Recently a friend and two cousins got married and I was unable to attend any of the weddings (three weddings total). So I had posted a sappy statement in my Facebook status sending them words of advice about marriage from my perspective as a widow. Which was basically a few simple things I say to everyone:
Don’t go to bed angry.
Have no regrets.
Always let each other know how you feel.
I always sign wedding cards with a wistful “Peace and Long Life,” underling”long.” I don’t mean to be morbid to others who are about to embark on the happiest day of their lives, but I feel this need, sometimes, to provide sage words of caution about the possible twisting turns in the road ahead. I guess some part of me wishes I could have been warned of such possibilities on my own wedding day. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so headstrong. Maybe I wouldn’t have sweat the small stuff so much. Perhaps I would have appreciated my husband more than I think I did in his life. I want people in love to remember, always, why they chose to marry and to try their hardest to never lose sight of that vision.
Which I know is hard. I was married. We fought sometimes. Doors slammed, mouths clamped shut in silent, stubborn anger. But the fact that such happened the very week my husband died reminds me all the more that it was a good thing I made up with him. I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel now if he’d died before we had a chance to make up with one another. The rest of my breathing life, I’d fret about the apologies left unsaid. The one thing I do have in the aftermath of loss is that Mike knew I loved him at the moment he died. And I know he loved me back. It’s the one thing I cling to. It’s all I have.
As a result, I am much more careful about how I treat the people I care about. I try to not let business go unfinished for too long. Life is too short for grudges. Regret can weight very heavy on your heart. I know because I still have regrets. There’s always some way to guilt yourself about the loss of someone you loved, especially when you feel that you could have done something to change the outcome.
In the process of posting the message on Facebook, I learned something that touched my heart about one of my other friends–a person I knew in college. Her husband has cardiomyopathy–the very genetic heart disorder that claimed the life of my own husband. Her husband, however, is alive and well because they were scared enough to pursue tests to find the source of an episode he had that, like my husband, looked like a stroke but was really his heart forgetting its programmed rhythm. He has a pacemaker and a defibrillator installed by surgery in his heart. But he’s alive. And they are both able to have more time together.
I’m so happy for this friend. I’m relieved that she did not have to suffer my husband’s fate or the horrible days that followed for me in the wake of his death. As jealous as I may occasionally get in the light of others’ marital happiness, I would never wish premature widowhood on even my worst enemy. I just don’t have that kind of vengeance in me. Sure, I feel spiteful at others who I feel do not take their life, nor the lives of others who care about them, seriously and I feel it’s a terrible waste when someone doesn’t realize how good it is they have it, how desperately I’d love to switch places with them; yet, I would wish this outcome on no one. No one deserves to watch a loved one die.
Yet in spite of the happiness I feel for this friend, I am saddened by her story too. Not for her, but for myself. Here’s evidence that all I was told by doctors later was true: Had we known that Mike had cardiomyopathy, he could have been saved. Sure, he’d have to experience open-heart surgery at such a young age, but his youth would have been on his side in the recovery. I’m sure it would have been traumatic. I’m sure Mike would have been sad and depressed at first. I’m sure he would have felt his whole world change. But he’d have been alive. I know that even Mike would have realized the utter grace in that.
We could have had our kids (Sabine and Korbin). We could have moved to Colorado. We could have had many more years together than we were given. Life would be tougher, sure, for he’d be on medicine the rest of his life and he’d always know that machinery was keeping his heart on beat. But he’d be alive.
We still had mountains to climb. I could have taught him to become obsessed with cycling. We could have done so many things. But we didn’t get that chance.
I ask myself over and over again why we did not seek the guidance of medical professionals after he had what was his first–or possibly second–cardiomyopic episode. Why didn’t I insist he get checked out? Why did we leave it at the emergency room doctor’s insistence that all he had experienced was an anxiety attack.
Anxiety attack! Mike?! Pul-lllease! Anyone who knew Mike knew he was not the type of person to have anxiety about much. He was a very laid-back person. He took life as it came and dealt with “issues” (his favorite word) as they arrived with a calm patience. I was the one who always panicked. I’m the one with hopeless anxiety about everything.
I know that it’s stupid to get upset over an event that has come and gone. You can’t change the past no matter how much you wish to. However, my one and only regret is that I didn’t have the maturity to understand the possible seriousness of his condition. I was young and dumb. I used to jump out of planes–I never really believed that I could die. Not before I was old. I’d never known anyone who died young. I did know it was possible; I just didn’t think it would come anywhere near me. It’s so weird to remember how little I thought of such things. Now I’m much more aware of my mortality.
I guess I can blame Mike, too. He wasn’t scared enough to pursue it. We both maybe thought we were invincible. Neither of us were willing to face the seriousness of his problem. Now we have both paid the price for our innocence.
I know I should just let it go. For the most part, I realize there’s nothing I can do now. I just am sad because I’ve found living proof that someone with cardiomyopathy does not have to die. It was easier when I told myself that most people die the first time they have a cardiomyopic episode. Mike had possibly two chances to get this problem resolved. We ignored the first two warnings. He struck out the third time. Too late.
I am comforted, though, knowing that smarter people than me have done what they should. I’m glad my friend did not have to watch her husband die. She should feel extremely lucky indeed. And I feel less alone in my understanding of what cardiomyopathy is, since I usually have to explain it to everyone, and I’m always trying to justify that my husband’s death was not the result of lifestyle. Cardiomyopathy happens to healthy, athletic young men and women. It’s genetic. It has nothing to do with fried food, clogged arteries, or smoking. It’s just an unlucky combination of genetics.