On Loss, Love, and the Birth of Something Holy
Aaron in Canada 2018
Emergency room doctor and nurse angels greeted me with the annunciation of his death. I felt the truth of it in the virgin part of myself while I was enroute to the hospital, and like Mary, I shook my head saying, “How can this be . . ?” My response changed, once the news was delivered, to the inquiry of Zechariah, “How will I know that this is so?” or literally, “Can I see him?” Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, my beautiful husband of 24 years, Aaron . . .
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” ~Luke 1:12
The week before he died, he was feeling very overwhelmed. Aaron was the executor of his brother Jay’s estate and needed to finish emptying Jay’s trailer to get it ready for sale. Jay had died in April, the day after Easter, and Aaron was disappointed in himself that he hadn’t gotten the trailer cleared out yet. Additionally, it had been raining for about two weeks, and so he had not been able to mow and weedeat the yards, a task he did meticulously and with the pride of stewardship. He was taking care of our yard, my mom’s yard, and Jay’s yard. He also wanted to cut a couple of boards for his nephew, because his nephew was redoing the floor in his bedroom. All that combined was just a lot.
I had booked a spot at our favorite campground a month or two earlier for Sunday, September 11th to Wednesday, September 14th. My mom had fallen on July 15, 2022 and began requiring 24/7 care at that time. At the time of this account, she lives next door to our home. Aaron and I were providing 88 hours of caregiving per week since then, and I had gotten some caregivers to cover our shifts so we could have a little time away.
Given his feeling of overwhelm, Aaron told me that he didn’t want to go on the camping trip. I assured him that I completely understood and encouraged him to take the time he needed to get things done. I emphasized to him that it was vital for me to go, though, just to have some time away from work and caregiving. I also suggested that it might be nice for each of us to have the time alone, not away from each other per se’, but just to have some time to ourselves. He agreed. So on the Thursday prior to his death, he had a pool (billiard) night at our house with his only remaining brother, the oldest child, and enjoyed an evening of fellowship. Aaron was the youngest of eight full-siblings — five boys and three girls — and there were only two boys left. His brother had taken Aaron and me out to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for dinner the Sunday before to celebrate Aaron’s 65th birthday, which was on September 3rd. It was a special time in which Aaron and his brother fondly expressed gratitude and affection for one another. The day before, on his actual birthday, Aaron had raved about how perfect his birthday had been — getting some yardwork done in the morning, riding his motorcycle, eating one of his favorite meals which I prepared for dinner (spaghetti with Italian sausage), sitting on the porch with my mom and me at her house, then watching a game together in the evening.
On Friday, Aaron washed the RV, checked the oil, the air in the tires, and the propane level, ran water through the hoses to check for leaks, and filled it up with gas for me. I had told him prior to doing all that not to go to that trouble, and instead, to focus on the other things he needed to get done. He jokingly told me that getting the RV ready for me was the only thing he felt like doing because he had drank too much the night before. We shared a chuckle, and I was glad he had been able to relax with his brother.
During the day on Saturday, he accomplished some tasks and visited with me and my mom at her house on Saturday night. I finished my caregiving shift at my mom’s on Sunday morning and came home to meet him. I asked him to tell me everything that he did to get the RV ready for camping. I had requested this of him other times before, but we kept putting it off. This time I insisted (serendipitously, it seems), and I made a list with him that morning. He teasingly exclaimed, “An independent woman!”
After that, we made love, cuddled, and spent time talking together in our coffee room. Then we hugged and kissed, and I drove off in the RV. I blew the horn at him when I got to the end of the driveway. The road doubles back and parallels our driveway. He ran down the driveway past our row of ligustrums, and waved at me with a big smile. I blew the horn at him again. That was the last time I saw him alive.
We didn’t speak after that, but texted right up until the Tuesday morning. One text I received on Sunday night said, “I’m lonesome.” He had been writing that he wanted to try and come up and meet me at the campground, if he could finish his work. On the Monday, he said that he had completed all of the weedeating and just needed to finish cutting the grass. Since I didn’t have enough food for both of us, we planned that he would pick up some boneless pork chops on his way out, have a nice motorcycle ride up, and arrive at the campground between 3 pm and 5 pm on Tuesday. He was supposed to text me when he was on his way, but he forgot. On the day he died, the last correspondence I received from him was about our plan for leaving on Wednesday, which said, “Yes, we will have coffee and then I’ll head out.”
