When my husband Erik, and I divorced after more than 19 years of marriage, our marriage was over. Our relationship was not. It took some time for the mutual hurt, anger and grief to wear away, but eventually we found ourselves in a new relationship, one that centered around our kids.
Erik bought a house a mile from the one I did, and we agreed to call our homes, “Mom’s House” and “Dad’s House.” While the kids lived with me the majority of the time, he didn’t want to be a “weekend dad” and I respected that. We talked and texted throughout every week, keeping each other up on what was happening with our kids, now 15 and 11.
I miss Erik. Because he loved our kids as much as I do.
Can the kids come over for dinner tonight?
I’m having a problem with my Mac — would you mind looking at it for me?
Here’s a pic of Haley’s reading test — isn’t this awesome? J
Ryan wants to have a few friends over for his birthday — I thought we’d get pizza and cake and they can hoop in the backyard for a couple of hours. Sound good?
Hey, can the kids stay with you until Friday? I have to go out of town for work.
We may not have been married, but our kids still had two parents and I had a co-parent. Erik and I didn’t always agree about how to raise our kids, but we made major decisions together, and backed each other up. Our kids knew that I would say, “If it’s okay with your dad” and vice-versa, which made us a united team, even post-divorce. We were still a family.
The Big Stretch
I grew to appreciate the “stretch,” the time when the kids went to Erik’s for four days every two weeks. I slept in, skipped cooking dinner in favor of cheese and pickles on crackers, spent time with my boyfriend, Walt, and didn’t have to worry about homework or playdates or 10-year-old-girl drama or making sure that they had both taken a shower at the end of the day. I cleaned the house on Wednesday and it stayed clean (gasp!) for four days.
Then Erik died unexpectedly in October. He’d had a pulmonary embolism earlier that year, and a heart attack a few weeks before that. He was taking blood thinners and seemed to be doing okay, but I’d been concerned about him— and about having the kids with him. Ryan, our 15-year-old, had been staying with him since he got out of the hospital, but I couldn’t shake my worry that Erik wasn’t okay. “I’m afraid something will happen to you,” I said one afternoon when I was picking up Haley. “And that the kids will be here if it does.”
“I know,” Erik said. “I’m worried about that too.” But nothing prepared me for my daughter’s call from his house 10 days later. I was in the middle of something and almost didn’t answer.
“Hi, sweetie,” I said. “Can I call you back in a minute?”
“Ryan thinks Daddy’s dead,” blurted Haley.
Hoping for a Miracle
Walt and I were at his house in less than two minutes. Ryan was on the phone with 911, and Haley was standing pressed up against him, looking stricken. Erik was lying on his side on the couch, and I went to pull him to the ground so I could start CPR, but he was too heavy. “Move,” Walt said, hooking his arms under Erik’s shoulders, and together we gently placed him on the floor.
I checked for a pulse, found none and immediately started CPR. Somewhere behind me, I heard Walt take Haley upstairs, to her room, and send Ryan into the kitchen. I did chest compressions, and counted, and prayed, and did rescue breaths, and counted, and prayed, and on my third round of rescue breaths, a police officer appeared next to me.
“Don’t stop,” he said, taking over compressions while I continued rescue breaths. Then the room was suddenly full of EMTs and one of them had a defibrillator and they opened his shirt and applied the pads and gently pushed me out of the way and then I was in the kitchen, giving an EMT his medical history and medications while a slow awful dawning was starting to bloom in my mind. After they took him in the ambulance, I brought the kids to my house, called my best friend to come over, and drove to the hospital, hoping for a miracle.
I didn’t get it.
The Death of an Ex-Husband: New Responsibility
Now five months later, the shock has worn off and the new reality is settling in. That I’m no longer a single parent. Now I’m the sole parent. The responsibility feels overwhelming some days. I miss my old life. I miss having down time to reboot myself. I miss having a backup. But mostly I miss Erik. Because he loved our kids as much as I do. And we could always talk about them, whether it was problem they were having with school or the colleges Ryan is thinking about it or remembering how funny he was at that preschool Christmas party or the sweet thing Haley said to our little neighbor or how are we going to survive boy-crazy Haley hitting puberty, or simply what great kids we have. That’s gone.
But my loss doesn’t even register compared to what my kids face. Ryan will never see his dad in the stands cheering him on at his basketball games or talk NBA trades and players and teams with him. Haley will never go ziplining on the line he hung in his backyard or run at him, fast, so he can toss her in the air while she squeals.
Birthdays. Holidays. Swim meets. School events. Moving in day at college. Their graduations. Their weddings. Grandkids. (One day?) All of the events large and small are coming, eventually, and their dad won’t be there.
That fact makes my heart squeeze, hard. But I keep that to myself. The kids and I talk about Erik, about how funny he was, about how much he loved them. About how proud he was of them.
In the meantime, I hug my kids, a lot. I tell them I love them. I make dinner and drive them to practice and playdates and orthodontist appointments and make sure homework is done and showers are taken and teeth are brushed. I want to make Erik proud of me, too.