A Day Like No Other


Today is the 30th anniversary of the day my life changed forever. As many of you know, my husband died on March 22, 1983, when I was 19 years old and our daughter, Carlene, was 11 days old.
I suspect we all have a day or a moment in time that changed us, either by choice or by circumstance. Please, if you feel you can, share your day or moment in the comments below.
Here’s a glance into a few hours of that day, a day so long ago and yet still stings me to my soul:
It was a Tuesday. My Aunt Mavis called the house just before noon. My mom, who was staying with us for a few weeks, answered the phone while I folded laundry and watched “All My Children.” She put her hand over the receiver and asked, “Did Bruce go to town?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I thought he was working in the machine shed. Let me check.”
I opened the front door and called out his name. The sun was bright and the air was a promising 40 degrees. I saw a train stopped on the tracks a half mile from our farm and remembered hearing a whistle blowing longer than usual about an hour earlier. I called to Bruce again. Duke, our German Shepherd, was curled up on the rug at the bottom of the step, a sure sign Bruce wasn’t on the property.
I went back inside. Mom hung up the phone. Mavis heard there’d been a train accident, she said.
My mouth went dry.
“Call David,” I said and turned off the television. David was our pastor and a member of the volunteer ambulance crew.
David’s wife answered and Mom asked her if there’d been an accident.
Please, please, please say no. Please say no. I covered my heart with my hands.
Mom’s face went sheet white.
“Thank you,” she said and hung up the phone. Our eyes met. I knew.
“Lynnie,” her voice trembled. “Bruce is dead. David’s on his way here.”
You know how when you rip off an adhesive bandage and the pain doesn’t hit for a few seconds? The same thing happens when you find out your husband is dead. It takes your brain awhile to understand what you just heard. Even then it doesn’t sink in because the reality is just too big to grasp in the space of a few seconds.
I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water and to turn off the pork chops simmering on the stove. I stared out the window at the south end of our lawn. I thought about the garden I wanted to plant there and made a mental note to remind Bruce to till that up for me. Then David’s car and my brother-in-law’s pickup came speeding around the corner.
Wait. Bruce isn’t here anymore.
I met them at the door. They’d both been crying.
David wrapped me in his arms and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t cry. I wanted to throw up.
We sat down on the couch and I asked Mom to get my wedding ring out of my jewelry box. I’d taken it off a few months earlier because my fingers swelled. My hand shook as she handed me the small band, and I forced it past my knuckle.
“Do you want something to drink?” someone asked.
“No.”
“Eat?”
“No.”
“You’ll need to keep up your strength to nurse.”
“I know,” I said. But I didn’t eat for another day.
I looked down at my body clothed in gray sweat pants and Bruce’s long-sleeved South Dakota State University t-shirt. My breasts leaked like sieves, and I was littered with stitches and hemorrhoids. It was one thing to feel vulnerable because I was overweight. Fat I understood. On my wedding day, my first thought as I walked down the aisle wasn’t, “I’m getting married!” It was, “Oh god, people are going to look at my ass!” But no amount of feeling fat prepared me for what crept through my bloated, post-partum body; a feeling so raw that it settled in my bones like damp winter cold.
From what little experience I had with the formalities of death, I knew people would soon come to our farm armed with casseroles and desserts to pay their respects. Still shaking, I changed out of my sweats and hoped no one noticed I hadn’t dusted or cleaned the bathroom in a week.
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27 thoughts on “A Day Like No Other

  1. I've followed your blog for a couple of years, but wasn't aware of this part of your life. I feel for you. My husband and I lost our first child at the beginning of my ninth month of pregnancy. We still don't know why. Three months later I was pregnant with our now 11-year old son, but I still remember the feeling of devastation.

  2. yes..most of us have moments…reading this stirred all those feelings of my moments…a couple…the most significant…standing next to my dad's coffin, is picture atop, not understanding why his box was closed yet my aunt's a few weeks before was open to see her face.

    Is he just playing hide and seek? come out daddy…. I had just turned 5 a few weeks before… They said his car hit a tree…everyone crying…as I sat in the corner, watching and waiting for Dad to come out and play

  3. As I read this post I was aware that I was breathing rapid and shallow, panting, and praying against what would follow even though I knew it happened 30 years ago. Sometimes pain never goes away. You are amazing for getting through this then and everyday since. You have strength.

  4. Sorry for your loss all those years ago. It's only been 4 years since my husband (he was 43, I was 39) passed away and the day doesn't really get any easier every year. Just a reminder of all that is gone. My children were 9 and 11, I commend you for having to deal with it and an infant. Someday we will be reunited with those we love.

  5. I knew so well from reading your blog for years exactly what today was to you.

    As I started the day, in fact, I was debating whether to send you a direct e-mail today – subject: 30 years – or whether not to. I hesitated because I just didn't know if it would seem too strange, or upsetting, to you, coming from a total stranger.

    I can hardly explain, for reasons I won't go into here, how much the story of what happened to you that day now 30 years past, has affected me. You have written about it so compellingly, not only of the tragic day, but also about your dating years and wedding. It's a sad story, but also a beautiful one. I imagine the miracle of having Bruce's child, and then your second daughter, is what carried you through it all.

    I've had three “frozen in time” moments, all related to someone's death, but they were all older people – people whose time it was to die. No comparison to what happened to you.

    Thank you for all you've shared. Thank you for what it has meant to me to know about it. God bless you and keep you. It is my deepest held belief that you will be with him again.

  6. Donna, I can't imagine how difficult that was and still can be to lose a child. It's a feeling you'll never forget, and I'm sure it caused you some anxious moments when you were pregnant with your son.

