Authors: Rachel Hanna
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
by Rachel Hanna
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All characters are fictitious and not based upon any real person, alive or dead.
Copyright Rachel Hanna
I stood there and watched as he was taking his last few breaths. I didn't know what I was going to do without him, although I never really knew what to do with him while he was alive. After 18 years of torturous marriage, I couldn't believe this was the way it was going to end. It was only two short years ago that he got the diagnosis of neuromuscular disease. Going from such a high-powered attorney to a shriveled up, weakened individual had taken its toll on his mind.
Here I stood next to him playing the part of the grieving soon-to-be widow. Inside, I wasn't sure what to feel really. Our marriage certainly hadn't been the picture-perfect fantasy I had hoped on our wedding day. He was often distant and cold and verbally abusive. He was successful and hard-working, but his businesses always came first. He wasn't the doting father that I had hoped he'd be to my daughter. He wasn't a romantic. We had heated arguments, and the mental abuse could get pretty bad.
I knew he had only married me out of convenience and duty. I had become pregnant with our daughter, and he felt he had to marry me to save his good name. And his family’s name. I agreed because I wanted to give my daughter the best life possible, with a mother and father. I’m not sure that was ever the best plan.
The kindhearted part of me that still lurked somewhere in there was telling me that I had to play the part of the loving life right up until the end. People around us had no idea that our marriage hadn't been a good one. However, he'd given me a beautiful 18 year old daughter who was heading into adulthood with grace. His absence from the home would surely leave a hole, but I wasn't sure exactly what kind it would be.
I couldn't think of a day in advance much less a year from now or five years from now. All I could think about was seeing him lying in the bed taking his final breaths. I reached out and held his tiny, skeletal hand. My daughter shed tears even though she had never had the close relationship with him that she had really desired. We looked at each other and at him. No one knew how to respond or react in these final moments. Thankfully, my pastor came to say some final prayers and gave the room a sense of spirituality that probably wouldn't have been there otherwise.
It was a beautiful day outside. A bluebird even landed right outside the window as if to say that a new beginning was around the corner. I wasn't ready for a new beginning. I never planned to fall in love with any man ever again. This one had just about torn me apart over the years.
Although he was never physically abusive, his words cut like knives. He belittled me and made me feel like my dreams didn't matter. I was just to be the wife and the mother, but not my own person. I was to always look good and be his arm candy when we had to go out to his business functions.
He used his money to imprison me many times. I had a budget, and I couldn't go over it. We had a garage full of beautiful cars. But, my heart had been empty for almost two decades. I was afraid that the way he treated me may have actually changed who I was. What if I could never act like the person I was before I met him? What if it had stolen my ability to love other people?
At the end of a person's life, the last thing that you want to do is make them feel bad about their wrong doings. But, everything within me wanted to tell him all of the things that he had done to squash my soul over the years. I knew that it would serve no good purpose for me or his daughter, so I refrained. I also had my pastor in the room, so I didn't want to look like a fool or an evil, mean spirited person in the final minutes of my own husband's life.
“Mom?” Courtney whispered grabbing hold of my hand. I could see a tear rolling down her cheek.
“Yes, honey? What is it?” I asked letting go of her hand and putting my arm around her shoulder.
“I think he's gone....” she pointed at her father who looked so peaceful, yet so gaunt. He was no longer breathing and the heart machine showed only a blank line. Having in-home hospice care had been such a godsend as the nurse came over to validate that he was gone.
“Mrs. Harris, your husband has passed,” said Evelyn, the wonderful African American nurse who had been at John's bedside for weeks. She was a comforting, rotund woman who knew just what to say when I was feeling at my lowest. She could have never known that my grief was more about the marriage we didn't have than the impending death of my husband.
“Thank you, Evelyn... I'm going to step out for a moment, okay?” I said looking at Courtney for approval. She nodded, and I quickly ushered myself out of the guest room and into the master bedroom on the other end of the hall. I shut the door behind me and immediately fell into a crumpled heap on the floor beside the bed. Why was I crying? I didn't know. My heart pounded in my chest as years of grief sent shockwaves through my body. Grief over his death. Grief over his life. Grief over our marriage. It all landed on the floor in front of me in a pool of long overdue tears.
“Shannon?” My sister appeared behind me in the doorway shocked at my appearance on the floor.
“Denise....” I sobbed not even trying to get up. Denise knelt on the floor beside me. She had been my rock throughout my marriage, and she was my rock now.
