An anniversary: what I’ve learned about loss

Gone but never forgottenFive years ago today, my world was changed forever when I awoke to find my precious wife Allie dead on the bathroom floor. Mine wasn’t the only world altered, because Alicia had a big family and was well-known in North Alabama and South Central Tennessee as a TV news reporter for WAAY-TV in Huntsville. That’s where we first met in the 90s.

We’d only been together for two and a half years and had been married for just 18 months when she passed. She was just 41 years old. She died of an accidental drug overdose, primarily dextromethorphan, the ingredient in most over-the-counter cough medicines. I wasn’t aware that a small percentage of the caucasian population can’t metabolize dex properly, and that it can build up in your system and reach toxic levels. The autopsy revealed she had twice the lethal level of dex in her bloodstream. She went to the toilet, fell asleep, lapsed into a coma, and died peacefully.

Those who remember will recall the outpouring of love that followed that day via a blog entry where I let people know what was going on. Over 250 comments followed, from my close friends to those I barely knew. Alicia was a public figure, and everybody loved her. The Web held me up during those hours. You held me up during those hours.

Those close to me know it broke my heart, but I had some excellent counseling, mature friends and a strong sense that she would want me to move on. At her aunt’s home the following day, I was outside crying and begging God for answers and asking for a sign that everything was going to be okay. She was my rock in troubled times, and I felt so alone. I went into the dining room by myself and sat in a recliner, when a young niece that I’d never even spoken to before came into the room, climbed up in my lap and whispered in my ear, “It’s going to be okay.”

A month later, Jerry Gumbert came to see me in Nashville, bought my company, and moved me to Dallas to become a part of AR&D. Allie would’ve approved, but I was sad that she never got to witness the fruit of our sacrifice together. There were many times when we were together that we didn’t know where our next income was coming from, but I kept writing. She believed in me — in the vision I had — and that made us strong together.

I had a tombstone custom made that included the words we spoke together before closing our eyes at night, “He gives to His beloved sleep.”

So now it has been five years, and much has changed. The pain has slowly evolved into warm memories. I’ll always miss her, because she was my best friend, one of a kind, but I don’t have that deep emptiness that dominated my life in the months immediately following her death. I’ve learned about grieving, and I’m a lot more sensitive when a friend experiences a loss, any loss. I learned that families can turn on each other in the pain of grieving, and I had to bear the awful accusations that I failed to “protect” her and therefore was somehow responsible for her death.

Dragonflies were a special symbol for us, and occasionally, I’ll find myself talking to a hovering dragonfly as if it was her. I think that’s okay.

One thing I’ve learned about loss is that the turning of life’s pages doesn’t have to mean shutting down the love you had for the one who has gone. That’s a biggie, for without trying to enforce an abrupt end to loving, life has a way of smoothing out the edges and evolving things over time. That’s my most important advice to anyone who has experienced a great loss. Don’t stop loving. It’s unnatural.

I’ve learned to laugh again and let go, and for that I’m very grateful. A counselor told me that most people can turn the page but few really let go. My counselor also told me that our loved ones want the best for us, and that should be reflected in our behavior after they’re gone. Allie would be upset if I’d shriveled up and pined for her the rest of my days. That’s such a romantic notion, but life is for the living,

I’ve learned other things, too. Like how precious and short life is and that to live in the here and now is where Life exists. I still have my moments, but for the most part, I’m pretty mellow and happy. Life gives us that, if we’ll but receive it. I don’t take any moment for granted, because it could be your last altogether or the last with the love of your life. I’m so grateful that Allie and I had the kind of relationship where we wouldn’t allow anger before we went to sleep. The last thing she said to me in this life was, “I love you.” I’m lucky. Almost no one gets that.

And so I’m thinking about her and going through old memories, those I store in a box in the closet and in that special room in my heart. And I believe that wherever she is, she knows it.

Comments

  1. John Robinson says:

    What a wonderful piece, Terry. Thank you for sharing it.

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