“She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” ~Luke 1:29
I had an extraordinary day on September 13, 2022. I awoke and sat overlooking Indian Creek Reservoir with a cup of coffee. The morning was brisk and beautiful, a blue sky, sunny day. I went for a bike ride through the forest, followed by a lakefront walk. After lunch, I finished watching a movie and napped. I was connected to Aaron on the Find My Friends app, so I noticed that he was already on his way to the campground, but still a good distance away. I was so looking forward to our evening together.
Around 3 pm, I headed to the beach and was the only person there. I swam in the warm, comforting water and sat in a lawn chair with my legs in the lake and a sunhat on my head, all but dozing. I noticed the enveloping intensity of the wind. At some point, I got up and practiced yoga postures on the beach. I checked my phone about 5 pm to see Aaron’s progress. I had been listening for the rumble of his motorcycle entering the campground. Find My Friends showed his location about 21 miles away, near a city called Marksville. I thought it was odd that he was stationary, but figured he must have stopped for gas. About 20 minutes later, I checked the app again and noticed that he had not moved, so I texted him inquiring if he was okay. When he didn’t respond, I called him, but he didn’t answer. I would later find out that the coroner had pronounced him dead at 5:22 pm, almost the exact time I was trying to reach him. The accident had occurred just before 4 pm.
A sense of foreboding descended upon me, and I hurriedly mounted my bicycle and rode back to our RV. Once there, I called the Marksville police department and inquired if there had been any accidents in the area. The officer said that none had been reported and gave me the number to the state police. I called the state police, and the dispatcher forwarded me to a trooper who told me that there had been a serious motorcycle accident and that my husband had been transported by helicopter to Avoyelles Hospital. He gave me the hospital number to call for more information. I immediately called my younger son, who lived about an hour and a half away from the campground, to let him know what had happened and request that he come and meet me at the hospital. I called my older son, who lives out-of-state, to alert him also. Still sandy and in my wet swimsuit, I walked to a neighboring campsite, whose occupants I had already met, explained the situation and asked for a ride to the hospital. The camper told me that his wife was on her way back to their camp, would arrive soon, and then take me to the hospital.
On my return walk to our RV, the hospital called me. I immediately asked the operator if I needed to make any decisions. I was thinking that the staff may need permission to operate or have questions about life support. She replied that she would transfer me to speak to a doctor. “This is Dr. Bordelon,” the male voice informed. Before he could say anything else, I told him that I was en route to the hospital and didn’t want to know anything before I arrived. He confirmed with me that I was on my way, and said, “Okay, as long as you are on your way.” Later that evening, I learned that the doctor with whom I spoke was the coroner. I hurried to my RV, took a brief shower, dressed, and walked back to the campsite next to ours.
The angel that brought me on the 45-minute journey to the hospital was kind and compassionate. Her name was January. As it happened, January had worked six years for the sheriff’s department, so was familiar with these types of scenarios. We were delayed by a train, but we kept our composure, despite feeling the weightiness of the situation and the compelling urge to arrive at the hospital as quickly as we could. As January drove, I phoned my sister-in-law (the widow of Aaron’s brother who had died six years prior), a friend, and Aaron’s remaining brother and sisters to alert them of the events that had taken place. Arriving at the hospital emergency room at approximately 7:30 pm, January offered to accompany me in, but I declined. After a short wait, I was taken back to a white, cold, sterile room where I received the annunciation.
“Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” ~Luke 1:28
I did not hear the words proclaimed by the doctor angel, “There has been a serious accident, and your husband is deceased,” as, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” Although I know that the transmission is a matter of my interpretation. So I asked, “Do you know the details of how it happened?” And the doctor angel told me about a truck that failed to yield and how Aaron was the collateral damage. Then wanting to see my husband but unsure if it would be wise to do so, the angel nurse said, “Yes, he looks okay. His face just has a few scratches;” the doctor angel adding, “The injuries were to his pelvis. He bled out at the scene.” My wondering, grasping for breadcrumbs, probed, “Was he alive when he arrived at the hospital?” “He had a faint heartbeat. His injuries were incompatible with life,” the doctor angel responded.
I did not want to see Aaron’s body until my son was with me. The heavenly messengers told me that to await my son, I could remain in the room where I had collided with a truck of information — I, too, being collateral damage. I declined and said that I would rather go outside. The nurse angel escorted me through a different door than that which I had entered, and I sat on an empty bench. I called my out-of-state son and my dad’s brother (my deceased father’s only sibling), who lives about 25 minutes from my mom’s house. I told my uncle the news, asking him to go to my mother to inform her and be with her so that she would have the support of family. Perhaps ten minutes passed before my son arrived, and I ran to him in the parking lot saying, “He didn’t make it. He didn’t make it.” We embraced, cried together, and sat on the asphalt for what seemed like a timeless expanse. Eventually, I called my sister-in-law, a friend, and Aaron’s sister to share the devastating news. I recollected myself and said, “I guess we need to go in,” and so we set off to face the inevitable.
For eight years of my professional life, I worked as either a social worker, a chaplain, or volunteer coordinator for hospice. I have had the grace to be present with many people when they transitioned from their earthly lives. And despite this fact, I expected to see my husband’s body lying serenely in repose, thinking that I would rush to hug him. So when we entered the room where his corpse lay and saw his mouth gaping open, I was taken aback. We circled his body, huddled together, several times before I gathered the courage to touch him. Once I made contact with his flesh, my son, deeply respectful, gave me space to engage and explore.
I began the ritual of encounter, feeling the sacredness of the endeavor. I took my time. A sheet lay over him nearly up to his neck, so I uncovered his arms, taking them out of the hospital gown that covered his nakedness. His arms were beautiful and largely unharmed, his fingertips tinged with blue, his hands cold. I rubbed and caressed those strong, masculine arms — my arms, my flesh, mine — and tenderly kissed his hands. I drew the gown down to his waist, revealing his torso. There were three stripes across this area, running diagonally, that looked like large curling iron burns. The wounds were clean and did not mar the loveliness of his chest. Even his sweet, toned belly was perfectly intact.
I moved now to his feet and revealed them one by one. They showed no sign of harm. I bared his calves, and they too, were unmarked. I did not expose his upper legs or pelvis because I knew that this was where the fatal injury had occurred, and my heart did not want to see it.
Having examined his body — my body — I pulled a chair next to him, laid my head on his left shoulder, placed my left hand cupped within his right, and reached up to feel the thick, soft locks of his hair as I rubbed his head. Time stood still, and I got cold. So my son contacted a nurse, who offered a warm blanket within which I wrapped myself. I moved my hand from his head to the snug space between his upper arm and chest, which was still warm. For a brief moment, I laid full out next to him on the table. At about 10 pm, the funeral home representative arrived to remove Aaron’s body. Before I let him go, I cut a few locks from his hair and secured them within a paper towel. I had the grace of two hours with his body, which felt so brief.
My son and I departed for the campground and approached the gate about five minutes before my older son joined us. Having waited for my older son, we then used a special entry code provided by January’s husband, a park official, to enter the grounds and head to the RV. I was so grateful that we were able to be with one another on that fateful night.
“When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.” ~Luke 1:23
The three of us spent a sleepless night huddled together in the queen-size bed. We were headachy and congested from all the weeping, our bodies painfully exhausted. I wanted to stop my copious crying in the remote chance that I could doze, so I focused my mind on silently counting. There was no comfort to be found. In the morning, we sat together overlooking the lake, having a precious cocoon of time before we would have to return to the reality of a world in which Aaron had died in a violent motorcycle crash.
