(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


January 20th marks 29 years since I was young (Very YOUNG. Since I'm barely 29 now, you do the math ... lol) and five months pregnant and, upon answering a knock on my door one very stormy evening, was informed that my husband was dead.

Well first I was informed he was in an accident. When I turned to grab my coat, asking which hospital ... I was told he was dead. It didn't really compute.

At the door were a police officer and a man I knew slightly. Apparently he had been driving by and stopped. Since he was an acquaintance I guess the officer asked him along.

I think that evening created my lifelong abhorrence of 'drop-in' guests. I never really put 2 and 2 together until I started ruminating about this post today ... but throughout my life, I've really had a 'thing' about people not calling first. 99% of the time, if someone knocks on my door and I'm not expecting a guest, I just don't answer. This has been something I've had to make adjustments for here in France. It apparently is no big deal for people to just show up. Not only do they just show up, but then if you invite them in they expect a coffee or something!!!

Perhaps this is a universal thing and merely another reflection of my slight social retardation! There's a whole OTHER explanation for that one ... we'll save it for another time.

So anyway. Yeah, there I was ... more than five months pregnant, still unpacking into the house we had just bought and were moving in to. The two guys laid the news on me ... and me being me, after about five minutes or so I escorted them to the door. Told them I'd be fine. It was cold and wet out, they should get going.

I kind of wandered around in a daze for a bit. Numb. Somehow, some way ... a bit of sense got through and I knew I was definitely not, by any standard, fine. or okay.

I called my aunt and asked her to come. Of course, all these years later I don't have the clearest of recollections. I remember a blur of phone calls. The worst one was having to call his brother. My husband was the classic 'big brother', being seven years older and at first protector and later best friend to his younger brother. It would have been easier to slug him in the stomach with all my might than to tell him John was dead. But no choice was involved.

My aunt arrived and listened to me sob through the night. I slept fitfully and when awakening, at first was convinced I was dreaming. An aspect of my pregnancy were horrid dreams. Not long before THIS night I had, in fact, dreamt that he had died.

The next day(s) were reserved for wishing I were dead, too. They are a blur. A dear friend of the time, Anna, had lost her own husband in the past year. She, unfortunately, expressed knowledge and experience I did not. Mostly of what to expect from those first awful hours and days. She arrived that morning, and began cooking and manning the door. Manning the door?! yes, well ... speaking of uninvited guests ... apparently when someone dies that is also the way ... just show up and offer condolences. or casseroles. or help. Never mind that the surviving family is currently a member of zombieland...yes she looks human! she walks, she talks ... but honestly there is no one behind that deer in the headlights gaze. During those ensuing days and weeks, people showed up and packed my house. I went to stay with Anna.

Not long after he died, I was summoned to an office in the courthouse and given a death certificate. And a paper bag with his personal items. I took the bag back to my room and opened it. Inside were blood-soaked jeans and one blood spotted Nike trainer. Bright lime green! we used to laugh about those shoes.

We owned a couple of small cafés and did trade barters with other local merchants. One was a shoe shop, a youngish guy who lunched with us daily. When John came home with those shoes, gotten on trade, I teased him that he got the short end of the stick as I was convinced no paying customer would have left the store with those shoes.

But I digress. I kept that bag buried in the back of the small closet in my borrowed room. Certain nights I would take out that bag and place the items on the bed. I wanted to ask someone where was his other shoe?! but I was too scared of the reply. Instead, I let my imagination run wild, which was likely even worse.

I've always regretted following the advice of those who urged me not to view John's body. That it would be too much. After he was cremated and the memorial service past, I still longed for that one last look. A common occurrence for the bereaved, I would often be convinced I saw him on the road. Walking down the street. Maybe he didn't really die? They were wrong? How would I know for sure since I didn't see him for myself. And would he be angry with me for not having been brave enough to go look?

One day, I was sitting in our attorney's office, going over endless details. Richard Parsons was his name and I wouldn't have made it through the mire that is post-death logistics without him. He offered his services pro-bono as my husband died without insurance. without a will. leaving me without a clue. Richard was a friend of John's, a customer of ours and an essentially kind person. An east coaster, somehow here he was in this poe-dunk town we lived in ... making his way as a prosecutor. He had a Columbo-like aura about him, right down to the wrinkled trench coat and gruff yet endearing manner. Here was a man who went through life barking ... and yet, visited me in the hospital four months later when I gave birth to my daughter.

I was still going on about the fact that maybe John didn't have to die. How did I know they did everything they could for him? It seemed too long for ambulances to arrive ... maybe I should sue someone. Exasperated, Richard barked out at me... he was DEAD! There was brain matter on dashboard! Do you want to see pictures?!

Stunned silence ensued and from his expression, I knew he regretted his words. He realized I didn't know the extent of ... it all. But in a way I was relieved. At least from a small amount of guilt in not having visited the body before cremation.

There are many tales of this time in my life. I may begin writing about them. Isn't it funny that I've never done so? Me, a supposed wannabe writer ... avoiding a goldmine of material like that.

Boy, I can ramble on can't I? where was I?

Yes, 29 years ago my life received another punch below the belt. At the time, although horrible, given the preceding years of my life ... this incident just seemed par for the course. Each of these blows, though, served to shape me. Prepare me for the long haul and help me be the self-sufficient woman I am today.

