I knew the accident was going to change my life forever. I just didn’t realize how much. My own recollection of that night is fuzzy. The doctors said something about a head-on collision, a coma, and paralysis. I guess I’ll have to take their word for it. What I do remember is saying goodbye to my wife and telling her I loved her right before my vision faded to black and I slipped out of consciousness.
My wife, Betty, died that day. She was gone instantly, no pain, no suffering, no fear. I’m grateful for that, at least. From my hospital bed, I find that my thoughts are almost always about my wife. Forty years ago, I was the luckiest man alive. I married her in the Cathedral of St. Mary in front of a very private group of our families and closest friends. We were both thankful to be blessed with a beautiful spring day. April 2, 1980. I can remember every detail from that day. I remember how the flowers smelled, what the birds sounded like, how comfortable and secure I felt with her hand in mine. I never wanted to let her go. Ever since the day I met her, I knew I wanted to marry her, and I must say that fate was on my side.
As I come to terms with the reality of my current situation, I find it hard to accept that my love is gone. She was taken away from someone who has no consideration for the safety of others. My soulmate was stolen by someone who couldn’t be bothered with finding a designated driver. Not only that, but his decision put me in a coma for a month. One entire month of my life gone…Betty’s entire life gone. Somehow, though, deep down, I found the strength to forgive him.
There were beautiful services that were arranged for her, and I was unable to be in attendance. They tried postponing everything for a while, but after one week, they just couldn’t wait any longer. I am thankful that our children, Amy and Andrew, were able to film everything for me. The funeral eulogies that my son and Betty’s brother, and sister gave brought tears to my eyes.
And if that weren’t enough, I will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. The car accident paralyzed me from the waist down. I lost my wife and I lost my ability to walk. I’ve out of this coma for five days now. I’m still being pumped with enough painkillers that could stock a small pharmacy, but there’s been some improvements. It was nothing compared to the initial I felt when I first woke up and was gradually made aware of what I already knew, that my wife, Betty, had passed away.
I never would have imagined that the simple brick building I call my home could feel like an empty cave. At that moment, I couldn’t decide what was more welcoming, my house or the hospital. As I walked around my house, memories of my wife flooded through me again. Everything from the pictures on the wall to her favorite rocking chair reminded me of the woman I loved with all my heart.
There is a painting that she has hanging in our bedroom. For some reason that completely escapes me, it was her favorite work of art. She’d look at it every morning while she got ready for the day ahead. A simple oil painting of a bouquet of roses in a clay pot. I thought it looked hideous, but I guess the artist can be his own harshest critic. Yeah, I painted that picture. I did in secret while she was pregnant with our first child, Amy. I wanted to do something special for her while she was doing something very special for us. I always thought she kept it so that my feelings wouldn’t be hurt, but then I realized that things like that (gifts from the heart) mean more than anything on the planet. A handmade painting means more than something purchased in a store. Quality time spent together is more important than the location. A hug, a really good hug, can help heal any hurt, especially a broken heart.
Our house holds a lot of happy memories. We’ve lived in it for most of our married life. Both of our kids were born, raised, and grew up here. Amy found her love for gardening in the backyard and always helped Betty grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Andrew actually shared his first kiss in his bedroom he reluctantly admitted to us later…on his wedding day. The memories are providing me with comfort and relief. The house feels empty, but not as empty as it could be. I know Betty’s still here, even if it’s in spirit. If there were any unpleasant memories, my mind isn’t choosing to process them right now. I guess life truly is not a measure of the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away. Life is too short to spend it dwelling on the negatives.
I never imagined the doorbell being such a welcome sound. My heart was full of joy as I got to see my two children and, between the two of them, my eight grandchildren. The entire day I was surrounded with hugs and kisses and I felt the weight of the past few months lifted from my shoulders.
But the day brought another unexpected surprise. I was greeted with a large large box wrapped in bright red and green wrapping paper. It reminded me of Christmas. Everyone wanted me to open the box right away and said it was a gift from everyone. They gently put the box down on the ground next to me. I was surprised when the box wiggled a little bit. Amy lifted the lid and brought out a Golden Retriever, which she promptly placed on my lap. Then, they preceded to open up gift after gift—all things I was going to need to take care of a new dog.
I named the dog Chloe. Taking care of her has been surprisingly easy. I wish I could play with her more, but the wheelchair won’t let me. She doesn’t seem to mind. She’ll still run and get sticks, play tug-of-war, and hop in my lap as if nothing was off in any way. Sometimes Amy and Andrew came over to check up on things. I was so thankful that they were able to stay so close to home. My grandchildren have been visiting a little more frequently lately, but I am certain the dog is part of that reason.
Chloe has really filled a void in my heart. She’s brought me such comfort and joy over the last few days that I can’t seem to focus on what I had just gone through. I feel my strength coming back to me a little bit. The hospital stay is becoming a distant memory. But I will always remember my wife, Betty.