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I spent my 11th wedding anniversary planning my husband's funeral. If I could just figure out how to make that rhyme, it would be the beginning of a great country song.
I spent my 11th wedding anniversary planning my husband's funeral. If I could just figure out how to make that rhyme, it would be the beginning of a great country song.
Involuntarily single. That's the true story of where Catherine Tidd finds herself just three weeks after turning thirty-one. Widowed with three children under six years old, a rusty resume, no fix-it skills, and no clue how to live life as a widow, Catherine can't help but be a little exasperated with her dead husband for leaving her to deal with life on her own.
Catherine's now in charge of her life in a way she never wanted to be, in a way that would have most of us reeling and numb. But she soon realizes that when you call the shots, you can make pedicures one of the stages of grief—and that moving forward might be more fun in a new sports car. Her honest Confessions of a Mediocre Widow is a glimpse into the heartbreaking and sometimes humorous world of a young woman who learns that it is possible to find joy in an unexpected life.
I spent my eleventh wedding anniversary planning my husband’s funeral.
If I could figure out how to make that rhyme, it would be the beginning of a great country song....
I spent my eleventh wedding anniversary planning my husband’s funeral.
If I could figure out how to make that rhyme, it would be the beginning of a great country song.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to forgive Brad for suddenly leaving me with three children under the age of six, no job, and a mortgage on a house that we bought because he liked the location.
Oh, I know it wasn’t his choice. It’s not like I sit around picturing him up on a cloud in a chaise lounge, fruity beverage in hand, waving down to me and saying, “Have fun down there!”
But there have been moments of deep darkness—as I figured out the bills, health insurance, and child rearing alone—when I have wondered if he didn’t get the better part of this deal.
The first time I saw Bradley Tidd, I was in Colorado Springs where he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. He was laughing as he threw a football, completely unaware of my stare. The grass in the field where everyone was tailgating was dry and crunchy, just begging for the first snow of the season. The grounds overflowed with sports cars, a purchase that seemed to be required of every cadet the moment they made it to their junior year.
And in the middle of all of that macho testosterone stood Brad, his arm cocked above his shoulder, ready to throw a spiral to another classmate, laughing as if his internal joy couldn’t be contained and was just bubbling out of him.
A little shorter than I was, he had the all-American looks of a soon-to-be Air Force officer, with his light brown hair cut as close as it could be and his frame suggesting that he worked out but still had a good time. Four years my senior, he had a mischievous grin that reached all the way up to his green-hazel eyes and matched his irresistible laugh, which would eventually teach my heart how to stop and then keep right on going again.
The last time I saw Bradley Tidd, thirteen years later, he lay motionless in a hospital bed not five miles away from that spot in the field. Those hazel eyes were shut, and the infectious laughter that had gotten us through moves, job changes, and childbirth had stopped. His hair was still short, now due to the battle he’d had with a receding hairline that started in his midtwenties and eventually won when, at thirty, he decided to start shaving his head completely bald.
We were just so damn normal. He was the breadwinner; I was the homemaker. We grilled on the weekends with our neighbors, had occasional date nights where we tried our hardest to talk about anything other than the kids, loved a lot, and fought a little. There were times when I’d ask myself, “Is this it? What life is supposed to be like? Do I want more?” and almost always answered myself, “Nope. I’m good.”
We were partners in every way. And while our relationship wasn’t perfect (whose is?), we seemed to function as well as we could, given the fact that we had three young children and almost no time to ourselves. Like most couples who have been together for a long time, I felt like I knew Brad better than anyone else in the world.
And like most people who have been through an unimaginable loss, I’ve wondered, since he’s been gone, if I knew myself at all.
• • •
July 16, 2007.
Picture a normal Colorado summer morning, with blue skies and the perfect breeze floating through two open windows. At the crack of 8:30 a.m., I was still in my bed, half asleep, enjoying that gentle wind, waiting until the last minute to emerge from the cocoon I had created with the six pillows. I’m not the early riser.
