That night replays in my mind more often than I can control…Mostly when restlessness takes over after waking before the sun has even risen…My mind won’t shut down, and despite my best efforts, that night repeats over and over making my heart hurt and stomach queasy as if it just happened yesterday.
I’m laying in bed when I hear my phone vibrate. For some reason I felt the need to keep it on that night when every other night I always silenced it. I’ll never forget those three words that would forever alter life as I knew it.
“Marissa, Nate’s collapsed”.
No, Nate is strong. He is young. He is healthy…I adamantly repeated that mantra in my mind to help ease my nerves as my parents rushed to our house to stay with Ian, so I could go to him. I was always the worrier. Nate was always the calm to my storm…and he wasn’t there to help calm me….because, as I later found out, he was lying in an ambulance fighting for his life.
Forty-five minutes later my dad and I walked through those doors at Mt. Carmel West, and like a scene out of a movie, I am greeted by Nate’s best friend, Joe and a chaplain.
“Here’s his wife,” Joe shouted frantically to the woman standing by the doors to the emergency room.
I practically ran to her yelling, “he’s ok right? He’s here now, so he’s ok, right”. I was adamant. He was in the hospital, he was going to be ok….whatever happened, we would get through it.
I’ll never forget the look she gave me…one of sorrow and regret as she quietly responded, “oh hunny, I’m going to be honest, it’s not looking so good”.
Everything happened so fast then…and then in the same breath, it was like my world stopped. Just i’m trying to wrap my mind around what exactly a chaplain is and what she meant by her response, we round the corner to witness masks being pulled down from nurses and doctors faces, a curtain being yanked forward to hide whatever lay behind it, and a medic packing up his emergency tools with tears in his eyes. All quiet, all so solemn, unable to look at me.
“Oh no…” the chaplain said from beside me. “He didn’t make it”.
I repeat the events of that night despite my greatest attempts to avoid it. I still see his handsome face laying there so peacefully as I walked behind that curtain. I still feel my tears welling up on his chest under my cheek as I listened for a heartbeat that was no longer there. I still hear my dad in the room next to me, calling Nate’s family members and our friends and family to tell them what we still couldn’t even believe. I still feel his chest hair under my hands as I repeatedly asked him what happened, to which he couldn’t answer…I still see the bruising on his chest where a stranger attempted to save his life. I still see the machines that couldn’t save him. I still feel the crushing weight of a reality that nearly destroys me everytime I think about it.
I see it all, and I still can’t believe it happened.
One of the worst questions survivors of a loved one ask after their death, is why him? Why us? Why?
The next question many of us ask…If there is a God, where was He when my world ended?
I still battle with both of those questions… I was raised Catholic, with a firm belief and understanding that God was not only real but that he played a large role in our everyday lives. While Nate and I weren’t practicing Catholics and didn’t belong to a church, our belief in God was as real as the air we breathed, and we were in the midst of trying to decide which avenue we wanted to take when it came to raising our son with religion.
We were good people, right? We worked hard…We tried our best to do things right in life, and made a conscious effort to live as faithfully to our beliefs as possible, that should mean something, right? This confidence and security we held in God also enabled us to believe in the idea of everything happening for a reason…our faith was steadfast, and we looked forward to exploring how we could implement it in our daily lives more…
And then in a matter of minutes, everything we had held confidence in crumbled.
I remember feeling angry. Confused. So, so naive to think that life would give back what we had given it. To have such blind faith in something…A big guy in the sky who was in charge of our lives.
I remember vividly, laying next to our son hours after laying my head on Nate’s cold chest in the emergency room, wondering how I was going to look Ian in the eyes and tell him his dad had died. Where was this God that was supposed to look out for us? And if He really exists, why did He think He needed my husband more than my son and I?
“Everything happens for a reason”. Bullshit.
“He was destined for something bigger”. Bullshit.
“You’re young and have plenty of time to find a new beginning”. Bullshit.
