Getting To The List (a conversation with Source)
An excerpt from The Trifecta of Joy: Help yourself in a world of change. A continuation from the previous blogs: The Most Memorable Ask & Compartmentalization
I now understand that some resort managers have had to deal with these kinds of tragedies more than once. In the case of this resort manager, it was clearly not a first for her. She focused on my tasks.
The top of the list was contacting next of kin. In 2007, when John died, we weren’t using cell phones to store every number in our lives. We had address books and memorized the numbers of the most important people in our lives. The manager asked me to make a list of those that I needed to contact immediately.
My mom. I wanted my mom.
My brother. I needed my brother.
John’s parents. How was I going to tell them?
I wrote them down.
The manager handed me the phone. I stared blankly at the receiver. “Is there a problem?” she asked as she readied her finger to dial for me.
“I don’t know any phone numbers.”
She looked at the list. “You don’t know your mom’s phone number?”
It was the same number since I was 11 and I couldn’t recall a single digit. The manager stared blankly at me, took the receiver, and suggested I sit.
I sat heavily on the white linen sofa looking out at the ocean that had washed into John’s lungs and stolen his last breath. I resented it fully and wondered how I could tell anyone that he was dead. I knew there was no way to prevent others from feeling the ache, pain, and incredible hurt I was feeling, and I didn’t want to have to share it.
I was scared, and I was alone. I looked at the list again, out to the ocean and remembered one number.
The manager handed me the phone and I called my brother.
I had to ask him for our mom’s phone number, the call to her was next.
My final call that morning was to John’s parents. They answered with a chipper “Hello?” and I sobbed into the phone.
All I can remember saying was “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I explained what I knew at that point – he went for a walk and drowned. I had no explanation, no details. Just tragic news delivered across the miles from a fishbowl of grief perched in a beachfront resort.
It sucked. I ached to see my boys, and the manager assured me that they were in the care of staff as well as the other pool-side mother now, as we navigated the next steps.
The police arrived to retrieve his passport – I argued, and despite the automatic weapons and stern faces, agreed only to allow them to have a copy of his passport.
Arrangements were made for me to go to the station to give a statement later in the day, and I was advised that his body remained on the beach “under investigation”.
Noticing the clock, and seeing that three hours had passed, I darted past the police, and ran for the beach. He was still there, surrounded by police tape, and baking in the hot afternoon sun. A couple of officers stood nearby.
I ran to him and grabbed at his necklace. A small pewter medallion with a runner and the numbers 13.1 pressed into the base. The gift he bought himself after he ran his first half-marathon. It was a final piece of him that I could have in that moment, and police scene or not, I was taking it.
I stretched the cord, to pull it over his head. Rigor mortis had set in, and he was stiff, but both warm and cold at the same time. The police ran at me.
“No!” they yelled. I continued to struggle, secretly wishing he hadn’t had such a huge head. Cord stretched, I tried to pull it over his face and around the back of his sand-covered head. I couldn’t do it.
I stood and asked them to cut the necklace off. They refused.
The manager arrived soon after, and arguing with the police in Spanish, said something that clearly made them resistantly agree to remove the necklace.
I like to imagine it was something along the lines of “She’s a crazy bitch, just let her have the necklace!”
As they placed the necklace in my hand, I looked down at John’s body for one last time. I knew it would be the last time I saw him dead and wished I’d paid more attention the last time I’d seen him alive.
Tears streaming down my face, I whispered “I love you”, turned and returned to the list of duties outlined by the hotel manager.
Like a zombie in motion, I went to the police station and gave my report. Insisting on having a translator, after giving my statement, the translator was invited in to re-read back my report – the details were not just inaccurate but blamed him for his death. There were suggestions that he was drunk the night before and had been drinking alcohol that morning. I was clear that this was not the case. He barely drank, and the night before had been up with Isaac. He was parenting and sober. That they wanted to blame his drowning on his lack of responsibility stung like a bitch. The process was hard, painful, and I felt so alone. Even as the translator insisted on the edits before I signed my statement, I secretly begged to wake from the nightmare.
A final stop at the funeral home before going back to the hotel and my babies. A flurry of conversation around processing his body after autopsy, more paperwork, and the costs of storage, preparation, and transport of his body home. We were scheduled to go home in 5 days. The funeral director suggested it would be much longer.
My heart couldn’t take this, my head couldn’t take this. I needed my babies, sleep, and to wake from this nightmare.