My kids figured out at a young age that, until their stomachs were audibly growling, they should not wake Mommy up. Even then, my oldest, Haley, who was five, would gently come in, rub my arm, and try to rouse the slumbering beast in the calmest way possible so as not to anger it. Sarah, who was eighteen months old at the time, must have gotten my sleeping gene, because she rarely woke up before 9:00 a.m. And my son, Michael, who was three and stuck in the middle of a bunch of estrogen, just tried to do whatever he could to blend into the background so that none of the crazy females surrounding him would strap him down, force a Cinderella costume on him, and take pictures to show future prom dates.
He would pretty much go with the flow.
As I slept with my pillow over my head (which I did every night because my dog snored like an Irishman on a bender), I slowly came out of my princess-like dream world, thinking, “Was that the phone ringing?”
I checked my caller ID, which read “Penrose Hospital,” with a Colorado Springs area code. I dismissed it, thinking that it was probably someone looking for a donation, and wasn’t I lucky to avoid that call? I mean, that’s why I had this, my favorite piece of technology. How did people avoid solicitors (and their extended family) in the ’80s?
But then I remembered that Brad was driving south of Denver that morning for work and that I’d better call back just in case.
“Yes, I wanted to make sure that no one there called me. I just missed a call and I wanted to double-check that it wasn’t about my husband.”
After holding for about five minutes, I felt my heart begin to pound in my ears. It should have taken that receptionist a minute to check her computer, see that he wasn’t there, and get back on the phone with me, annoyed that I had wasted her time.
“I’m transferring you to a nurse right now.”
A voice came on the line that was entirely too cheerful for the mood I was sinking into.
“Hello? Mrs. Tidd? This is Joanie,” she said over the noise of trauma in the background. “I have your husband here with me.”
“What happened?” I said frantically, running down the stairs from my second-floor bedroom and starting to pace. “What’s going on? Is he okay? Why is he there?”
“Now, don’t worry. He’s fine,” she said in a way that I knew was supposed to calm me but just made me more impatient. “He’s talking. He was in an accident, but you’ll have to talk to someone when you get here about what happened. We’re going to take him in for some x-rays and you can meet him in the ER. Right now it just looks like he has a dislocated knee. Don’t rush. Take your time getting down here. I promise that he’s okay.”
Right, lady. Don’t rush. If he’s so fine, why isn’t he calling me?
At that point I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. I couldn’t trust some stranger to tell me that my husband was “fine.” I needed to see for myself. I sat down on the recliner in the TV room for a minute and looked around wildly, trying to decide what to do next. Haley sat on the couch, her eyes focused on The Wiggles. Michael sat on the floor, fiercely concentrating on constructing a castle out of blocks. And I could hear the sounds of Sarah in her crib, babbling away to a stuffed animal.
Crap. I can’t take them with me. Now what?
And I immediately started dialing my parents’ phone number.
My parents had moved to Denver six months earlier from Louisiana, something that I couldn’t have been happier about. Those poor people had made it through Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, only to move north during one of the worst series of snowstorms on record in Colorado. Not only that, but they had brought along my extremely asthmatic ninety-five-year-old grandmother, who hadn’t lived above sea level in fifty years.
Those two had their hands full.
I felt a little guilty about calling my mother that morning and adding something else to her plate, but before I had even finished saying the word “accident,” she was walking out the door to come watch my kids.
“I’m calling your dad. He’ll meet you at the hospital,” she said breathlessly.
“Oh, Mom. Don’t make Dad leave work. They said Brad was fine. I’ll feel terrible if Dad has wasted the day,” I said, knowing that my dad didn’t miss work for anything.
“He’s coming.” Click.
While I waited the twenty agonizing minutes it took my mother to get to my house, I ran upstairs, took the quickest shower in history, and looked over the contents of my closet. What to wear? It was hot outside, but I knew that the temperature in hospitals could vary from muggy and hot to chilly and “I wish I had a sweatshirt” cold. I decided on layers and then packed a bag, thinking that if I was prepared for an overnight stay, it probably wouldn’t happen. And in that bag I packed Brad’s favorite shorts, T-shirt, and sneakers so that he would have something comfortable to wear on the ride home.
