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I lost my husband of 38 years suddenly 11 weeks ago tomorrow. We were empty nesters with two grown children, and two adorable granddaughters. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Don was in our driveway helping my son-in-law change the brakes on his car.  The plan was to have a cook out once they were finished.  My son and daughter-in-law were also there.  I was in the back yard playing with my granddaughters, when I saw Don come in the back gate.  We made eye contact, but he didn't say anything to me. A few minutes later, my daughter-in-law came out and said Don needed me.  I went inside to find him in the recliner.  He said he didn't feel well, and he had a cold towel on his head.  I got some ice packs and put them on him.  It was a humid day outside, so I attributed this to the heat. He felt a little better, so I told him I needed to go pick up the pizza I had ordered.  He asked me to send my son.  I told him our son would need to help our son-in-law finish changing the brakes on his car. (Son-in-law is not mechanically inclined at all).  Don said oh, ok.  I think he said good idea, I can't remember.  I told him I'd be right back, and not to get up from the recliner. I asked my daughter-in-law to check on him, and I went to pick up the pizza, and that's the last time I saw him alive.

When I came home, Don was not in the recliner.  I went upstairs and found him on the bedroom floor.  His eyes were half open, and his face was sort of purplish.  I screamed and ran downstairs and my legs gave out.  Everyone else was still outside, but heard my scream and came running in.  I ran back upstairs to do CPR, and my son called 911.  I knew he was gone, but I kept doing CPR until the paramedics showed up. 

So now, 11 weeks later, I still struggle with such guilt and regret for leaving him when he wasn't feeling well.  My therapist always asks me, "Would you have left knowing he was in serious trouble?"  No, of course not, but I still should have known.  He asked me to send our son to get pizza.  I didn't pick up on that... why??  My therapist also says that if I would have stayed, whatever happened to him still would have happened.  Yes, probably, but I would have been there.  I would have gotten him help quicker.  He would have at least had a chance.  And if he didn't, at least he would not have died alone.  He was alone.  This man who I adore, died alone. We don't really know the cause, although judging from his symptoms, the doctor thinks it was a heart attack.  He was 56.  I was asked if I wanted an autopsy, but I said no.  I didn't want them cutting him up.  But now I find myself regretting that decision. Nobody knows what happened.  Nobody knows why he got up and went upstairs, or what he was doing when he collapsed. I keep trying to fill in the blanks, and it's driving me crazy.

To add to the guilt and regret, we were in a rough patch before he died.  Not to blame him, but he always had this habit of decreasing his antidepressants every summer, and I could always tell, because he was more anxious and impatient.  We had a stupid argument two weeks before he died.  It was so totally stupid, but he got very upset with me. We were in a restaurant and I brought up something that could have waited until later, and he got angry and left. In the days that followed, he barely spoke to me.  He stayed upstairs mostly.  Gradually we started to talk, then it was "sort of" like it never happened, but we never openly discussed the argument.  Two days before he died, he picked up steaks and grilled them.  As he was grilling the skies turned dark and we had a storm.  He brought the steaks inside, and the power went out.  We ate dinner by flashlight, laughing about it.  I guess you could say the air was a little clearer between us, but again, we never resolved the argument. 

I am finding that the "ok" times are lasting a little longer, but my lows feel ever lower.  I'm able to laugh and play with my granddaughters, able to go places with my kids and not burst out crying.  But I also find myself crying alot more when I am alone.  I'm talking all out sobbing until it feels like my ribs are going to break. He was my one and only, my best friend.  We enjoyed each other's company.  We could do things together, or just sit there and not say a word, and be completely content.  I miss him so much, and my heart and my life are completely shattered.  I haven't been able to work a 40-hour work week since I've been back to work.  I get to around mid-day and I just fall apart, because I know when I go home, he won't be there. Just me in this big empty house. It's so painful.  