    Jules….how confused you must have been. I'm so sorry. My father lost his father when he was 6 and has shared with me on many occasions how difficult it was to wrap his head around the death, the funeral, and his life without a father. As difficult as it might have been, I appreciate your sharing your story.

    To you who lost your husband four years ago, I'm so very sorry for you, too. You and your children are in my thoughts.

    Thank you so much for all your kind and gentle thoughts today. As I told a friend earlier, it's a day to just let things suck, to feel ripped off, and to grieve. I will gather myself together tomorrow and life will go on, but I want to honor the man I loved so much by just being sad for a day, if that makes any sense at all.

  7. Huge hug Lynn, its Tracey Brink:))…..I can remember THE moment, all too clearly. Never fades like other things do….just never fades. I'm 12, my parents are divorced, my father remarried living in another state. I choose to go live there too, with him, I need him at that point in my life a lot….so I choose, arrangements are made, both parents in agreement it will be good for me. I am picked up at the airport in the early evening by a man I adore and miss dearly, though saw quite often despite the distance. Ahhhhh, another home and new beginning and my Dad always with me. We all go to sleep for the night, my step mom goes to shower, me and my step sister out cold. Until, we are woken and ushered out to the front of the house….he is dead now with the 3rd heart attack. Ambulance lights and emts, all too late….we are laying on the floor in the front of the house after it is 'over' and he clearly is walking down the hall to me, I see him, I feel him and know he is with ME.

    He would be amazed at his 3 little girls lives, his grandchildren who are beyond amazing and the great grand children by now. We hold onto those thoughts, so we can hold onto him.

    xoxox

  8. I, too, knew of this story since your blog was the first blog I ever found and when I did, I read it from the beginning and did not stop until I reached your most recent post at that time. That's been a couple of years ago and of course, I didn't know the exact date of Bruce's death, but nonetheless, I think of that time in your life whenever you mention Carlene or post pictures of her. I have a traumatic life event as well that I cannot share, but it happened 37 years ago and still affects me deeply today.

  9. I am so sorry. I still remember the first time I read what you wrote about his death, and the train… and I still feel for you and for the new mother-you who suffered that loss.

    I have two equal moments. One, when my mother died in my arms. Two, when I left the hospital without my newborn daughter.

  10. Even today, the emotions of that day are palpable, as you share your loss. I'm so sorry that happened to you and to your husband. It was truly a pivotal moment in your life, and I can only imagine the sadness it brought you. Blessings to you and your family on this day.

  11. I remember, just like it was yesterday, getting the message that my brother was in an accident and my mom wanted me at the hospital. It was a little over 3 years ago now. I was 6 months pregnant with my son at the time. My brother and his girlfriend had got into a fight on the way home and he got out of the car to walk the last 2 miles and she left him on the side of the road at 11pm. He was walking home on the side of the road and a lady, on her cell phone, hit him at 60mph. No brake marks, she didn't even stop. He was 30. This year I will be 30. I was never supposed to be the same age as my brother. I truly know what it feels like to have a broken heart that words and time cannot heal. One day at a time. It changes you at the core of your very being. I am sorry for your loss and wish you the strength to make it another day.

  12. So sorry for you Lynn. I too had my never forget moment. I was 18, my boyfriend/almost fiancé, 19, had just left on a mission for our church, a month previously. He and his missionary companion were murdered by a crazy guy down in Austin Texas in 1974. The bodies were cut up and disposed of, never to be found. It was a living nightmare, and in fact was in those true detective magazines. Even though it is almost 40 years since it happened, I remember it like it was yesterday. It totally changed my life forever. But things do get better and I eventually married, had five children and now 2 grandchildren. Life sure takes some strange twists, doesn't it?

  13. I think it's very wise to allow yourself to remember and grieve.

    The moment I'll always remember and re-live is not as grave…but the day I found out I was adopted still seems pretty real and vivid. I was 30 years old, and I had finally called the hospital I was supposedly born at to verify the record of my birth (facts just didnt add up). They had no record of me. The truth followed: the woman I thought was my mother was really my grandmother, and the girl I thought was my sister was my birth mother. There was a seismic shift then. The truth changed how everything looked and felt, and the decades of lies kept playing in my head. “You have your daddy's nose.”

    My thoughts go to you on this difficult day.

  14. Oh, Lynn – I'm so sorry to hear this. It must have been so terrible, especially with a newborn that needed you! My stick-in-the-mind day was the day that my baby granddaughter died. She was diagnosed at 23 months with medulla blastoma and spet the following two years having surgeries, chemo, radiation – so horrible for a baby to go through, to say nothing of my daughter, who was suffering right along with her child. But the day she died, I was the one that had to carry her little body out to the hearse and lay her on the gurney. October 27th will always bring that awful memory, although she's been gone long enough now that we mostly remember how she made us laugh and how sweet she was. Except on October 27th.
    Thinking of you, Lynn, and feeling your pain. Love, Donna

  15. I'm sorry Lyn. Just always remember that there are so many people who have suffered terrible loss but still they stood up and enjoyed their life. Everything happening in our life has a purpose. Trust in HIM and always pray 🙂

  16. A short while ago my ex husband died and it hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I think it was because I was so sad for my children because he isn't around any more.
    I cannot imagine what you went through. “hugs”

  17. I am sorry. I know the feeling of losing some one and it really hurts even though many years have passed. I am also happy for you that you have moved on and have enjoyed life.

  18. Too young to deal with such story came into real life. You're a strong woman that I really admire. And I believe he always watches out for you both. Wish you always living happily.

  19. I almost cried at this post of yours. Losing someone you love is really devastating. It's good to know that you are strong enough to endure all the pain and all the things that you've been through. Just stay strong. My prayers are with you.

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