My mother finally arrived, and I barely said hello to her before I threw everything into my minivan and screeched out of the driveway. I started driving south, mentally going through routes in my head to figure out the fastest way. Finally deciding to go through Castle Rock, I thought for sure I had missed rush-hour traffic and would be able to slide right onto the highway. And then I saw the signs and flashing lights just before the on-ramp.
“You gotta be kidding me,” I muttered. Looking around, trying to figure out if I could take a side street, I sat helplessly in my car, fidgeting in my seat until the traffic finally gave way to the wide-open highway.
When I got down to the hospital in Colorado Springs and entered the trauma area, I was greeted by a woman who looked eerily like my cousin, adding to the surreal feeling of that moment. As I waited for forty-five minutes in the tiny, curtained room in the ER, I kept thinking to myself, “What in the world is JoAnn doing up here from Louisiana, and when did she become a nurse?”
It’s weird how the mind works during moments of extreme stress.
After waiting what felt like hours for something to happen, everything seemed to happen at once. My dad walked into the room with a nervous expression on his face that I didn’t want to see. And then a skinny little police officer with a mustache that looked like it had been a work in progress for twenty years came stomping in with an accusatory look.
“Do you know what your husband did?” he demanded. “He passed a whole line of cars on his motorcycle on a two-lane road and hit a guy up ahead of him turning left.”
All of the moisture left my mouth. My hands began to shake, and I seemed to lose any sort of handle on how to speak.
As if I wasn’t shocked enough, he followed that with, “Wait until you see his helmet. You’ll wonder how in the hell he survived this.”
At that moment, a couple of nurses wheeled Brad in. He was laid out on a gurney, neck stabilized, but looking pretty good for the most part. I mean, you T-bone another car when you’re on a motorcycle going sixty miles an hour…I kind of expected him to look worse. Lucky for him, he had been wearing his helmet, with clothing covering every inch of his body. I think the “powers that be” knew that I’d have a hard time trying to nurse someone back to health who looked like something the road had chewed up and spit back out.
Don’t judge me…it’s not that I’m really into looks. I’m just incredibly squeamish. I’m more of a PG girl, and most motorcycle accidents are on the R-rated side.
“Now, he’s got a pretty bad dislocated knee and some broken ribs,” the nurse said. “He’s going to be taking it easy for a while.”
“Brad. Brad!” The officer’s voice suddenly came out in a staccato, as he tried to peer around the nurse who was untangling an IV. “Do you remember what happened?”
Dazed and immobile, Brad tried to look up at him. “No.”
“You hit another car. You passed a whole group of cars going at a high rate of speed and hit a guy and knocked him out. You don’t remember that?”
Dissatisfied with Brad’s inadequate answers, Captain Inappropriate marched out. And my husband’s first words to me in the trauma room were, “Shit. We’re going to get sued.”
I will say that one of my proudest moments as a wife was that I didn’t just let him have it while he was lying there, voicing my concern over matters that, in the grand scheme of things, really didn’t matter. I could have immediately gone into how our insurance rates will go up, and we’ll have to buy someone a new car. How I know I didn’t leave enough milk in the refrigerator for the kids, and my parents will have to go to the store now. But like an angel, I stuck to nice, soothing words, telling him the accident was no big deal.
I figured I’d have plenty of time to lay into him later while he was at home and recovering.
However, I did have the presence of mind to say to him, “Remember how you made me watch the Steelers game the entire time I was in labor with Sarah?”
His eyes slanted and he tried to look at me from his immobile position.
“I have Pride and Prejudice in my bag. Maybe we can watch that tonight.”
He rolled his eyes and gave a small, painful sigh of defeat.
