Those of you who read my book will meet Molly. She’s the first widow I saw after my husband’s death, ten months after my husband’s death to be exact. Although she was much younger than me and lived a very different life, there were startling similarities between us, including that her husband was born on the same day as mine (different year) and that they were both building contractors. But more than that, Molly and I mourned similarly, both consumed by pain, but determined to go on with our lives; both taking our deceased spouses with us in our mind in a way that allowed us to feel connected and less alone.
There were of course major differences. Molly’s husband died instantly of a heart attack. His heart problems weren’t new, but he hadn’t taken good enough care of himself, refusing to go to doctors or to take his medication. My husband died of metastatic prostate cancer after a long and debilitating illness.
About three years after her husband’s death, Molly met a man and became seriously involved with him. I was delighted for her, and also somewhat jealous. Molly found someone new she could love; I hadn’t even come close.
And then one day Molly came in looking sad and drawn. She proceeded to tell me the following story:
“I slept over at Michael’s. I was getting dressed. He was in the shower. Suddenly I heard this huge noise. I ran in. He was on the floor. I thought my heart would stop. I’ve never seen anyone have a seizure before, but I was pretty sure that was what was happening. I just tried to cradle his head so he wouldn’t hurt himself. It was terrifying. When he came out of it he was entirely disoriented. I had him lie down in bed. It took hours for him to come to himself. He acknowledged that he has seizures, but said he doesn’t have them very often. He has medication but he doesn’t like how it makes him feel, so he doesn’t take it.”
As Molly talks, my anxiety soars. My heart beats quickly, my stomachs turns. “Not again,” I think. “She’d never survive it. … I’d never survive it. I could never survive another loss, not this soon, not again.” And I wonder if Molly knew about Michael’s illness at some unconscious level. Her father had heart problems for much of her childhood before he too died when she was only ten. Is she unconsciously trying to save “sick” men in the present, to make up for not having been able to save her father in the past. But that’s a topic for another day.
Coming from a place fueled by my own feelings, I say, “You have to get Michael to a doctor. You have to tell him you can’t go through this again.”
“I know,” she says interrupting me. “I couldn’t handle it. I love him. I can’t lose him. Not again.”
She is saying my very thoughts aloud.