It’s funny what you remember after a loved one dies.

All the little details get stored in your brain like one big flash drive of memories just waiting to be downloaded at a moment’s notice.

But nothing jogs the memory (or causes as much anxiety) for the bereaved quite like numbers do.

Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, the day they died, the time they died – all these numbers, all these markers of time, associated with a loved one’s death can be torturous and endless.

We each have our own grief timeline.

A calendar that lives in our being. Our bodies remember the diagnosis, the accident, the day of the week that they took their last breath.

It’s all stored within. A new way of keeping time.

Sometimes the body remembers long before the mind does.

For me, whenever I think about the events leading up to my husband’s death, I start to feel it in my body. The aches, pains, restlessness, and inability to sleep all let me know that the day my whole world turned upside down is getting closer.

Every month, as the 25th approaches, my body goes through a series of tell-tale signs, and my mind recalls with anguish every dreaded marker of time that took my amazing husband away from me.

I remember all of them. Every single one.

Here are the numbers that will stay with me for the rest of my life:

08/02/2021 – Frank’s first exposure to the virus known as COVID-19. On this day, one of his coworkers came to work sick with all the signs of Covid and rode around in the truck with him.

Frank was a 4-year kidney transplant recipient whose exposure to germs made him very high risk.

He went to work on this day, just as he did any other day. Only this time not realizing that his life would be over in a matter of days, and mine would never be the same.

08/05/2021 – The last day of Frank’s exposure to the virus, and his last day at work. Literally. He would never again return to work after this day.

10 – Frank worked at his job for EXACTLY 10 years to the day. He started work on August 5, 2011, and ended work on August 5, 2021, without even trying. If that’s not completion, then I don’t know what is.

19 – As in COVID-19. I’m just going to leave that right there.

88 – The number reading on the pulse oximeter, which told us that things were getting dire and that we needed to get Frank to the emergency room quickly. A normal level of oxygen is usually 95% or higher.

Who knew that such a small device clipped to a finger could bring such bad news?

14 – The number of days Frank stayed in the hospital. For the entire 14 days he was hospitalized, his oxygen levels were up and down, but never stabilized long enough for him to come home. That was all I prayed for. It killed me to hear him struggling so hard to breathe day after day.

Eventually, he was moved to the ICU and put on a ventilator.

We both had gotten vaccinated and followed all the safety protocols, but in the end, Frank still caught Covid and died.

I feel guilty every time I think about how I survived my round of Covid without symptoms severe enough to put me in the intensive care unit. But for my beloved husband, it was a nightmare waiting to happen.

23 – From August 2 to August 25 – the exact length of time that Frank lived after catching Covid. Just a mere 23 days.

08/25/2021 – Either on a ventilator or on his own, this is the day that Frank took his final breath.

The day my entire world came crashing down.

The day his beautiful hazel eyes closed for the very last time.

The last day his voice would ever reach my ears to say, “I love you, hon”.

The day my heart would start that forever aching, and my body that forever longing.

The day my beautiful husband died, and so many parts of me died too.

6:06 PM – The time of death. I don’t know why I looked up at the machine when the nurse started unplugging it and removing wires.

I was slumped over Frank’s lifeless body, crying, and making howling noises I didn’t know I could make.

I knew the time of death even before the nurse called it because I could feel Frank slipping away as he gasped his final breaths. Something just told me to look up. I regret listening.

54 – The age that Frank will forever be. Who would have thought that someone as handsome and loving and funny and kindhearted as my husband would die at 54 years old? I never would have predicted it. But it happened.

He was 14 months and 20 days older than me.

We had a running joke that whenever I would catch up to him in age, he would say, “I’ll be leaving you in about two months”. Little did we know how prophetic that statement would be later on.

I am 55 years old now, and for the first time I am older than him. And it will be this way for eternity.

7 – Birthdays are supposed to be fun. Like, it’s a universal rule. No sad birthdays. But once I realized that Frank passed away exactly one week before my birthday, that rule flew out the window.

Birthdays for me have been filled with sadness ever since.

$2,230 – This number might seem unimportant, but still I had to list it because it’s seared in my brain. This is the total amount I paid for Frank’s cremation at the funeral home. Years before, when we were planning our funerals, I asked him what his final wishes would be, and he specifically said, “No funeral”.

He saved me a ton of money (and an ocean of pain of seeing him lying in a casket) with that one answer.

12 – The number of copies of death certificates I had to buy when faced with the mountain of paperwork that nobody tells you about – or helps you with for that matter – after your spouse dies. Nearly $200 alone spent on death certificates!

My dining room table was covered with everything from life insurance policies to retirement paperwork to credit card statements to auto loan forms, and everything in between. It was such an overwhelming task for someone with brain fog and a broken heart.

13,870 – The approximate number of days we spent together. We were both teenagers in 1983 (there’s another number I’ll never forget). I was 16 and he was 17.

Even after 38 years of marriage, we would always say that we were just getting started. Not only did we love each other immensely, but we liked each other too.

We were best friends first before anything else. We complemented one another.

I laughed at his jokes. He finished my sentences (annoyingly!).

I loved him without limits. He saw the good in me the way no one else did.

But crazy enough, we were also opposite as could be. We always said that we didn’t have anything in common, except each other. And we liked it that way.

No matter how many worlds apart we are, we will always be soulmates. Forever and always.

What about you? Are there any numbers on your grief timeline that you care to share? Let me know in the comments.


Let’s keep in touch! If anything resonated with you, please leave a comment below or find me on Instagram @tofrankwithlove


Joyce was born and raised in Oklahoma and is the youngest of sixteen children. She has worked in the education and nonprofit industries for over 15 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership.

In the summer of 1983, at the age of sixteen, Joyce met her husband and soulmate Frank and soon after started a family. They were married for over 38 wonderful and adventurous years.

Joyce is a mother to two adult sons, a grandmother to a feisty Leo granddaughter, and a transplant wife and widow after Frank passed away due to COVID-19 complications on August 25, 2021 after receiving a kidney transplant four years earlier. He died exactly one week before her birthday.

Joyce's writings on grief, love, loss, and the beautiful mess in between are an intimate look at life without her husband Frank and how his unexpected and untimely death showed her that nothing in this world lasts forever, even true love, and that life can change in one tragic instant.

You can read more of Joyce’s writings about her beloved Frank on Instagram @tofrankwithlove