About an hour later, the hospital staff decided that Brad was ready to be checked in to a regular room. With his leg injury, they thought he would probably be there for a couple of days while they monitored him and taught him how to walk on crutches. And knowing that we would be there for a while, I told my dad to go home.
“Are you sure?” he said. I could see he was having an internal battle between wanting to be there for me and wanting to get the hell out of that hospital.
“I’m fine,” I said. “After he gets settled, I’m going to go grab a sandwich downstairs and read my People magazine. We’ll be okay. I’ll call you and Mom later when I know what’s going to happen next.”
I gave my dad a hug and gathered up my purse and Brad’s belongings, which had been put into one of those white and surprisingly durable plastic bags they have at every hospital. I followed the orderlies and made polite conversation as they wheeled Brad into the elevator and then up to the second floor.
“Brad?” I said, after he’d been settled into his new bed.
“I’m starving. I think I’m going to go down and grab something to eat. Do you want me to get you anything?”
“No…I’m so tired I don’t think I could eat anything. But…do you think they have Jell-O? I have the weirdest taste in my mouth.”
I laughed. “This is a hospital. Their specialty is Jell-O.”
I walked down the hall to find the room that hospitals have on every floor that contains the coffee, crackers, juice, and Jell-O for its patients and the people who have the unhappy task of sitting around and waiting for people to heal. I found some cherry Jell-O and a spoon, and made my way back to Brad. I awkwardly tried to spoon a few bites into his mouth, carefully trying not to spill it all over the neck brace he was still wearing, until he sighed a little and said, “That’s fine. That’s all I need. I just want to go to sleep now.”
“Are you going to be okay for a minute?” I asked. “I’m going to run down and get something to eat, and I need to go to the car and grab my overnight bag. It has my book and everything in it. I’ll call your parents while I’m down there because I’m not getting any reception in here.”
And that was the last conversation I had with my husband. Believe me, had I known, I would have talked about something more important than a sandwich and inadequate cell service.
I went down the elevator and wound my way through the maze of the hospital until I found the parking lot. The sunlight made my eyes water a bit as I scanned around, trying to find my car because in the mayhem that was that morning, I had no idea where I’d parked it. Round and round the parking lot I walked, hitting my panic button, trying to set off the alarm so that I could find it. I imagined some bored patient looking down at me from their window above, laughing at this crazy woman in mismatched clothing looking for a beat-up minivan.
I hope I at least provided someone with a little entertainment.
Once I’d found the car and gotten my bag, I dialed the number to Brad’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania.
“Hey! What’s going on with you guys?”
“Now…I don’t want you to panic. But Brad was in an accident on his way to work.”
At that point, I did my best to calm her down, explaining that while Brad was injured, he wasn’t in any real danger. I promised to keep her updated and that I’d have him call her as soon as he felt up to it.
“Well, I just hope this means he’s off of riding motorcycles for good,” she said before we hung up. “Tell him that we love him and that we’ll talk to him soon.”
I started making my way back up to the room, and by the time I got there, Brad had fallen into a deep but restless sleep. He wouldn’t wake up, even with all of the noise I was making, setting my bag up on the heater next to the window and getting my stuff out. His body kept twitching, something I dismissed, thinking that he had to be so medicated for pain and everything else he had been through. And so I sat there, reading my celebrity gossip and munching on a bag of Doritos, having no idea that that would be the last meal I would eat for the next three days.
“Excuse me?” A male nurse poked his head into the room.
“I’m Rodney. The doctors sent me down to get Brad. They just want to do a quick ultrasound of his neck and make sure there aren’t any clots or anything else they should be worried about.”
Rodney moved the gurney into the room and positioned it next to the bed. And as he started talking…Brad didn’t even stir.
“Brad? BRAD? BRAD?”
“YEAH!” Brad’s response sounded like a three-year-old who was talking way too loud.
“WE’RE GOING TO TAKE YOU IN FOR AN ULTRASOUND. OKAY?”
Another male nurse walked into the room to help Rodney move Brad over to the gurney. He stayed asleep as we made our way into the elevator and to what seemed like the basement of the hospital, where he would have his ultrasound.
