I honestly don’t remember what exact time the doorbell rang. I just remember checking on the pot of vegetable beef soup I was cooking before I jumped in the shower. This Southeast Georgia heat and humidity was almost unbearable this time of day and we certainly weren’t used to it yet. My restless kids were running around inside the house while I rushed to finish. It was nearing dinner time and it would be a couple more hours, give or take, before Justin would be home.
“Mom! Mom! Mom! There are 3 police cars in the yard!! I don’t want the police to arrest me!,” yelled my 10 year old from the hallway.
I was kind of annoyed. The kids were banging on the bathroom door for the millionth time this summer. Could I just take a shower in peace? Why in the world were there police at the door at 5 something in the afternoon on Saturday? How do I answer the door while I am in the shower? Do I get dressed quickly?
The kids kept shouting, “mommy!! The police are knocking at the door and they aren’t going away.”
I threw on a bath robe and ran to the front door, eager to get on with my evening. I was counting the hours until Justin came home from work. The 12 hour days at home alone with the kids were long and we all looked forward to him coming home. It was often the highlight of my day. If the kids were still awake, as soon as you could hear the jingle of the keys in the front door, all three of them came running from wherever they were in the house screaming delightfully, “DADDY!!!!” They were climbing his legs, hugging and kissing him and squealing with laughter, before he could even close the door behind himself.
I opened the door just wide enough to look out and hide as much of my pregnant-bellied bath-robed body behind the door. I saw three men, two I had never seen before and one that I had been getting to know. He was the counselor I had been seeing. He looked me in the eyes and said, “…go ahead and get dressed. Take your time. There’s no rush.”
My mind was racing. Why was my counselor dressed in a police uniform? Why was he at my house with two other men? I had seen this type of thing in movies. Were they coming to tell me someone had died? Who was it? Maybe there was just a bad accident. Or, maybe someone was arrested? But, there are 3 men and 3 cars out there. I scrambled to find something to wear. “Please, please, please, God. Don’t let it be Justin. Please, God, please. Please, don’t let it be him. Please, God. I love him. I want him here with us. I need him. We all need him. The baby isn’t even born yet. Please, God, don’t let it be him.” My heart was pounding as I repeated this over and over. I was shaking all over when I finally found Justin’s red Airport Day 2018 t-shirt and a pair of denim maternity shorts and flip flops to throw on.
“Mommy, why are the police here? What’s happening? Are we okay? Mommy, why?”
“Baby, I don’t know. Let me go outside and talk to them and find out. Stay in here and wait for me.” The kids were visibly worried.
My my 10, 6, and 4 year old children stood behind me in the hallway as I stepped onto the porch and closed the door. I didn’t know what they were going to say, but they couldn’t say it fast enough.
A man in uniform introduced himself to me as the Sheriff. In those next few moments, my world stopped spinning and time stood still as the beginning of the deepest agony I have ever felt filled my being.
They asked me questions and I answered each one.
“Where is your husband today?”
“He’s at work.”
“Where does he work?”
“At the airport.”
“There’s been an accident. There was a plane crash and he died.”
I put my hands on my 31 week belly and felt the kicks of a tiny one who had yet to meet his daddy. One of my worst nightmares had come true.
I felt like someone had just punched me in the chest and tore out a large piece of my heart. I had so many questions. The pain was searing me. Emotional pain made physical.
“How did it happen?” “We don’t know yet.”
“Where is he now?” “In the morgue at the hospital.”
“Can I go and see him? I really want to see him.” “We don’t think that’s a good idea. The plane caught fire shortly after it crashed.”
By the time I found out that the love of my life and father of our four beautiful children had died, several hours had already passed.
This can’t be real. I did NOT want this to be real. I needed to see him. To touch him one last time. To tell him how much I loved him.
I had just seen him that morning!
It was early and all of the kids were still asleep. He was working at a different location that day. I was getting that low-quality pregnancy sleep you hear about, when he asked me to get up with him help him to get some food together for the day. He wasn’t sure if there were any restaurants near that airport or if he would have time to leave the day for meals. They had a full schedule planned. Typically, the kids and I went to his usual work location on Saturdays to bring him lunch and see him. But, he wouldn’t be there that day. I contemplated it. I really wanted to keep sleeping, but I also knew that his days were long- usually 12-14 hours- and I thought to myself, “you know, this is a chance to spend some time with him before he goes to work.” We made coffee. He got dressed for the day and grabbed all of his normal stuff- phone charger, phone, coffee, lunch, shoes. We chatted about his plans that day for work. We talked about Monday- his day off.
I liked walking him out to the car in the mornings. It was sunny and hot already. We laughed about some things we noticed that had been funny. He handed me 3 eggs that a customer had given to him. I laughed at the 3 eggs he put in my hand. We hugged and kissed goodbye.
“I hope you have an awesome day at work today.”
“yes. you, too.”
“I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I smiled and watched him drive away in his black Subaru. Man, I love him so much. I thought about how I would see him that night.
I honestly couldn’t wait to see him that night. He had been traveling so much for work lately. But, every day of the past week with him had been so fun. I was missing him before he had even left for work. He was my person and we were raising these beautiful kids together. We had moved to this new state for him to pursue his dream career in skydiving. We had another little boy coming in a couple of months. Things were looking up. We were in the prime of our lives doing what we had both dreamed about. So much of what we had been working towards was coming together.
That was the last time I saw my husband alive.
You don’t lay in bed next to your husband while you are both scrolling facebook on your phones at night and chatting, thinking to yourself that it will be the last night you sleep next to him, the last time you will be able to reach across the bed and touch his arm or snuggle up next to him and fall asleep.
I didn’t realize that it was going to be my last morning spent with my handsome best friend. I didn’t know it was going to be our last conversation. Our last laugh together. Our last hug and kiss.
I heard it said that we all know that people don’t just disappear into thin air. But, when someone dies suddenly, with no warning, it’s as if they do.
That day, my healthy, fit 39 year old husband vanished from mine and my kids’ lives. And he took with him every meaningful thing that he was to us.
The next 499 days were about to unfold and we were about to learn what life without him would be like. And, it has been more painful that I could have ever imagined.