All these many years later, it doesn't take much to bring the emotions around that particular loss to the surface. He was my first REAL love. Life was even harder after that and for a long, long while. I loved him because he was my vision of a real man. He could do stuff! real stuff like building things, growing things, fixing things. I loved him because he made me laugh like no one could, and I had already spent so much of my life not smiling. I loved him because he loved me and he made me know it. I loved him because he was older than me and knew things and had experience he was willing to share with me. He made me grow. My world became an empty place when he was gone.

But here I am now! Having fulfilled so much of my responsibility, for our daughter and such, I am embarked on a new journey. Enjoying my time. If he's around somewhere and sees me, I hope he has a smile.


Randal Graves said...

This is another one of your posts where I have no clue what to say, but wanted you to know that I read it.

JouJou Loves You said...

Wow. I lost my brother and parents in the course of 6 months when I was 10. My best friend was murdered in high school...and when I was 19..my 'second' father died of cancer. But this...I just have no clue about. I can't imagine losing a spouse, let alone while carrying his child. What an amazing woman you are....and still living life to the fullest!!! You have raised a beautiful daughter and you are still carrying out your dreams. You are a true inspiration to me. Bravo ma belle...BRAVO.

softinthehead said...

WOW - how terrible for you, like Randal just wanted to let you know I was here.

La Framéricaine said...

Posting this tribute on the anniversary of John's death seems to me to be a powerful way to honor his memory, his contributions, his fatherhood, his brotherhood, and his value to you as a friend, lover, husband, protector, and "real man"/jack-of-all-trades, as well as a way to keep him radiating the life force, malgre his abrupt and dramatic loss to you in daily life those many years ago.

It also seems to me to be a very loving way to reach back to the bereaved, inconsolable, stunned young wife--shockingly widowed--and pregnant, soon-to-be mother who would have to find a way to raise her baby without its daddy and to create a life worth living for the two of them.

To reach back to her and let her know that you took care of all of it and that she is going to be fine 29 years hence is a great gift and a profound encouragement.

John sounds like he was a really nice man. I'm sorry that he died. I was moved to tears by both your telling of the story of that young Kim's loss and by the losses it reminded me of from my own life.

Peace with your memories today, Kim.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

rg-I just appreciate you take the time!

jou jou! sending internet hugs is so cliché but to lose one's closest family at that age is unimaginable. talk about being a survivor, wow. maybe we should start our own secret admiration society ... smile ... and yet, don't you find it hard to imagine the woman you would be if this hadn't happened. I sometimes try to think of that person I was and it is hard to summon her up ... thanks for your kind words, and if I can inspire you, well that is a compliment indeed.

softinthehead - thanks for letting me know...I'll be stopping by your blog soon ...

LaF - thanks for that. January is always a difficult month for me ... but this year seems a bit softer somehow. John was no saint, he was a good man however and he has long been missed.

Life's losses are hard, but they do teach us things, don't they ...

Michelle said...

Somehow I suspected you had a story like this inside you. Strong, independent people usually do.

From what you've said about your relationship, I'll bet he has a smile too.

Sometimes those stories just need to be kept close until such time as it feels right to share them.


Anonymous said...


Your strength amazes me. You are one of the strongest and most capable people that I know and know I know why. You are so missed here in beaverton!

nate beaty said...

made me cry. i have very vague memories of that time in roseburg, being what? 4? like others, I can't begin to understand what you went through, but am in awe of the strong woman you've become.

Mrs C said...

Nothing profound to say. This was beautiful and I just want you to know that I read it.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Michelle- I suspect you are right, it has been a long time coming though.

Anon-thanks so much. I miss you folks as well. The best part of being in Oregon was the friendships formed. xx

Nate-you can't know how much that means to me. sometimes I wonder what the fambly must make of crazy old me. thank you.

mrs c. - merci bien ~

Neil said...

This is the very first post of yours that I have ever read. What an introduction. There is much sadness in their tale, but I also hear the resilience of a strong woman.

Notre Vie Juteuse said...

I had no idea....

I'm sure he is proud of his lovely woman...who wouldn't be..you leaped...you did it...you are doing it and I'm proud too.

I agree with you about the drop in guests..WTF. We are like you - didn't answer the phone or door in Los Angeles, but you have to in france, friend just pop by...i would never do that, I always (and still do here) call before...just me.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Neil , welcome, just found your blog not too long ago so glad you stopped by. and thanks for the kind words. hope to see you again!

NVJ-thanks as always! and yeah, my drop-ins tend to be before I'm dressed! wtf!?! LOL

Riana Lagarde said...

oh lord, you are one of the strongest women that i know. that is probably the hardest thing to go through. i am so sorry for your loss and i wish that i could hug you. thank you for sharing your story with us, of course i am all teary eyed now.

i was thinkng of you a few days ago. i'm slowing adding links of bloggers in france that have great information and was looking for one of your comments and then, viola you commented. thank you for your outlook and kind words, i appreciate them.

peace and brightest blessings to you

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

riana ~ kind sentiments coming from someone I judge to be quite strong indeed...thanks for thinking of me.