“This is as far as you can go,” Rodney said as we stood outside a set of automatic double doors. “There’s a waiting room down the hall to the right. As soon as he’s done, someone will come down and get you.”
I made my way down the blinding white hall to the waiting room and sat on an overstuffed couch that looked like it was a cast-off from 1984. The only sound in the room was the bubbling aquarium that seemed to take up an entire wall and the quiet typing of a woman working behind a glass window. After what seemed like hours, I began to worry because as the time passed, what sounded like a routine ultrasound began turning into something more sinister in my head. Eventually, the receptionist went home and I was left alone, too scared to do anything but stare at the fish swimming in circles. I kept thinking to myself, “If he’s okay, a nurse will come and get me. If he’s not, a doctor will.”
When I looked up, three doctors were walking toward me, quietly talking to each other.
It was hard to distinguish who was who in their matching white coats. They all seemed to move in unison, like three marshmallows who had somehow managed to graduate from medical school. I watched them walk down the long hall that was too brightly lit with fluorescent lights, and as they made their way closer to me, I knew without a doubt that they were about to tell me news that I didn’t want to hear.
They arranged themselves in chairs around where I was sitting on the outdated couch. Perched and looking like they were ready to flee, they all stared at me and didn’t say anything for a moment, as if hoping that one of their colleagues would take over.
“Mrs. Tidd?” one of them started, looking serious and like he would rather be anywhere else than in this waiting room with the unnecessary fish.
“It seems that…” The younger of the three tried to take over.
“Your husband’s had a stroke,” said the third, the one with graying hair, in a businesslike way. “We don’t know why and we don’t know how it happened. There is a good chance that the impact to Brad’s head and neck has caused this, but we really don’t know for sure.”
“My husband…Brad’s had a…a what?”
“A stroke,” he said. “He’s had a stroke.”
“But…no, you don’t understand,” I said, my mouth feeling like sandpaper. “My husband is thirty-four. Thirty-four-year-old people don’t have strokes.”
I felt sure that this rationale would cause them to all stand up simultaneously and slap their heads with the palms of their hands and say, “Shoot! You’re right! We thought you were married to that eighty-year-old we just brought in. Our bad! Your husband’s fine! He’s waiting for you in the cafeteria!”
“Brad will be paralyzed on his left side,” said the youngest, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up farther onto the bridge of his nose. “There’s a good chance that he will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”
I couldn’t do anything but stare at the Doctors of Doom in stunned silence. Which apparently made them feel uncomfortable, because they started to shift and get to their feet, relieved to have this moment over so that they could go home and eat dinner like normal, unparalyzed people.
“He’s being moved to the ICU right now,” said the gray-haired doctor. “Just go on up to the fifth floor. You’ll be able to see him there in a few minutes.”
My stomach started to churn. I grabbed my purse and desperately rummaged around its disorganized contents to try and find my cell phone.
“I need to use a phone,” I said. “I need to call my parents. Do you have a phone I can use?”
“Of course,” said the younger doctor, relieved, as if giving me a usable phone was good enough news to buffer the blow he had just delivered. “Use the one on the receptionist’s desk.”
I tried calling my parents at their home. No answer. I tried calling my dad’s cell phone. Nothing. Finally, in desperation, I called my older sister’s cell phone, and on the fourth ring, as I was about to give up, she answered.
“Kristi? Are Mom and Dad there? I need them.”
I could hear the joyful noise of her children playing at the park in the background, and she had to yell to be heard over the noise.
“Cath? What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure if I heard this right. But I think the doctors just told me that Brad had a stroke. Is that right? Could they have told me that?”
“Oh my God.”
“Mom and Dad aren’t answering, and I don’t know where they are. Can you find someone for me? I need someone else here to listen to what the doctors are saying. I’m scared they’ll say something that I won’t understand,” I said, suddenly feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life.
