Saturday, September 18th will forever be burned into my mind. That was the day my step-son and I found my beautiful, 36 year old wife, dead on the bathroom floor. My therapist urged me to share my experience with others as an act of healing. Perhaps, through the telling of this tragedy, someone, somewhere, will find encouragement or a better understanding of the fleeting nature of existence.
My wife, Jennifer and I separated in January. She was twenty-three years younger than me and the arc of our two lives were on different curves. There was still much love and respect. We communicated daily by text message or short visits. In most relationships, one partner suffers more than the other. In this case, I was the one who suffered most. I dropped thirty pounds and lost the will to live. She reluctantly admitted that she was happier now that I was gone, but she still loved me and hadn’t given up on the relationship. I went into therapy, seeing a VA counselor once a week to find a way to break my dangerous love addiction or attachment to Jennifer. It was most sobering to face up the reality that I had created.
I had been possessive, volatile, and passive aggressive. I invaded her privacy and lacked trust of her fidelity. I suspected her of being unfaithful. The final straw that compelled me to move out was when she began meeting with her ex-husband at her parent’s house that was vacant and up for sale, to enjoy quiet family moments with her son, his girlf friend, and her ex-husband. She did not tell me she had been doing this while I was at work, and the news of this sent me over the edge. It was only later in the back story that I learned that she did this intentionally to break up the marriage to be with him. Unfortunately for Jennifer, her ex-husband had fallen in love with an old high school sweet heart and wanted to settle down with her, thwarting Jennifer’s plans. Now, the man she truly loved was unavailable and the man who loved and supported her had been lied to and living alone.
On the morning of the 18th, I was supposed to meet Jennifer to give her food. She was an instructor of culinary arts at our local community college, but her classes had been scaled back and she had gone several months without any income besides her child support. Although I was helping her financially already, I tightened my belt and figured a way to live on $50.00 every two weeks, using the about $1000 to pay my own modest bills and fully supporting her. I paid her rent, insurance, phone, cable, power, food, and gasoline, as well as miscellaneous expenses. I loved Jennifer so much that my sacrifice actually felt good. She was extremely grateful, but felt beholding to me. I continued this until we found her dead.
Jennifer did not show up at my place for our meeting and se didn’t answer her texts or phone. I wasn’t overly concerned. I must add that myself, my step-son, her ex-husband, and her parents had been literally begging Jennifer to go to the doctor. Two years earlier, we noticed that she bruised easily and that bruise would swell up in knot with the blood clearly not coagulating right. The wound would fester like a boil and when she lanced it, copious amounts of blood, lymph, and other fluids would come out. It was hideous. She refused to go to the doctor not trusting them because doctor’s had misdiagnosed her father’s kidney cancer in the mid 1980s, leading to his death at age forty. As time went on, Jennifer began to manifest other unsettling symptoms like shortness of breath which she ascribed to pleurisy, low grade fevers, frequent migraines, blood in her urine, fatigue, and later nausea. There were other telltale symptoms as well. Finally, she had scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the Monday that followed her unexpected death on Saturday.
When I arrived at her apartment, I heard the TV blaring, but there was no answer to my knock. I shouted, but still no response. I left, and was about to drive away when I remembered that I had my 15 year old stepson’s phone number, so I took a chance. Even though it was about 11:30 a.m., Thomas was still in bed. He thought his mom was still in bed, so I told him to wake her because I had food and needed to talk with her. I parked the car, and by the time I got in the door, he was talking to the 911 operator. He said that his mom was collapsed in the bathroom. It took some serious shoving against the door to squeeze myself in, where I saw Jennifer lying on the floor, face up. Her eyes were wide open but glazed over. I didn’t know if she had just passed out or was in a coma.
My step-son held the phone to my ear looking down on his mother’s body while I cleared her airway. Her mouth was clinched shut but still moist, her lips cool, her skin cold and clammy. I breathed air into her lungs and began chest compressions chanting loudly as I pumped her chest. I stopped to listen for her breath. Looking into her eyes, there was that unmistakable blurry, far away look that indicated he was dead. I pumped harder and the Sheriff came, followed by the EMT. I was told to wait in the next room and only a minute later the EMT came in to tell us that she had been dead, perhaps for several hours.
Jennifer was just 36 years old and because of her sudden passing, an autopsy was mandatory. TV can be very deceiving. On NCIS and CSI the results of an autopsy that conclusively show the cause of death are neatly revealed in moments. In the real world, toxicology and pathology reports can take weeks, maybe months! All we do know from the autopsy was that she has edema about the heart and lung, unspecified systemic, beginning disease in the liver, kidneys, and spleen. We don’t know what if any medications were involved. The coroner strongly suspects that it was not suicide based on the facts at hand and her bright cheery mood proceeding her death. She was communicative, happy, although in dire circumstances, she left no suicide note, and her son was home. No matter how despondent she might have been, Jennifer would have never done that with her precious son in the house. Of that I am sure.
That leaves all her loved ones to wrestle with the many possibilities for her death. As a self-diagnosing fool, she poured over the Merck Manual trying to match her symptoms with illnesses listed therein. After many months of inquiry, she came up with what she thought was her illness: Discoid Lupus Erythematosus. Had she allowed it to progress so far that it caused some cascading organ failure? If I am allowed to wager an armchair diagnosis, I suspect she died of a brain aneurysm. The fact that she’s dead is the bottom line. I am so broken up, I’m not sure I will ever recover as she was truly the great love of my life.
Now you know why I have been absent from Fraught With Peril. I lost the will to live when we separated, and now that she has died, I must find the strength to continue for the sake of my mission and the welfare of my step-son, Thomas.
Thank you for all your prayers. I love you all.