Four short weeks ago, I heard a loud, unsettling thud come from the bedroom. Four short weeks ago I found him on our floor, struggling for life. Four short weeks ago, my CPR training was used for the first time, albeit, it took me a minute or so to remember that this was a skill I possessed. Four short weeks ago, 10 large men, in all sorts of uniforms, entered my bedroom - some of them gentle and some of them aggressive - for what reason they were so mean to me, his terrified wife, I will never know. Four weeks ago I rode in an ambulance for the first time, frantic in the front seat and questioning the medic for why he wasn’t driving faster. Four short weeks ago, I watched a dozen medical professionals try everything they could to bring him back to life. I stood next to him, begging him to return to me. Four short weeks ago, I held his body and felt it turn cold. I sat there for hours, in a hospital that I have passed by hundreds of times. Four short weeks ago, I confronted death as an intimate lover, holding my husband close. I held death’s hand. I kissed death’s lips.
Today, October 27, also marks the two-month anniversary of our wedding celebration in Denmark - when many of our nearest and dearest joined Sergiusz and I in a weekend of intercultural and intergenerational love. We had Polish traditions and Jewish traditions and Danish traditions - each custom embraced by all. This is how we liked to live our life. At home, before beginning a meal, we would say to each other, ‘smacznego’ (polish). At the end, ‘tak fa med' (danish). And often times in the middle we would cheers with the word ‘slainte' (gaelic) and embrace his fluency in Hebrew and my comfort with the words that we once studied together when we met in Israel. I must admit though, I always gave him quite a hard time, that he, the Polish unaffiliated Catholic spoke fluent Hebrew, and me, the American Jew, could barely order a falafel.
Two months ago we were the happiest we had ever been. After that party, once returning home to Boston - an apartment we were eager to move from as we had our sights set on heading north to Maine - we talked about what the celebration meant to us. He felt as though he proved himself to friends and family. He cooked the meal, which any of our guests will agree was, and excuse my language, fucking delicious. He fed all 70 of us. We signed a ketuba that made no mention of God, but rather confirmed our unwavering commitment to embracing each other’s unique cultures and heritage. Then he stepped on the glass and we threw one over the shoulder - a Jewish custom followed by a Polish one. For Sergiusz, the success of this party was permission for him to stop trying to prove himself, he had done that, and incredibly well. For me, I felt this was permission to keep moving forward with our unusual way of taking in life. “I am allergic to this word should,” I would often remind him. “We can do life however we want.”
How is it that two months ago we were at the peak, at the beginning of everything - with just enough differences between the two of us to keep us centered. And then just four short weeks ago, our story, at least in this physical world, ended. There are no words and there are no answers. It is never normal for a healthy, happy 28-year-old to collapse suddenly and die.
It had been the most normal of all normal Thursdays. I went running and he went grocery shopping. I was culling through photographs and he was researching farms to buy in Maine. He annoyed me just enough that day that he felt bad and bought me flowers - those flowers are still alive in front of me - four long weeks later.
He always told me that if flowers last a long time, it meant they were given with love. In these four weeks, many flowers have been sent, but these flowers from him, these are the only ones still standing tall.
In the past four weeks, I have learned more about this world than I ever wanted to know. When someone dies, you often think you will learn about death, but really, that is an inevitable reality impossible to learn about. Death is death. What a grieving person receives are daily lessons in what it means to be alive.
On the night of his death, I was yelled at by a police officer who most likely was younger than me - this man shouted at me to get out of my bedroom. I turned to him and gently asked, “Why do you have to be so mean. My husband is dying in front of me.”
I had to jump on the bed to get around the paramedics and search for his wallet to show them his green card. Luckily we lived in a nice neighborhood, as in that moment, I realized that despite Sergiusz’s status as a legal immigrant - on the path to naturalization - had he looked different, had I looked different, had we lived in a different neighborhood - so many officials would not have come to our aid, especially so quickly. And for what reason were they repeatedly questioning if he had been on drugs I will never understand. Why does that matter when the only goal is to bring back the breath.
I have learned that death is expensive and had I not been left with four parents who are dedicated to making sure I heal, I would have had to make the choice to give him a dignified death and go deep into debt, or to take care of my financial future - a choice no person, especially one wrapped in the grimacing shock of grief, should ever have to make.
I have learned that to wake a mother up in the middle of the night to tell her that her only child has died, suddenly, without warning or reason, are the hardest words I will ever have to say. Kocham mamę i tatę.
I have learned the remains of a cremated body are heavy, although nowhere nearing the weight of the emotional pain.
I have learned that most people don’t know what to say to a grieving person and that unless you have faced something like this, personally, not by association, but truly personally, you never will. There is no reason to pretend you do. If you would ever like to know the words that hurt me most, so you can better move forward in being a comfort, please write to me. Transparency is how we share the lessons that none of us hope to have to learn.
I have also discovered that every grieving person is different and grief changes minute by minute - literally, minute by minute. In one moment I want support from the people around me, desperately, and a moment later I will want nothing more than to be left alone in a corner of solitude and destructive despair. If I can’t keep up with my own grief, how can anyone else? This will be a long, rough road to navigate with those close to me.
I have found that while bourbon eases the pain at night, it takes nothing away from the morning. I have accepted that words will not fix anything, no preacher nor stranger with a suggestion for my future has the power to fill the void in my heart. And no friend nor family member knows an unseen truth which will turn fact into fiction. To be a comfort to a griever, simply just make space for the griever. Sit with the griever. Show love and acceptance for the griever.
In four short weeks I have accumulated twice as many condolence cards as wedding cards. The two boxes sit next to each other. Some gifts remain unopened, a reminder that I was robbed.
Most importantly and perhaps with the most unfiltered anger, layered with an uncomfortable appreciation, I have learned that the sun still rises.
Four short weeks ago, I woke up embraced by my loving husband. We had our entire future in front of us and our first wedding anniversary coming up in just a couple weeks. And four short weeks ago, I fell asleep a 27-year old widow in my parents basement, clutching his ring now worn around my neck.
I never slept in our apartment again and packed up all the dishes before my appetite had time to return. In four short weeks, I have lived a thousand lives. But it only took an instant, one terrifying moment, for everything, every fiber of my being, my purpose, my perspective, my identity, to change.