Monday, October 20, 2008

Emergency anniversary

Eleven years ago today my first husband and the father of my children, Ron, committed suicide after a day-long stand-off that turned the trees and bushes and outbuildings on our pastoral gentleman's farm into hiding places for specially trained police dressed in camouflage and toting rifles with sniper scopes. It is choosing to move on after this event that inspired both the title of this blog and the memoir I am currently writing.

The memoir writing has resulted in some unexpected closure concerning Ron that was so powerful that despite the "stage being set" to recall his death (the October days shorter, the nights cooler, the fall sun growing more golden—all those details that subconsciously say, "It happened at this time of year, brace yourself") I honestly hadn't thought about it—until Thursday night, while following an ambulance to the hospital ER. It carried my husband Dave, critically ill with septic shock and blood pressure of only 65/48. There's something about those flashing lights that grabs you by the throat and won't let you go: Emergency. Emergency. Drop everything. Surrender: Life is not going to go the way you planned. It was that echo of trauma that brought the suicide anniversary to the fore.

I remember thinking on the way to the hospital: I can't do this. People say that all the time, right? Yet I have never figured out how to skid along the surface of an experience, let alone turn my back on it. Perhaps because of its very mysteries life sucks me deep into its unpredictable folds, where I must literally "feel" my way. "I can't do this" was a way of honoring my feelings at the moment—I didn't want to be frightened so deeply—but I knew as soon as the words formed in my mind that a truer expression would be, "I can't avoid this." Such is the risk of love, a risk for which I willingly re-enlisted, for my mature self loves Dave as deeply as my younger self loved Ron.

Today I am completely alone in the same house where the stand-off occurred. My children, who were both here that day, have moved on with their lives: one son is at college, the other is at the co-op job his college arranged. Once surrounded on this farm by chickens, horses, goats, and numerous domesticated animals, I no longer have even a dog or a cat to comfort or distract me. I will join Dave later at the hospital, where he is out of intensive care and holding his own. The emergency, it would seem, is over. And in its wake is a feeling I recall: jangled nerves still scanning for previously undetected clues of imminent danger. The heavy exhaustion of an adrenaline hangover. An inner peace that's hard to reckon with, given the circumstances; perhaps a side effect of swiping one's pre-planned activities to the side to live in the moment.

I am suddenly aware that I have witnessed Dave's own stand-off. But where Ron drowned himself in consciousness-numbing booze until the only thing standing between him and death was a short muscular action applied to a trigger, Dave fought to retain his consciousness, even as the odds and his own vital statistics stacked against him. His heart, strengthened by love and determination and attention to what he eats and some thirty years of running, prevailed. It was my privilege to witness Dave's struggle to survive. While Ron's death had many lessons for us, Dave's stand-off is a better story. Next year and in years to come, as the October days shorten and the nights cool and the fall sun grows more golden, I'm sure I will take time to remember Ron. But I no longer suspect that his death will take center stage. Thanks to Dave's brave fight, and my willingness to go with him wherever the dark night led us, the stage will now be set to honor life.

1 comment:

Jerry Waxler said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Kathryn. The shorter days, the fear of losing a loved one, and the contrast between Ron fighting to lose his life and Dave fighting to save his are poignant, the best of sharing. Writing is a way to draw people in to offer and receive support. I will follow more of your story, and looking forward to good news about Dave and about the journey with your book.

Jerry Waxler
Memory Writers Network