| This is the 222nd story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland on Valentine’s Day, in 1959—yes, the day of love and joy. While it’s true that I had a mother who loved me unconditionally, my father left my mother when I was just a week old. And what’s more, my father was absolutely loving and giving to my two sisters, but no matter what I did, or how hard I tried to do good and be better, he just seemed to hate me. I asked my mother at least 100 times throughout my life, why did he hate me? Was I another man’s child? Did he want to have an abortion? What really happened?
I never got those answers. And eventually, I let it go because it upset my mother to speak about it. Still, these questions followed me like black clouds over the horizon, no matter how sunny the day was.
I had just finished college and was 22 years old when I met Alex at a summer party on the beach. He had already finished college and was getting his MBA, but at the time I met him, he was working as a firefighter. Yeah. His curly black hair and deep brown eyes hooked me before we had our first kiss. That wasn’t all, behind his eyes was an inner light that never dimmed, a life he brought to every party, and I am happy to note that we began dating soon after we met. Four years later, he got down on one knee on that same beach. I said yes before he even had a chance to finish his proposal.
But, like I said those black clouds on the horizon were always hovering around me.
Within 48 hours of the proposal, my mother and stepdad were cooking out and celebrating my engagement, happy to see Alex walk through their door. But Alex did not come to celebrate. He was there to let me know that he had changed his mind. He didn’t want to marry me. To this day, I don’t have any idea what I said, but I do remember throwing the engagement ring at him and crying for weeks.
Finally, just like a storm ending when the sun starts to peek out, I decided I didn’t want a man who didn’t want me. Hadn’t I already been through that with my dad? Enough was enough. I enrolled in graduate school and waited for the September day to arrive when I would start another year teaching special education. I hoped that working with the kids would dissolve some of the hurt.
By Christmas, the pain had started to fade and a quiet sadness took its place. Still, I tried to breathe again. I even went on a couple of dates my friends set me up with, but no one really stuck.
Alex called me Christmas Eve to wish me a Merry Christmas and asked if we could talk right after the holiday was over. My friends told me I was crazy, but they didn’t know how much I still loved him. Even if it was just to wish him a happy life, I wanted to see him. So I agreed to meet at a restaurant we both loved. When I walked in the door and saw him sitting there waiting, I almost burst into a run straight into his arms—the same arms that had held me when I cried, comforted me when I was confused, hugged me when I was happy just to be alive—but I didn’t. I had no idea what to say or do. As I stood there uncertain and scared, Alex got to his feet, pulled me close. All in one breath he told me how much he loved me, how sorry he was, and would I please marry him? He told me he would spend a lifetime making up for the pain he caused. Again, I said, yes.
I made sure the engagement was at least 18 months, to confirm there wasn’t any lingering uncertainty, but he was steadfast and committed. For the next 21 years, I lived happily with my best friend, sharing in life’s tears and laughter. It was more than enough for me.
Our life together was nothing out of the ordinary. Alex and I were both healthy, middle-aged parents of three teenagers. Still, I felt the looming clouds on the horizon. The ones that had followed me from childhood. Alex always assured me that life would be chaotic, but impending disaster was not on our schedule. For years, I tried to believe him.
One evening in 2004, we had gone out with some friends. We had a wonderful time on their boat eating dinner and watching the waves bounce up and over the bow until the moon came out. We said our goodbyes with hugs and a promise to get together again soon, and drove home talking about the evening, and the children, events we had coming up the next week. I still worked as a full-time special education teacher, and Alex was a hospital administrator who still served as a volunteer firefighter. Our oldest child was graduating high school in six months and was going away to college. Life was busy.
I remember how Alex looked at me in the passenger seat, squeezed my hand unexpectedly while he told me how much he loved me. That wasn’t terribly unusual, but it didn’t happen often. I can’t remember if I told him I loved him too. I think I did. I pray I did. But I’m not certain. It haunts me still.
When we got home we walked into our bedroom and started getting ready for bed. Alex told me he had a really bad headache and asked me to get him some aspirin from the bathroom. I remember hanging up my blouse first while I was in the bathroom, and I so wish I hadn’t. Maybe, maybe I would have been in time to save him. But with no warning, no sound at all to help prepare me for what was about to unfold, I came out of the bathroom with a cup of water and two aspirin and saw Alex was on the floor. Not moving. Not breathing. I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. I do remember screaming his name, running over to him, and calling 911. By the end of the evening, I had my friends and children with me, but my husband had been taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead from an aneurysm. He was 48 years old.