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Replies to This Discussion

Crabby I just wanted to let you know I also left my husband when he was sick, he had liver problems and the doctor had told us he would only live a year if he did not get a liver transplant.  So we were getting on the list for that and I thought, you know, he has a year to live at least.  A few days after we went to the doctor, I was scheduled to travel for business, and I debated leaving him, but I decided to go.  The night I left, he went into delirium (this happens from buildup in the liver) and the next morning of our friends was scheduled to go over and check on him and they called and told me that he would not get off the couch to let them in.  He was unconscious and of course the ambulance had to come and I rushed back home.  He regained consciousness for a few hours and died a few days later.  

Also his father, who also lived in town, is a doctor, and he has also suffered a lot of guilt, that he should have known better, as a physician, etc., the severity of the state that his son was in.  It was terrible for all of us and we all felt really guilty.  But the fact is that no one really knows, we're not doctors, and even if we are doctors, we trust the specialists, etc. probably only someone who works in hospice care or sees the dying all the time can know what precursors to death look like.  How would you know that your husband wasn't just overheated?  And also, what could you have done?  I had to ask myself that question, even if I hadn't left my husband, he still would have died.  Maybe would have been prolonged a bit but he still would have died.  

This type of situation is different from someone who knows their spouse has cancer or something and you have a prolonged goodbye, but I just wanted to reach out and let you know that I also left my husband alone and I tortured myself thinking about what that night was like for him alone, what I could have done, why someone didn't tell me, that I was a cold person for deserting him, but death is so outside the realm of the everyday that I don't think we recognize it when we see it.  My heart goes out to you and I just wanted to tell you that I have been released from guilt, I still feel bad but I promise you, it will go away.  You sound like a wonderful wife who gave your husband 38 wonderful years that he treasured.  God bless you.  You are not alone.  We are NOT doctors, and even doctors don't always know death when they see it (I mean our liver specialist said my husband said a year to live and he died less than a week later!!) .  Grief is grief and cannot be avoided but guilt is kind of senseless so I hope you can let go of it.  Sending much love and peace your way.   You are definitely not alone.  

Oh littleblue I am so sorry.  You absolutely have no reason to feel guilty or blame yourself.  You were told by a medical professional that your husband had another year to live.  I just feel like that one phrase that Don said should have alerted me - when he asked me to send my son to get the pizza.  To me, that should have been a red flag, but I didn't pick up on it.  I know that my being home when it happened may not have made a difference, but it would have given him a fighting chance if I was there.  And I would have been able to say one last "I love you." We wasted so much time being mad at each other.  I let him slip through my fingers. I should have held tighter.  Now the should haves and what ifs are haunting me. 

Hi Littleblue, 

I read a timely blog from KevinMD this morning, and I think it is worth a read for all of us who think we could have done more to recognize when our spouses were in trouble.


Thank you for posting this!  I will for sure read it.  I've gotten over the guilt for the most part, and I think his father has too.  The weird thing is that now I'm remarried and I am absolutely crazy in regards to my new husband like, because my first husband died so suddenly I have an obsession that something is going to happen to my current husband now, like a paranoia.  Which I think is legitimate and he definitely understands but now every time my current husband even sneezes I want to take him to the hospital lol because I'm certain he's going to die suddenly too, just like my first husband did.  So I guess it stays with you in some form or another even years later.   Thank you for sharing, and God bless you.    

Thank you so much for the link, Debz. It really helped me see things differently, and I am grateful for that.

You are so right when you say even doctors don't know death when they see husband had gone to three specialists plus his primary care physician when he started feeling fatigued and "off".....EACH DOCTOR examined him, ordered various tests and concluded that his symptoms were most likely side effects of his dialysis treatment. He was actually in the hospital and was being processed to be released when he suddenly took a turn for the worse and ultimately died. When the physician entered the waiting room to give my children and I the awful news his first words were "I don't know what happened." At the doctor's request an autopsy was performed which revealed that my husband was actually sicker than any of us could have imagined. The fact that he said he never had any physical pain also masked what was going on internally. Still, I have had my moments of guilt where I think what if I had insisted he go to the hospital sooner, what if I had stayed with him all night in the hospital instead of going home, etc. But ultimately I have to accept that it was just his time to go and there was nothing any of us could have done.....Somehow we each must come to a point of acceptance and reconciliation. It's not easy but with time we will get there. God be with you.

