by Nina Russell Korcheck
My husband Jack and I first found each other on the telephone when I called to order flowers for a co-worker. He took my order over a phone connection that was 800 miles in distance. For some reason we just clicked and were on the phone chatting for 40 minutes. We continued to communicate, first by email and then by phone over the next few years and our relationship grew from friendship to something much more. It was a day in late September when he packed a truck with all of his belongings and drove to meet me. When he rang the doorbell and I opened the door, we gazed into each other’s eyes for the first time. 2 years later we were married. Jack was my friend, my love, my life. I knew that for the first time in my life, I was exactly where I wanted to be and I was happy. I looked in his eyes and felt Home.
Jack wanted a motorcycle. I didn’t. But after time he convinced me that he’d grown up riding and owning them. I knew him to be a safe driver with flawless reactions. He’d saved both our lives one Christmas Eve when a drunk driver aimed for us head on. His quick reflexes allowed us to come home that night. I trusted him with my life and he’d vowed that nothing would ever happen to me on his watch. In my eyes, he was indestructible.
He bought a new bike and even took the Motorcycle class over again to get his license endorsement in our state, scoring 100% on both the written and road tests. I still didn’t like it. He’d ride with friends and I’d hold my breath until he returned. He returned every time. I hated it. We talked one day about what we’d do if anything ever “happened” to one of us and agreed that we couldn’t stand the thought of the other being alone. We’d each expect only the best from each other. I made it an even bigger point to kiss Jack goodbye each day and tell him I loved him. I thought if anything happened, at least the last words he heard from me were loving.
On Wednesday July 19th, 2006 it was Drive Your Bike to Work Day. It looked as if it would thunderstorm. Jack was finishing his shower and I was ready to leave for work. I ran back up the stairs and hugged him while he was still naked and dripping wet. He said “Baby! You’re getting soaked!” I said I didn’t care. I wished him a happy half birthday and we briefly talked about celebrating with a dinner out. I walked down the stairs asking him “Ride or drive?” He said “Drive. 100% chance of rain.” We exchanged I love you’s and I drove to work.
I worked through the morning but missed making our regular morning call to each other. Each morning we’d share a moment to have a few giggles about things that had happened already that day. I went to lunch and returned to a message from the hospital near his job. I returned the call to hear that my husband had been in a serious traffic accident. I asked to talk to him and was told that he was very sick and the doctors were in with him. I was instructed where to go and left work immediately. I called my Sister, and then called my best friend to tell her that this felt bad and I thought she should come. I told her that I didn’t want to borrow trouble. I didn’t care what had happened. I just wanted to bring my darling Jack home with me.
When I arrived, I went to the desk in the ER and was directed to the Private Room. I instead walked to the washroom to catch my breath and prepare. The red flag of being sent to that room actually didn’t hit me. I just had a gut feeling that I’d need to prepare. The women at the desk shared glances as I walked to the room and I opened the door. My Dad, Step Mom and Sister were already there. I stood in the door and said “He’s ok, right?” My Sister began to cry and said “No, Baby. He’s not.” “But he’s going to be, right?” “No.” I’m not sure how long it took to absorb, or that it really did at all. I was launched into an abyss. There was no reality. There was no time. I followed the Coroner into the darkened room where my husband lay on a cot. He was peaceful. He appeared to be sleeping. He was still warm. He was silent. I kissed him. I loved him no less. The rest of the world, amazingly, did not stop moving.
Jack filled a room when he entered it and not because of his large size. He was a full 6’5″, 350 pounds but he filled a room with his life force. Everyone loved him. In the few short years he’d lived in our town, he had a bigger network and more friends than I did after a lifetime here. He had perfect comic timing. He was a flawless drummer. He was Mensa. He was the one that people came to for advice and common sense. He was the huge bear that my 7 year old niece had no fear of jumping onto full force. He was my life. He was gone. Gone. How does that happen? How does someone who is so valuable and so full of life just…..end. That night I had to give the Organ Donation representative permission to take my husband’s body parts.
My Sister and my best friend moved in with me and two days later took me to the doctor because I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was hugged by my doctor of many years and instructed to give blood and urine samples. I did and returned to my place on the exam bench. The doctor re-entered the room and said “It’s positive”. “What’s positive?” She said the words “You’re pregnant” as I watched her lips move in slow motion. I said three words. “Thank you, God.”
I returned to my home where mine and my husband’s family were sitting around my kitchen table. “Are you ok?” “I’m pregnant.” “How wonderful!” Then sobs.
For the next month my Sister and best friend lived with me. One month later, we all traveled out east for a memorial service held by his family and upon our return I told my roommates that I needed them to go home. Their families needed them and I needed to learn how to be alone again. I had three choices. I could let everything fall apart. I could simply exist. I could rise like a Phoenix and overcome.
Choice made. Phoenix.
Two weeks later, after more than a little pressure from my boss, I returned to work. I struggled to sort out the finances to keep from losing my home and slept on top of the covers with the tv on all night. I took Prozac to help me battle the images I’d conjured of my husband’s accident and then his cremation. I hated the drug. It gave me insomnia and made me sick but I took it to keep my future daughter from becoming a victim of my grief. Prozac removed the edge, but did not remove the loss. I cried every day on the way to work, on the way home from work, sitting at home alone and until I fell asleep. I looked for and found a counselor and an online support group for young widows. I let them help me. I let my family help me. I let my friends help me. I let strangers help me. This was no simple task. I did it anyway.
My daughter was born 7 months after my husband’s death. A dear friend of mine told me that Jack would be there and I kept looking for signs. They were answered. Jack died on 7/19. She was born at 7:19 am, was 7 lbs 9 ozs, 19.5 inches long. He was there. He still is.
I attended the traffic court proceedings each month and stayed on top of the court system. I struggled to understand the imbalance between my loss and the lack of punishment the person who’d killed my life would receive. I stood up in the front row, in front of the judge at each calling, wearing sweaters that would best reveal my growing belly. I looked into the eyes of the boy who killed my husband because he couldn’t wait a full 3 seconds to make a left turn. At the final court date, a full year later, I rolled the stroller in with my 5 month old daughter. Impact. He had to know the impact of his actions. I was allowed to give a victim’s statement and was praised by the judge for my eloquence. I was allowed to help design the plea bargain that the boy was awarded. He was charged again with drug issues before the plea term ended. He hasn’t learned and may never. I hate it, but I won’t let it take me down. I won’t it to take both of my daughter’s parents.
I’ve since remarried. Joe is the only “earth daddy” that my girl will ever know and he’s the right one for that job. He’s the right man for the person I am now. Jack is my daughter’s “angel daddy”. He was perfect for the person I was with him. His family is still my family and I am still theirs. I learned to love again, both my husband and my daughter, even though I’m no longer blissfully ignorant and know that IT can happen to me. To us. I start every day knowing I have to live. I live in honor of Jack. I live for our daughter. I live to give my new husband and my daughter all of me because to live without doing so would be a dishonor to all of us.
Look up. To God. To the future.
Don’t count time. Let it be.
Be grateful. You had him or her and were blessed.
Only your rules count. They must be tempered with respect.
Be the phoenix.
Nina Russell Korcheck