We had spent our entire lives together and never once did I give a thought to understand our “forever-together” was only going to be for the numbered days some higher power gave me. If I would have known how little time we had, then I would have cherished it more. I would have started collecting the days, nights, and memories, and I would have stored them somewhere safe. Then I could have pulled them out to feel, see, and hear him again in my heart when I needed him. But I hadn’t. Instead, here I was stumbling around looking for him everywhere in the lost echoes of time.
Somehow, I swayed through the next couple of years by focusing on my children and keeping their lives as safe and loving them as best I could, given all our brokenness. We all went to grief therapy, family therapy, individual therapy sessions, all of us trying to make sense of Alex’s death. One day, I finally realized that while Alex hadn’t prepared me for his death, he did prepare me for life. He let me watch and be a part of his contagious smile and bright spirit for 21 years. I began to reflect not only on our memories together, but on his strength and resolve. I began to move forward with his sure steps towards my future.
Four years after Alex died, I decided to learn how to scuba dive. Alex and I always promised each other we would go to learn something fun and exciting that we could do together once the kids were grown. Well, the kids were grown. My youngest son graduated high school and was off to college, and while I may not have had Alex with me physically, I signed us up for the class (my body, his spirit).
It was during my scuba diving class I met David. David was the opposite of Alex. Alex had been outgoing and funny. David was soft and gentle. Alex had been bold and brilliant. David was quiet and smart. I could have never found another Alex, so I decided to move forward with someone who I loved in a quiet whisper rather than loud tones. David had been married for 20 years previously, but never had any kids, and he loved mine fiercely. My kids were happy I found someone to share the rest of my life with, and since David was a successful lawyer who wanted me to quit work, my kids declared he was a keeper. They told me Alex would have wanted me to experience all the places, people and things that we had planned to go together but were never realized. David wanted to give those things to me simply because he loved me.
David and I decided to get married and we had a small family-and-friend-only wedding in 2010. Life wasn’t going to be golden again, but I had started to notice the soft hues of pink and yellow in every sunset. David had made my horizon more beautiful, and that was enough.
Towards the end of 2011, David and I had just gone to look at a big RV to purchase for what we called our “Across America Tour” when I started to have pain in my back. The next day I met my girlfriend to go see a movie. But still, my back was hurting so much that by the end of the movie, I needed help walking to my car. My girlfriend and I were sure I had slipped a disc somehow, so I made a doctor’s appointment.
A week later, on the day of my first wedding anniversary with David, I found out I had Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that accumulate in bone marrow. As I processed this news, I realized that time was running out for me.
My kids had already lost their dad at tender, young ages and now, they were going to lose me. Thankfully, miraculously, despair did not consume me. I remembered my children had not been broken by the loss of their dad, rather we had all become a circle of strength. Before the clouds of darkness enveloped my heart, I decided resolutely, then and there, that I was not going to let the cancer win. I wasn’t going to let it prevent me from crawling towards my horizon and reaching the sunlight of life.
Once we told my kids and friends, they became my cheerleaders, helpers, and inspiration. Every time I felt hope slip away, one of my children or friends would pull me back. They made me brave. Every chemo session I had, one of them was with me.
Curiously, I am no longer afraid to die because I have been given a gift with this cancer. The cancer has allowed me to see my whole life as it surrounds my bed and caresses my hair. My friends and my family are everywhere I turn my head and I feel they’re around me every hour of the day. I hear their prayers when I am sleeping. I feel their love and hope when I am weak. Even in death, love is enough.
This is the story of Carol Williams
Carol was born in Maryland to a loving mother and an absent father, who cast a looming cloud of darkness over her spirit. When Carol met the love of her life, she was sure things were too good to be true. Twenty-one years later, Carol’s husband passed away without warning. After finding love again, Carol was diagnosed with cancer. It was when she faced death that she realized there was nothing to be afraid of, and the dark clouds became powerless. Carol worked as a teacher for students with special needs, kept a Christmas tree up in her living room all year round, and LOVED the water (and was convinced she was a mermaid in a past life 😊).
Carol passed away on November 16, 2012, surrounded by her family and friends. Carol was preceded in death by her late-husband Alex, and is survived by her three children. Exactly a year after her death, Carol’s husband David passed away. Often referred to as “Princess” for her noble character, Carol’s life continues to be a source of strength and hope to those who knew her.
This story first touched our hearts on December 10, 2018.