The morning had started so beautifully. John had woken with the boys, fed Isaac, and taken Alex for breakfast, and then returned to the room to wake me to go to the pool. We were excited for a relaxing resort day after the previous day of adventuring and life felt connected.
Returning to the hotel every part of me felt numb.
I was a walking zombie alone in Mexico with two children. I needed to find the words to help 4-year-old Alex understand what unexplainable tragedy had happened to his father. I stepped out of the car into the salty moist air, and noticed that darkness was setting in.
This was not the day we intended, and I was fucked. How the hell was I going to create a life after this? How could I show the boys that life was worth living still, when in this moment, I wasn’t sure it was? How was I going to solo-parent these sweet boys and raise them to be even half the man their father was?
It sat with me like lead pellets had been shot into every cell of my body. I had to transition to speaking of my love in past tense. It was fucked up! That’s what it was.
I made my way down to the beach. As I walked down the steps that I had run down earlier, there was no sign of the tragedy that earlier plagued the vacation paradise. Rows of beach chairs neatly reorganized, collapsed umbrellas, all signs of a blissful vacation complete with a sweet evening Caribbean sunset.
A few couples walked hand in hand down the beach, and I realized that I’d never hold John’s hand while walking again. We often teased that with our two boys, our hands were so full we didn’t have the hands to hold one another’s – and promised to be that retired couple walking hand in hand through the remainder of life once they didn’t need our hands at the ready as much. I realized I would never hold his hand again.
I stood at the water’s edge and cursed the crashing waves. Fuck you, water, fuck you waves, fuck you current, fuck you riptide. Fuck you World, Universe, Mexico, God – FUCK YOU.
I don’t know how long I stood there and cried. It was long enough for that salty air to penetrate my senses so deeply that I didn’t know where the salt of the air and the salt of my tears began or ended. The smell of the ocean is now tethered to the memory of that very moment (thank goodness for therapists). The air penetrated my being and I sobbed in anger.
Another couple walked by hand in hand. I could feel their awkwardness as I contaminated their romantic sunset walk as a crumpled mass of emotion plopped on the end of a beach lounger.
Yeah, that could have been me yesterday, I thought. And now it is gone.
There wasn’t a glowing “my husband just died” sign over my head, and whether they could read the grief I was in, they simply walked in a scurry, eyes directly on the ground in front of them as if the beach in front of me was suddenly made of hot coals.
Fuck you awkward couple. Fuck you ocean, fuck you vacation, fuck you world, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, – Fuck you GOD!
What the fuck?
I wasn’t raised with religion, and John had just denounced his membership from his childhood church, and I was sitting there swearing at God.
I breathed, I wept. God. Is there a God, and if so, what had I done in this life to deserve such a cruel and heartbreaking punishment?
As I steadied and settled into the numbness once again, I realized I needed to go and see my – Our? My? – even that was suddenly another little reminder that he is gone! Are they our children still? Are they now mine? WTF?!
I needed to see the boys. The boys. Fuck you God for doing this to them! Why would a loving God do this to them? What did they do to deserve to have such an incredible and loving father ripped out of their lives?
I remember the deep feeling that this was for a greater purpose, and again, I had a solid FUCK YOU GOD going on. But, I surrendered, a little. Really, just a little. I didn’t want God to think I was going to accept all “this is part of a larger plan” bs.
I hurt and it was God’s fault.
And yet, I had a conversation with God.
I asked the Universe for HELP.
I asked for help in raising my children to know that there are still reasons to smile, laugh, and live life with joy.
I asked for grace in honouring John’s life and memory, connection with his family moving forward, and the challenges that I knew were ahead.
And I asked for gratitude. I felt so betrayed and gutted, hurt, and helpless. But I didn’t want to become a bitter woman. I asked that one day, I would be able to have gratitude not for his death, but for the path that it unveiled in the most painful way.
I was hurt but I thought I could ask.
I wanted my life to magically be put back together in an instant. I wanted to wake from the nightmare that was my life and resume the simplicity of our family in its youth.
What could the Universe give me but time and opportunity?
My most memorable ask: I begged the Universe for help.
I didn’t know it then, but that ask for help changed the trajectory of my life. It was the step into trust like no other. My world was shattered, and I needed to find a way forward.
Many of us have had moments where our world was shattered. A change comes that is unexpected, unwanted, and we are never prepared for – and I am not here to measure how big or small it is. Your experience of things is different from mine, and I trust that we can honour our own ways the world has shattered and been put back together.
May this book allow you to see that your previously shattered perfectly imperfect life is worthy of joy! May you lean into your life with trust.
Want to read more?