“I’ll find Mom and Dad,” I heard Kristi say breathlessly as she tried to round up her kids and take them home. “Brian! Get over here! Cath? I’ll find them. Okay? Someone’s coming. Can you hear me? Someone will be there.”
I’m betting there’s not a person in the world who hasn’t felt a weird, inexplicable moment of calm when the news or diagnosis they have feared is actually given to them. It’s almost like adrenaline working in reverse. We somehow find temporary inner strength that we didn’t know we possessed and later, when we’re dealing with the aftermath of whatever fate has handed us, we wish it had stuck around. Because in that moment, I didn’t panic. I didn’t fall to my knees. I didn’t even cry.
My mind immediately rushed through future scenarios, changing what I’d imagined earlier—rearranging the furniture on the main floor of my house for a man on crutches—to wondering if the ranch-style house around the corner was still for sale for the man in the wheelchair who needed a home without stairs. I reminded myself that Brad was larger than life, and I felt sure that he would bounce back…or at least bounce back enough to maybe work from home somehow. Ever the planner, I started worrying about things that would happen six months from that moment, so that when one of them happened, it would be something that I would expect.
For someone who doesn’t like surprises, this was a biggie.
After grabbing my bag from the room that I thought we would be staying in, I moved into my fourth area of the hospital that day and waited for Brad to get settled in his ICU room. When I saw the phone sitting on one of the end tables next to a vacant chair, I knew that I needed to make one more call. And as I slowly dialed the Tidds’ Pennsylvania number for the second time that day, I started feeling like I had lied to them. I had told them that he would be okay. This was all my fault.
“Bonnie? It’s Catherine.”
Suddenly, all of my attempts to “be strong” dissolved into a hiccup-cry into the palm of my hand. I started to fear that if I said the words out loud again, they might actually be true.
“Brad’s…he’s had a stroke, Bonnie. I don’t know how this happened, but he’s had a stroke. Oh God. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. He’s in the ICU now. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh no,” I heard her breathe on the other end of the line. “Jim! Jim!” I heard her say away from the phone to my father-in-law. “Brad’s had a stroke.”
“We’re coming,” she said to me into the phone. “Hang in there, sweetie. We’re coming. We’d already bought tickets after you called this morning. We thought we’d come up and give him a hard time and just give him a hug. We’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning.”
After hanging up the phone, I sat there staring blankly at the white walls of the waiting area, ignoring the sounds of CNN from the television mounted on the ceiling. I was vaguely aware of other people sitting around me, some doing their best to make conversation with each other and some looking too despondent to even try. Through the window, the sun started to set on that perfect summer day, and I felt my earlier hope and resolve begin to fade with the light.
“Mrs. Tidd?” said a nurse. “You can come on back now.”
I followed her through the doors into the ICU with my eyes focused straight ahead. Because the nurses needed to see anything and everything that was going on, there was no privacy. Each individual space had a glass wall looking into the hall so that you could see the entire room and anyone in it. If I made the mistake of glancing to the side, I would see all of the horrific situations of the other patients surrounding my husband.
As it was, my peripheral vision was picking up enough. Another motorcyclist who hadn’t been wearing a helmet and was bandaged from the top of his head down to his toes. The old man with his wife by his side, silently weeping and holding his hand, preparing for a life alone. The beeps. The hissing of ventilators. The hum of machines that were keeping these strangers alive.
I couldn’t believe that Brad was now one of them.
When I walked into his room, I stopped for a moment, looking at the man who had always been in perpetual motion, now lying still and quiet and seemingly smaller than he had been when he left for work that morning. Tubes seemed to sprout from every limb, pumping in fluid to keep him going and then draining out what wasn’t necessary. There was a small cut on his nose that I had been too distracted to notice before. I swallowed hard, taking in the oxygen tubes coming from his nose and the lump of his right leg under the blanket that had been bandaged to twice its size because of the dislocation.
I desperately wanted to climb into that bed with him, under the blankets that had been washed and sanitized so many times they had softened to the perfect weight. I craved curling up next to him and putting my head in the crook of his shoulder until I felt his arms around me in a silent assurance that everything would be okay.