“Courtney told me that John is gone.... How are you feeling?” she asked me as she patted my shoulder.
“I don't know, Denise.... I really don't know. I want to grieve for his death, but I think I am grieving more for myself and the wasted years..... I feel so guilty,” I continued crying. Catharsis. That's what they call it.
“Guilty? Shannon, you have nothing to be guilty about. Let's face it; John was a nightmare. He was a jerk and he held you hostage from living your life all of these years. The only good thing that came from being with him is your perfect daughter....” Denise had always despised John, and she told him so any chance she got. Some of our biggest marital fights came on the heels of my red headed, fiery sister making comments.
“I know. But how can I be a good person and still be glad that he's gone? He was my husband after all....” I had stopped crying and made my way up to the edge of the bed.
“Honey, he was in the wrong. Not you. You did everything you could to get him the right medical treatment and then hospice. He would not have done the same for you, and you know that,” Denise said through gritted teeth.
“Well, you are right about that. He wouldn't even take care of me when I had the flu a few years ago. Said he was too busy and to 'buck up' like a grown woman. Remember? I ended up in the urgent care center....”
“I hated him, Shannon. And I am glad he is gone from your life.... this family.... Now you can start to heal. Find a real man....” Denise had always wanted me to find someone new and dump John, but I couldn't. My parents had divorced when I was only 8 and Denise was 6. It was a horrific time for me as they went through a three year custody battle. I couldn't put Courtney through that.
“Denise, like I have told you a million times... I have NO interest in finding another man. I am a 39 year old widow and I plan to stay that way. I've never met a really good man. I don't think they exist,” I said rolling my eyes and sighing. Besides, John had done his best to convince me that I wasn't worth much over the years. He told me my hair was too thin, my hips were too wide and my chest too saggy after breastfeeding his child.
“Mom? The funeral home guys are here. They need you to sign some papers,” Courtney appeared at the door. I hoped that she hadn't heard much of our conversation. She wasn't close to her Dad, but he was still her father.
The day dragged on with people coming and going from the house, bringing food and offering up their condolences. I met with the funeral home director as we planned the service for John the following Monday. At least I had the weekend to rest up for my appearance as the grieving widow. I secretly wondered if wearing a bright red dress would be too obvious that I was not grieving for him at all.
Better to stick with black
, I thought.
I woke up Saturday morning after a wonderful night of sleep to hear the birds chirping outside of my window. I half expected to see the happy munchkins from the Wizard of Oz come skipping through my room telling me to follow the yellow brick road. How could I be so happy when my husband had just died hours ago? My heart was conflicted right down to its core. I was truly fighting myself inside. I was sad that a life was gone, but not sad that he was gone from my life.
It's not that I am an evil or bad person. I know that, but it feels wrong. Compared with the way that society thinks a grieving widow should act, I am doing the exact opposite. But, John made life miserable. He always had.
I guess it wouldn't have been so bad if he had ever been a good and doting husband. Instead, he was always controlling. Unfortunately, I had believed that control meant love, so I fell for it. Sure, we were romantic and loving when we dated, but he immediately changed after we said “I do”. He cut me down with his words and seemed to plan out his attacks on my psyche. It was like he spent our marriage punishing me for getting pregnant. He always believed I did it on purpose; I didn’t.
Growing up in a home where my Dad battered my mom, both physically and mentally, I guess it had an affect on me. Once, just after marrying John, I went to my Dad and lamented that I wanted to leave him because he was being mean to me. My Dad, who was supposed to be my protector, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Shannon, he's got a lot of money and can keep you comfortable your whole life. Don't be an idiot.”
My Mom, on the other hand, had been fully supportive of me leaving during that first year. But, when I found out that I was pregnant with Courtney, all bets were off. I wasn't leaving. Considering my marriage to be a life sentence in prison, I promised myself I would stay and make the best of a bad situation.
When we had been married just five years, my Dad died of a massive heart attack. Mom passed away just two years ago right after I learned of John's illness. She never knew John was sick, and I couldn't bear to tell her that her daughter was becoming a widow soon. She would have worried about me, and she had enough to deal with fighting her cancer.
I thought a lot that Saturday after John died. I went over our marriage in my head a thousand times. Certain memories slammed into the walls of my brain like waves crashing into the shore. As water wears away rock after many years, these memories had worn away parts of my soul. My heart was broken, battered, defeated. I was determined not to let anyone in ever again.