One of my sons had driven to get breakfast for us, and while we sat at the picnic table to eat, I received my first communication. My phone lay face-up on the table, and it was reflecting an absolutely unique sunburst of primary colors that caught my attention, the likes of which I had not seen before and have not seen since. I knew that my husband was announcing his presence and offering his reassurance that all was well with him. A little after 11 am, some friends arrived to drive the RV home for me. We didn’t go straight to my house, however, because Aaron’s phone had still registered his location on Find My Friends at the scene of the accident late into the prior evening, and we wanted to retrieve it. I had spoken to a state trooper earlier in the morning, and he had given me the coordinates of the crash. The trooper who attended the scene was off-duty at the time of my call.
The site of the accident was about 45 minutes away from the campground, and we were unable to find the exact spot with the information we were given. As we were walking in a field in the area, looking for Aaron’s phone, a motorist drove up alongside us and ascertaining the reason for our presence there, directed us to the actual location of the collision. We were able to see exactly where it happened and speak to an eyewitness who was at work that day in the establishment in front of which the crash took place. She reported that the driver of the truck never saw Aaron approaching, was shook-up by the incident, but not physically hurt. This 22-year-old man had turned right in front of Aaron to enter the parking lot of the sandblasting shop. My husband hit his truck broadside at approximately 55 miles an hour. The entire front assembly was torn off of his motorcycle, his helmet landing on the passenger seat of the truck, yet Aaron was still holding onto the handle bars, slumped over and bleeding. The driver of the truck was operating with a suspended license and was not wearing a seatbelt. The blood test, performed on him directly after the incident occurred, revealed that he had two types of THC in his system.
Having gathered the information from the eyewitness, we crossed the highway and again began searching for the missing phone. Very shortly, one of my friends who had come up to drive the RV home for us — a dear friend of Aaron’s — spotted the phone. We were all surprised at how quickly he found it, and he told us that he had silently asked Aaron to show him where it was laying.
Aaron & Ani
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” ~Luke 1:37
While traumatic for me, the rightness of my husband’s death cannot be denied. It was exactly the way he wanted to go and the way I hoped he would go, as well. After finishing everything he wished to accomplish that week, he died quickly, engaging in one of his favorite hobbies on a sparkling, clear day. His heart was filled with the anticipation of joining his beloved, with whom he had experienced a beautiful, committed relationship. Nothing was left undone, no words unsaid — a perfect ending to a very human and significantly happy life story. We fought, we laughed, and we cried together. We made passionate love. In the midst of our most heated, intense moments of conflict, we often remarked to one another that no one else on the planet could provoke greater heartache for us than we did with one another during those occasions. We two had become one flesh.
A couple of weeks prior to his death, Aaron had asked me if I would continue to live in our house if something happened to him. Premonition? And the week before he died, I had taken the time to tell him what a wonderful step-dad he had been to our sons — such a positive role model who never raised his voice at them, offered them so much encouragement, and deeply respected their biological father’s place in their lives. Serendipity?
Despite these comforting observations, I couldn’t stand up straight for several weeks after the devastating news and have been riding the rollercoaster of emotions that the five stages of grief evoke. Yet, I feel his presence with me often, when one of our favorite songs spontaneously starts singing itself in my mind, when I notice little love notes that he leaves just for me, and when I encounter him in my dreams. And trusting that there is a season for everything, I am learning to see the world through eyes that receive his death as a gift and an opportunity, like other difficult teachers that have visited me throughout my life — not as a God-ordained calamity meant to derail me, but as a natural part of the human experience. I can receive this circumstance as a gift that will facilitate the birth of greater love and compassion in me or consider it an unfair punishment that is destined to embitter me. The choice is mine. What is not an option is that any of us will remain forever in our human form.
So, aligned with the in-breath, out-breath practice of acceptance, I surrender to my life as it is in this moment. At times in a whisper and summoning my courage, I utter a conscious intention, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And I have faith that, “The Holy Spirit will come upon [me], and the power of the Most High will overshadow [me]; therefore the [life] to be born will be holy.” May it be so.
Dear friend, May your mind be peaceful and calm, may your body be relaxed and comfortable, and may your heart be filled with love. Thank you for reading. Blessings and gratitude, Ani