Instead, too scared that if I started crying I might never stop, I pulled a plastic chair over to his side and quietly took his hand. I ran my fingers over his wedding band and thought about what we had promised each other almost exactly eleven years earlier on our July 20 wedding day.
In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.
• • •
About an hour later, my dad finally arrived in the work clothes he had been wearing when he met me earlier that day in the trauma room. He wrapped me in his arms for a second and just said, “It’s okay. I’m here. Mom’s coming. She’s just trying to find someone to watch the kids.”
We sat in Brad’s ICU room, making the most idiotic conversation as if our normal behavior might make this all go away. The nurses came in and out, changing tubes, checking monitors, and trying to be as upbeat with us as they possibly could. Occasionally, they would ask us to step out while they changed tubes or updated other medical personnel on my husband’s condition. We sat in the ICU waiting room, which has to be one of the most miserable places on Earth because you’re surrounded by the horrific stories of illnesses, accidents, and life in general gone wrong.
And, worse yet, it’s your story, too.
By midnight my mom had finally arrived, having found a family friend to come over and watch the kids so that she could get to the hospital and relieve my dad. She walked into Brad’s room, catching her first glimpse of him tethered to every tube imaginable and breathing with the help of whirring machines. The three of us—my mom, my dad, and me—all quietly hugged. And then my dad left, too choked up to say anything else.
“I want to get you out of here for a while,” my mom said, giving me a one-armed hug. “Who knows how long Brad will be here. You need to make sure that you get some rest. Otherwise you’ll be no use to anyone.”
“You should,” said a nurse behind her. “You have a long road ahead. You need to get all the rest you can right now so that you’ll be ready.”
“But we can’t just…go, can we?” I asked my mom. “We can’t just leave him.”
“Catherine, you could be here for weeks. Months even. There is no place for you to sleep here, and you’re going to have to rest at some point. We’ll be back in a few hours, but you need to get out of here.”
We started gathering up my things and moving toward the door. I suddenly heard Brad making noise and I rushed over to his side, hoping that he was about to wake up. I stood there holding his hand and staring at him as if willing him to start talking to me like nothing had happened. And then I realized what the sound really was.
My God. Was he choking?
I left my mother in the room and ran to find the nurse. I pulled her in, saying, “Do something! He’s choking!”
She remained irritatingly calm as she took out her stethoscope and checked his vitals. I could not figure out why she wasn’t as alarmed as I was, and the fact that she wasn’t running out the door for more medical personnel made me want to hit her over the head with a bedpan. “He’s not choking,” she finally said. “He’s got the hiccups. It’s not uncommon.”
“Can’t you do anything about it? He’s got broken ribs. That can’t feel good.”
As if to confirm what I was saying, Brad jolted upright in bed, the first activity I’d seen from him in hours.
“Feel bad,” he said with his eyes still shut, collapsing back onto his pillow.
“Brad? Brad?” I said, taking his hand again and hoping that he would say something else.
“He’ll be fine,” the nurse said and walked out of the room. I sat next to him for a few more minutes, feeling helpless. My suspicion that he was in pain had finally been confirmed, even though everyone had been assuring me that he wasn’t feeling anything. I waited until the painful hiccups subsided and Brad was quiet once again, his breathing slow and measured, his body relaxed.
“Cath?” said my mom from the other side of Brad’s bed. “Let’s go get some air.”
Reluctantly, I let go and let her lead me out of the room. I had no idea that “feel bad” were the last words I would ever hear my husband say. But I left, thinking that everyone was right and that I should prepare myself for the marathon of caregiving we all thought loomed before me.
My mom and I checked into the first roach motel I’d ever been to, complete with one working parking-lot light that made me suddenly feel like we were actors in a bad made-for-TV crime drama. If the situation hadn’t been so serious, it would have been comical. As we let ourselves into the room and quickly bolted and chained the door behind us, we took stock of the threadbare blankets and pillows that had the support of good envelopes. I took one look at the shower and decided that it just wasn’t worth the risk of infection.
