a chip out of the bag in the shape of a heart.
At first I couldn’t manage living without him, and I honestly don’t know how I made it through that first year. We always did everything together; everything revolved around us as a couple. At fifty-one, he was taken so young but I knew he went through this journey that God intended for him, that he was ready for his time. It was tragic, but knowing he was in peace and without suffering was a comfort for me.
“At first I couldn’t manage living without him, and I honestly don’t know how I made it through that first year. “
Since my husband died, I am not afraid of death. Of course I cried, and at times, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it without him. But I turned to my church, my family there, and I am thankful for how much they’ve helped me. Living in such a small community, we support one another and I was surrounded by love in the wake of Terry’s death just as I am surrounded by love today.
Whenever I feel sad or sorry for myself, I think of him at peace and in heaven. When you have a love like we had, it endures everything, transcends everything. Through good times and bad, there was nothing we couldn’t handle.