Adrian Gutierrez. The name of the most beautiful man I’ve ever known. I say his name every chance I get, even though people sometimes still wince when I do. They stare at me with wide eyes, wondering if I’ve just reminded myself that he’s gone, and wait for the tears to flow. The truth is that I’m not reminded of anything. I am acutely aware of his absence. I feel it in my bones. Just as I felt it the night he passed away.
The evening of March 27, 2017, Adrian came home from work, changed into workout clothes, and headed to the gym. Normally I would have gone with him, but I had completed a 10-mile obstacle race 2 days before, and it left me out of sorts, so I stayed home. When he returned, he said he had a good workout, but must have really pushed himself because he could not catch his breath. He showered, put on a pair of track pants and laid on the bed. He still could not catch his breath.
My heart sank knowing that something was wrong. Adrian was tall, healthy as a horse – a superhuman individual. When he said he was fine I believed him. Still wanting to make sure of it myself, we compromised: since he did not want an ambulance, he let me drive him to the ER. By the time we arrived, he was having difficulty breathing. As I walked up to the front desk he stayed behind by the entrance, and an EMT had just parked his ambulance and walked past him. I told Adrian he needed help right away and said to him “please flag him down, you need help”. With his breathing already very heavy, he managed to say to me “I’m fine, just finish the paperwork.” These are the last words I’d ever hear him say.
Shortly after, Adrian collapsed in the waiting room and was rushed into the ER. Hours went by. His sister and her boyfriend had already arrived at the hospital, and the doctor pulled us into a private room. “Adrian suffered a massive heart attack. He did not make it”. Thoughts raced through my mind: “How? He was so healthy. He had never had any signs or symptoms of heart problems. His chest didn’t hurt; he just could not catch his breath”. In shock, I dropped to my knees – not quite understanding what that feeling was in the pit of my stomach. I closed my eyes and felt tears roll down my face. I could hear his sister crying and trying to reason with the doctor. I remember someone screaming. It was the sharpest, most painful and gut-wrenching sound I had ever heard. It took me a moment to realize that this sound was coming from me.
I’m sorry for your loss?
In the days after Adrian’s passing everything hurt – my body, mind and spirit. I could not stop crying and everything triggered a meltdown. The first and most important thing I did for self-care was to stay off social media for a month or so. The immediate family had not had a chance to make sense of this tragedy, and yet the next day, it seemed that EVERYONE was posting about it on Facebook. Friends. Acquaintances. Even people whom Adrian had not seen or spoken to in more than 20 years posted about it. “How did it happen” was the burning question that made my blood boil. His death was discussed in full and intimate detail, in the comments section of their Facebook posts. Some well-intentioned people offered condolences to these strangers – “I’m sorry for your loss”. Your loss? Not for the loss of the mother and father who just lost their baby or the siblings who just lost a brother. I’m sorry to you stranger, who decided it was more important to share YOUR loss without any regard for the privacy of the family. I’m sorry to you, who felt it was your duty to divulge private details. I’m sorry for your loss of the kid you knew in 6th grade, but knew nothing about in his adulthood. I’m sorry. For your loss.
What Happens Next?
It is unfair in so many ways, that he is gone. Why him? Why me? Why us? Not only was the love of my life taken away from me, but now I also have to figure out a life without him. And I better do it quickly because the mortgage is due in a few days. How will I manage by myself? What will happen to the house, and the cars? I cannot afford this. I cannot make it on my own. I don’t want to go on without him.
Somehow – miraculously, really – I have managed. Adrian continues to be my biggest inspiration. I have learned to change my refrigerator’s compressor, fix a leaky toilet, unstick a garbage disposal, swap out the old washer and dryer for new ones, prune the palm trees, and I have done this all by myself. I have always wanted Adrian to be proud of me, and I still want to make him proud.
Maybe there is no magic formula to grieving properly. There is no right or wrong way, and everyone does it very differently. My husband’s 2 year anniversary is coming up quickly, and contrary to what some people promised, time has not healed any wounds. I have only learned to live with the pain. My first thought in the morning is always Adrian, and he is my daily motivation. So what happens next? I survive. And I am going to do my best at it so that I make him proud.