Husband's Death

At 7.23am on Saturday 4th May 1991 my whole world was turned on its end and therein ensued a series of events that catapulted me from my ho hum suburban lifestyle to a mad, incessantly emotional, roller-coaster ride existence.

My husband died. My loss was immediate, sudden and deeper than anything I had ever experienced. We lived close to the hospital that he was in and I had always felt cocooned by our proximity. Even though he was sick I was close by so everything would be all right. Our separation that morning spawned a chasm that felt a million miles wide and more. I could touch him and his body was still warm but he was gone, gone from me forever. I had never felt more alone.

I was stunned for about a minute before my past kicked in. My past, of responsibility and always taking care of business, of being the mataamua the one who had always looked after my brother and sister, it just automatically began to make me function. I was inside my head screaming out in a wild melancholy but no one could hear me. My automated coping voice and body belied the violent thrashing about within. I began to deal with my predicament by proxy, but I suppose the main thing was that I was dealing with it. Much later on my friends and whanau would say how my strength and composure during that time amazed them. I felt fraudulent, but no amount of talking to the contrary would change their minds. They admired me even more for my humility. I felt an even bigger fraud.

Guilt becomes a constant companion while you sort out your priorities. It is easy to feel guilty because of someone else's perception of a situation. Grief and its responses are unique to each individual. Feeling guilty has no positive features and if one is unable to identify its personae, it is liable to become all consuming and lead to depression. Honest self-analysis of your motives and true intent will often clear any notions of guilt.

There is a lot to be said for the automated responses of the human body for coping when under extreme pressure. It causes you to ponder the extent to which it can be tested. I contemplate constantly whether in fact I am stronger now, then I was then and whether this experience has expanded my coping mechanisms or depleted my inner store. I truly live in fear of having this question tested. I reflect in wonderment that I came through intact, but I am not confident to say that I could do it again.

On autopilot I contacted his father, spoke to him clearly, calmly and with an air of composure. A short precis of the events that had ensued and a concise statement of intent in regard to funeral arrangements all followed in surreal tempo. At the conclusion of my phone dialogue with him, I also told him I was “ok” and that I would call him if anything changed. End of call.

My next call was harder. My best friend Marcia had to be called because she was the only one I could trust to watch my babies while I busied myself with this madness. I knew my composure would be put to the task, but it had to be done, no other way around it. I rationalized to myself that I would need to ask some people for help. I could cope with asking her. Even so, I was mortified by the prospect of being in need, not able to take care of business or in this case my babies. That more than my bereavement now caused me grief. I had lost my independence and I felt vulnerable.

Trust is stepping out of your comfort zone. It relies totally on prior knowledge of a person, their integrity and their ability to come through. It is also composed of an element of risk, which by its very intent esteems the principal of trust.

She was stunned to a state of disbelief. It took me the next five minutes to calm and comfort her. It never occurred to me that perhaps the roles had been reversed. I was intent on her coming to my kids and that far outweighed any personal need of mine. She was on her way to us and I could start trying to bring some order to the chaos. Oh my God! I was growing in strength. Was that allowed? When does composure and strength become inappropriate and heartless? I was a widow but my mourning clothes hadn't arrived.

Hospitals being the ordered places they are, fit nicely into the scheme of things at the time of death. They have processes and protocols that are instigated the second the life support machines are turned off. This was indeed a welcome relief. Finally something that was taken out of my hands. Sudden death adds another dimension to the process- that of autopsy. I again rationalized that this was out of my hands. In reality I was weak and fragile and not up to the confrontation. I took the trade off and besides, I wanted to know why he died. I needed a reason. I have never asked for or seen the full pathology report. What's the point? It won't bring him back.

The Doctors and nurses were very sympathetic in a useless way. They kept saying how sorry they were. I felt they were hollow sentiments and weak. They were sorry for letting my husband die. Sorry as a word to me means failure and weak. I became annoyed at their frailties, I had trusted them and they had let me down. They also appeared perplexed by my resolve. To me they were not players anymore and therefore required little or no interaction. The hardening outer shield was operational.

I began to take on a fervor for making sure I did everything right. It became like a project. As things fell into place and began to conform to a semblance of order, I became elated and even gloried in my achievements. I started to believe the propaganda. I was strong and against all odds I would do this. Anyway why wouldn't I? I always got left with the hard jobs. My flimsy bravado intoxicated me and helped mask the pain. In times of sadness, joy seems to be more vivid. Weakness highlights strength. Peace accentuates anger. The endorphins were ejaculated with orgasmic velocity. The uncontrollable swing of emotion left me punch drunk and sedated.

Grief is the madness that follows loss. It manifests in euphoric highs and doldrum lows. It has a sense of fragility and weakness but it also conceives notions of strength and power. It is a state that when at its perceived moment of strength is probably at its weakest and when outwardly at its weakest is arguably at its strongest. An irony.

At 10pm later that night surrounded by my friends, because we lived in Australia and away from whanau, I went to bed. I had no sooner lain down and I was overcome by a cold sense of being alone. He had left. It was real. I wasn't dreaming. I let out a groan from somewhere I never knew before and I (sic) tangied. I wept for my mum who died when I was eight. I cried for my dad who married again when I was ten and I cried for me. I felt lost and scared and I felt I was stripped bare before my friends but I couldn't stop. My friend Muriwai held me and told me he didn't know what else he could do to help me except be there. I began to feel real that night because the façade had come down and they still loved me. Emancipation can not happen where there remains unresolved grief and emotional amnesia.

Fear is borne of hopelessness. Hope is the antithesis. I wrote this five years later: -

Kia Maumahara
Over Everything
A frustrated silent agony renders mute
Vivid – 5 years past
The question posed again
Helpless – snared by the thought of
Pondered action
What if, What if
When will it end?
A milestone reached
Returns me to the start
A cycle of grief relived
I hear childish mirth
Their life and laughter
The catalyst through

Hope- renews

I am constantly reviewing and reliving these events that have defined who I am and am persuaded to think that I survive because of Hope. Hope that we will meet again, hope that I will get everything right and hope that this is not the end and I haven't used up all my tickets on the merry-go-round of life.

Where does hope come from? Is it a selfish desire borne out of unrealized dreams? Or is it to do with our notions of a greater universal plan. In my case the beliefs instilled in me as a child serve as the basis for my hope. I remember an old hymn that we sang at the church where my dad was the minister that said

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness

Although I was less than faithful to the tenets of the church and certainly fell miserably short in the righteousness stakes, my hope for the future was built inextricably on those Christian teachings of my youth.

The prospect of no hope is fearful and unconscionable. Hope is the energy that fuels my resolve to live and to die, knowing that there is a happy ending at the end of it all.