We Ran Out of Time: Almost Seven Years Later

Dear Nolan,

We ran out of time. Your life ended too soon on that beautiful spring morning in 2011. I spent the night before sleeping in your hospital room on a recliner next to your bed. A hospice nurse kindly told me she didn’t think you’d live through the night. I was unable to close my eyes as I listened to your labored breathing, terrified at the thought it would stop. I climbed up and snuggled next to you, kissed you on the cheek, and whispered, “Nolan, I love you very much.” Two hours later, you slipped away after our 42 years together. You were only 68. 

In a flash, my life as I knew it was over. The next few days remain a blur: picking a cemetery plot, planning the funeral that hundreds attended, trying to listen to each of our three, now grown, children give poignant and funny eulogies that you would have no doubt videotaped given your penchant for taping everything. I hosted the Shiva in our home, which friends organized so I wouldn’t have to do a thing. You would have approved, especially the wines we selected and the smooth jazz playing on the radio in the background in homage to your musical prowess. 

Then it was over. I froze.  

For the next two years, I went through the motions of living, but I needed purpose to get me through the desert of daily loneliness. The routine of my full-time job was a lifeline, which I dreaded returning to at first. I couldn’t bear leaving the house. Everybody tried to show their compassion. “I know how you must be feeling. I’m so sorry.” But nobody does until they lose a loved one. Nobody knew how lonely and alone I felt. Nobody knew how angry I was at you for leaving me and leaving behind a mess. 

You were always the household finance chief who saved and invested our money. I tried to get you to discuss this, just in case. You shooed me away. When you became ill, you felt too sick to talk about it, strange for you the consummate worrier. Every day I heard your voice in my head asking: "How will she survive? You never wrote a big check. Never invested, bought or sold a house or a car, hired a tradesperson, or fixed a broken toilet." Once you were gone and I spotted a leak or uninvited pest in our house (as in mouse), I’d talk to you but also curse you: Nolan, how could you leave me? 

I dug in and pieced together our finances Colombo-style based on tax returns, statements and your check stubs. I collected life insurance, found a good attorney and accountant, put my name on everything, and presented the death certificate as proof that you were really gone. Then I hired a financial planner who held my hand, put me on a budget, and invested our savings. 

Life went on. Our kids called on Sundays, I went to work, dined with girlfriends each weekend, and with couple friends during the week. I’d get invited to a party where I’d sit by myself when everyone else got up to dance. As I watched couples together, I’d feel an ache in the pit of my stomach and tear up thinking how lucky they were to be married. I wanted us again to be one of those couples. 

As I reflect on our past, I remember it as a hodgepodge. I recall how we met, debated whether we’d have children, you running down my parents’ driveway with my youngest sister on your shoulders, our first home, jobs,  places we traveled. Many days I returned to those early years as I studied photos and video footage of us training our dogs, you mowing the lawn, my pregnancies, listening to our sons perform their music or our daughter acting in a play, family dinners, and opening presents. I see a tall, slim dark-haired handsome young you standing by your favorite car. That’s how I’ll remember you.   

We had so many good years. I loved your wacky sense of humor and engaging wit. I chuckle when recalling our arguments that were mostly about setting rules for the kids and your horrible driving. Remember the trip we took to New York City to visit our younger son? We got lost and you lost it? I leaped out of the car yelling, “I need to get away from you. I’m walking to our son’s apartment.” Later we laughed. 

Shortly after, we heard the doctor say, “cancer.” You’d be fine after one round of chemo. So you lost your hair, which drove you nuts, but it came back. So did your cancer. I never told you how isolated I felt some days because you asked me not to discuss your illness with anyone, including you and our children. Then you were gone. 

You’d be surprised to learn how well I’ve coped. I had to be a survivalist. Our three children and parents in their 90s were depending on me. I finally got over my fantasy that you were coming back. Thank you, grief counselor. I also needed to be around other people like me and joined a grief support group where I figured out what “like me” meant. I cut back expenses, entertained as a solo, quit my full-time job to write freelance, signed up for classes, and took on new volunteer projects. 

I almost singlehandedly cleaned out 37 years of stuff in our home. Remember, you never threw anything away. I now know you never had an affair for I would have found evidence as some other women do. Thank you for that. I hired people to fix up our home to sell, held an estate sale, sold the house, and bought a condo. I remodeled myself, too--added streaks in my hair, bought new clothing, exercised, traveled alone, and, yes, started dating, something I vowed I’d never do. 

It’s been nearly seven years, and I still remain angry that you left. These were going to be our pay-off years: financial security, kids gainfully employed, time to travel, volunteer, and spend our hard-earned money on ourselves. On the other hand, I am happy to tell you that I am strong and capable. I am now the one who others turn to for help when they are widowed. I co-wrote a book as a legacy to share about loss for others who become suddenly single after 50. 

Nothing can fill the abyss that I feel since you died. What keeps feeding me are the stories and memories that I hope I will retain until my end. I have learned to compartmentalize my loves and losses and forge ahead in a new, happy life. I wish you could be by my side through life's many changes, good and bad. But know this. I will love you forever. Rest in peace.


  • Lynn

    Beautiful and true my resilient friend.

  • Jane

    Meg….What heartfelt beautiful words.

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