We each lay in our beds, waiting for the other to fall asleep. I knew my mother was watching for movement, and I was doing my best to stay still and stare straight up so that she would go to sleep and get some rest. I tried to make designs with the popcorn on the ceiling that was illuminated by that one dim light in the parking lot, badly wanting to numb my mind from the fear that was circling around, trying to sneak its way in.
But it was stronger than I was.
Silent tears started streaming down the sides of my face, and I heard my mom move from her bed to mine. She wrapped me up like a two-year-old as I hiccuped my way through, “Oh God. What’s going to happen to us? What am I going to do? How do we move forward from this? How can I handle a man in a wheelchair and three toddlers?”
“Shhhhh.” She rocked me back and forth. “It’s okay. You won’t be alone. We’re here. We’re going to figure this out.”
“I can’t just lie here anymore,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I need to be with Brad.”
So, my mom and I made our way back to the hospital after spending only hours in that motel room (something I felt sure that the management was used to). At 5:00 a.m., the doctors took Brad in for a CT, and when they were finished, they led us into a windowless room no bigger than a walk-in closet and sat us down.
Dr. Robins, the gray-haired trauma doctor who had been following Brad since his admittance into the ER the day before, cleared his throat several times as if trying to cough up the words he didn’t actually want to say.
“Catherine.” He looked me straight in the eye. “Brad’s brain is swelling. And at the rate it’s going, I don’t think he’s going to live past the next seventy-two hours.”
I heard my mother inhale sharply, and she suddenly turned to me, her blue eyes wider than I had ever seen them.
I grabbed her hand and said in disbelief, “Did I have the stroke? Is Brad really okay and I’m in a coma, dreaming this whole thing up?”
I watched her mouth working as if she was trying to say something.
But nothing came out.
“There's a world of beauty packed inside Tidd's book...Her mettle: She pours the past seven years onto pages for all of us to read and learn from, particularly her "Tips for widow(er)s a...
“There's a world of beauty packed inside Tidd's book...Her mettle: She pours the past seven years onto pages for all of us to read and learn from, particularly her "Tips for widow(er)s and those who support them." Her take-down of the empty platitudes we mutter to people who are suffering ("He's in a better place." "Everything happens for a reason.") should be required reading for all humankind...We'd all do well to follow her lead.” - Heidi Stevens - Chicago Tribune
“An amazing book that I couldn't put down and I would recommend to anyone whether they have lost a spouse or not because she is straightforward yet humorous (my husband is dead and Keith Richards is alive?) about how her new life unfolded in the months and years following her husband's death. ” - Cry, Laugh, Heal
“With wit and good humor, Tidd looks back on the time immediately following her husband’s death with charming self-deprecation at her seeming inability to be a good widow. Through this, she shows readers that there is no “right way” to grieve. ” - Library Journal
“Emotional memoir...Tidd combines indignation and sarcasm with humility, and the result is a moving, helpful look at how to navigate the difficult times that come with tremendous loss. ” - Kirkus
“This was the only helpful book that I have read about becoming and being a widow. I found myself laughing and listening to Tidd as I would listen to a friend telling her story; she has a voice that is compelling, a story that is real and a book that is an invaluable addition to grief memoirs. ” - Bitter/Sweet
“Heartfelt and surprisingly humorous memoir...an ultimately uplifting story, and thanks to Tidd’s keen sense of humor her tale never becomes maudlin...Widowers and other readers will find inspiration and useful advice in her candid story.” - Publishers Weekly
“The life of a widow is ever changing and has some very odd “ticks” that come with it...and I feel like Catherine was able to get out on paper what all of us have felt at one moment or an other. This book is a must have for widows, particularly young widows; either in their first 6 months of grief or five years out. ” - Susan Soares
Length: 8.25 in
Width: 5.5 in
Weight: 14.72 oz
Page Count: 368 pages