This is so familiar to me, DIVA70. My husband had been managing MS, diabetes, kidney issues related to too much ibuprofen over a number of years, and high blood pressure.

He always stayed on top of everything, seeing his doctors regularly and monitoring his blood sugar and blood pressure faithfully. He went to his primary care physician on Monday and was told all his blood work looked great; he was making so much progress lowering his blood sugar. The doctor said his blood pressure was "a little high. Nothing to worry about."

He had a stroke on Tuesday afternoon. Even in ICU they couldn't get his blood pressure down. He died thirteen days later. I didn't blame the doctor. The numbers were okay when he saw my husband.

I do still kind of blame myself for . . .I'm not even sure. I just think I should have noticed something. You're right though. It was his time to go. There's nothing I can change now.

Acceptance and reconciliation. Yes. I'm so sorry for your loss, and I wish you peace on this journey.

Hi Crabby, My mum became a widow two days ago. My dad's story is similar to yours in that dad had a cardiac arrest at home on July 20.  My 80 yr old mother did CPR until the rescue squad arrived. My dad survived...with severe brain damage and a multitude of other issues. The past 13 weeks have been a roller coaster of pain-his, and mums guilt, constantly questioning her decisions that day.  I believe that we make the best decisions we can at the time. I also walked this path just over four years ago when my husband died. I am a nurse, I should have known better, I should have done more. It has taken a while to move past that.  At 11 weeks everything for you is so raw. I remember that awful pain and depression vividly, and the "what if's"  that constantly ran through my head day and night. I believed for a long time that I would never have another good day. I can honestly say I don't feel guilty or depressed anymore. It will go away.  Sending hugs and peace.  

Dearest Crabby, you couldn't have known. I would have thought exactly the same as you. He was only 56; I would have attributed it to the heat as well. Please don't blame yourself. 

Take care of yourself. This is all still new for you. We're here for you, and I wish you peace.

hi Crabby,

My husband also died suddenly. It has been 7 1/2 years now for me. I hope maybe some of what I share may help you. First of all, a sudden unexpected death of our loved one causes what I learned is complicated grief; especially if you had unresolved issues at the time of his death. You just go through all kinds of different what if scenarios as if there was some way to reach back in time and set everything right again. 

I was relentless in searching for the cause. I still have absolutely no idea what happened to my husband. The death certificate sign off was by a physician who had not seen him in a year. I even called the emergency medical response team to get a copy of their report but they wouldn't release it. The medical examiner signed off based on a call from the deputy sheriff. I should mention I was a state away at the time of his death. I spoke with him the night of his death and my son found him the next day. I do wish I had asked for an autopsy.

I was very close to your age I think when my husband died. So here are some of my suggestions:

1. Exercise is the best medicine in the world. I walk. Daily walks work best for me. I have to tell you in the early days I cried during those walks. Music and headphones during your walk are great.

2. Get in a grief group sponsored by a church or grief organization. There is something about connecting with others in person. Of course online connections that is why widowed village has helped so many.

3. Counseling - just to talk out the guilt and what ifs. Counseling really helped me. I see you  have a therapist so that is very good.

4. See your doctor and get a complete physical - take very good care of yourself; your children are counting on you being around.

5.  and finally what one of my counselors told me try to live your own best life

having said all of this I feel deeply for you ... this has to be one of the most difficult life challenges we all have faced.

oh & keep that job!

I retired from my job about 6 months before my husband died and now I am getting ready to go look for a job. I think it is good to have a reason to get up every day and go do something productive. 

 Thank you for your suggestions. My husband passed away approximately 6 months ago. T he only thing I haven't done is number 3 but I have been giving it serious thought. Hopefully 7 years from now I will have more encouraging words to share also. Peace be with you.


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