In August of 2008, ten months after George’s death, I hear the following message on my answering machine: “I’m Molly Callahan. I need to see someone. I lost my husband, Mitch, six months ago and I’m having a hard time.” Her soft but determined voice wavers towards the end. She leaves her number. I sit staring out my window at the darkening sky, shades from light gray to black, trees whipping wildly in the wind, all warnings of the storm headed our way. I think about this woman I have not met. The timbre of her voice suggests that she’s young, certainly younger than me.
The question now is: Am I ready? Am I ready to hear another widow’s pain? Will I be able to put aside my own grief to work effectively with hers? Or perhaps I should ask if I could use my own grief to hear hers more deeply, communicating on an unconscious, as well as a conscious level. I decide that I’m up to the task and that is how Molly becomes my patient.
Molly is a striking, curvaceous, dark-haired forty-two year old woman, with big, sad eyes. She immediately plunges into her story.
“I lost, Mitch, my husband, in February. I can’t believe it’s been six months,” she says, shaking her head. “I miss him so much. We had such a great relationship. He was my best friend. He would have been 47 on October 14.” Her voice is strong, determined, as if she is willing herself to tell her story without breaking down.
Goose bumps appear on my arms, as I keep my face impassive. How is this possible? What are the chances that the deceased husband of the first widow I see after George’s death would share his birth date?
“He died of a heart attack. He wasn’t feeling well that day. In fact he hadn’t been feeling well for several days, but he continued working. He was a construction supervisor.”
Is this some sort of a cosmic joke, I wonder? [George was a construction contractor I met 30 years earlier when I hired him to remodel my small home on a lake outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.]
Molly continues. “He didn’t take good care of himself. There was a lot of heart disease in his family and the last time he saw his doctor – maybe two years before – he was supposed to get all these follow-up tests, but of course he never did. But that Saturday he seemed to be feeling especially lousy. I offered to take him to the hospital, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I was supposed to go shopping with my best friend and he told me to go. I said I’d stay, but he said, no, I should go, that he’d be fine.
“When I got home he was slumped over on the floor in the living room. I don’t even know if he was still alive then. I called 911 and they came over and started working on him and then they took him to the hospital and they wouldn’t let me go back there and then they came out and told me he was gone,” she says in a rush to get her words out. And then, much more slowly, more quietly, she adds, “Then they let me go back. He was cold, so cold.”
[I feel as though] I’m back in the hospice room staring down at George’s body. He isn’t cold. I’m glad. I wouldn’t want him to be cold. I wouldn’t want my last experience of him to be cold. Not cold. Warm. Warm, like always.