People say so many things when they are trying to comfort you. And I don’t even blame them…hell, before losing Nate, even I would have probably wanted to say one or all of those things in an attempt to comfort…I have now learned in the most brutal way ever…Do not say the above to a widow. Ever.
We do not want to hear that it was written in the stars that the love of our life was destined to die a young death and leave us in a world of terrifying unknowns. Nope. Definitely not comforting.
I remember reading about Joyce Smith (the woman whose story is being made into the movie Breakthrough), whose son was clinically dead for almost an hour, and supposedly with enough praying, God heard her and gave her son back to her. I remember hearing that story in the early weeks after Nate died, thinking that maybe had I gotten to the emergency room even five minutes earlier…Or if I had yelled or cried louder…If I had done any of that, would He had made the same decision and give Nate back to me? To us?
Over the months, I wouldn’t say I abandoned the idea of God, but I definitely struggled. Struggled is putting it mildly….I still struggle.
How could this happen? Nate was more than a good man…he was an astounding individual who dedicated his life working to be the best version of himself and giving SO much to the world around him. And God took him.
He. Took. Nate.
One night, a few months after Nate died, I found myself venting to my friend Ashley who had lost her husband 10 months before Nate. She was having a similar battle with her beliefs. She said something to me that her mother had told her…and she probably has no idea how much it impacted me… she said her mom’s explanation was, “in a broken world, God doesn’t take…He simply welcomes you home”.
It was also around this time that I then was referred to a book by my therapist written by a man who had lost his son in a brutal murder. He also had similar battles…How could this happen? Why my son? I found such comfort in his words and the conclusion he came to…
Perhaps God does play a role in our creation (side note-I am not and have never been a Creationist vs. Evolutionist…I believe the answer isn’t black and white, but perhaps somewhere in between), but our bodies are born with faults that are out of our control. We age. We succumb to illnesses. We are prone to disease. The list goes on and on. Humans are also born with free will. And its either our physical faults or a matter of free will that will eventually bring us to our final moments on this Earth. Someone is murdered? Death came due to the decision, or free will, of another. Someone dies of cancer? A disease doctors still are unfortunately unable to fully find a cure for. I could go on and on, but his point was similar to that of Ashley’s mom…That God perhaps doesn’t assign us a way of death the moment we are born…Perhaps he doesn’t take…
I tried for weeks to wrap my mind around this idea. Nates heart was sick. Very sick, I later found out from his detailed autopsy report. And he had probably been sick for a very long time without any of us even knowing…With no clear signs, he was literally a ticking time bomb. His death was a direct result of physiological issues we never knew of. Maybe God didn’t make my husband’s heart stop beating then…Maybe he didn’t give him a bad heart that would stop beating at 36…
Maybe he just welcomed him home.
The battle with my faith wages on a weekly basis. I wish I could tell you all that I have gotten to a point where I have confidence in God again. It’s a work in progress that seems to start all over again, day in and day out. Somedays im sure of His existence, somedays im livid and in disbelief.
I can tell you that I talk to Nate almost everyday. I can tell you that myself, along with Ian and several of his other loved ones have received signs believed to be from him, that have no logical or scientific explanation. I can tell you that I do believe that there is something else waiting for us after we die…Because I feel Nate everyday. His presence was so strong on this Earth, that wherever he is, I know he is fighting to make sure we know he is not gone. I can tell you that I have to have some sort of faith that if God exists, that he didn’t take my husband but will make sure his legacy is put to use…Something I already see in the works. I have to have faith because I don’t want to think that i’ll never see my husband again. I have to have faith because I want our son to have faith that his daddy is watching everything he does and continues to be amazed by him and love him from afar. So I’m trying…And I’ll continue to try, especially for our son.
I’m trying to have enough faith in Nate and our love to lead me to some sort of peace down the road.
I’m trying. I’m dipping my toes in. And for now that’s enough.