I didn’t know the young widow. But I felt like I did.
- Posted on Feb 22, 2017
Have you ever walked in on a conversation and felt like it was meant for you to hear? That morning at the diner where I was assistant manager, I caught my coworkers talking furtively, their backs to me.
“It was so sudden. . . .” “He came in for coffee just last week. . . .” I drifted closer, not sure what they were talking about. “The baby was born just hours after he died.” “A little girl, their second.” “I can’t imagine how that young wife of his must feel. . . .”
The conversation stopped. I’d been spotted. The waitresses went back to their tables. I tried to count receipts, but I couldn’t stop shaking.
I can’t imagine how that young wife of his must feel . . .
The receipts fell to the floor. I ducked behind the counter to gather them up. Everybody was talking about the same story. A county deputy sheriff had died from a heart attack, with his pregnant wife, Darlene, by his side. She’d gone into labor hours later. One minute she had her life planned out. The next minute, her world had shattered. I didn’t know Darlene. But I felt like I did.
The drive home from work took me by the hospital where Darlene and her baby were. I slowed down, whispered a prayer that they would find the love and support they needed.
Go see Darlene popped into my mind. Not a thought, exactly, not a voice. The feeling seemed to come from both inside and outside of me.
I wasn’t the kind of person who just shows up in a stranger’s hospital room. But my face flushed and my heart beat fast. I had to do this. It wasn’t a choice. Just as the past six weeks of my life hadn’t been a choice.
I parked in the hospital lot and took the elevator to the maternity ward. I knew exactly what awaited me. Darlene would be surrounded by family and friends, all trying to make her feel better. They’d all wonder who I was and why I was disturbing them.
“I’m here to visit Darlene McIver,” I told the first nurse I saw.
She didn’t ask if I was a friend or family. “Her room’s a few steps to your right,” she said. “Door’s open.”
I stepped into the room. Darlene was alone. She looked exhausted. “Yes?” she said.
“My name’s Sharon,” I said. “We’ve never met. I heard about your husband. . . . I know how you feel.”
The look on her face—was it shock? Outrage?—spoke for her. How could I possibly know? I took a deep breath.
“My husband, Jack, died six weeks ago from an enlarged heart,” I said. “I was by his side. He was young too.” I waited, unsure if I should leave. I glanced toward the door.
“Please don’t go,” Darlene said. Her eyes filled with tears.
Darlene started to talk. She was 28, just like me, and had been married for six years—just like me. She told me about her husband, all the plans they’d made. Plans Jack and I had made too. How she didn’t know what her life would be like now that she’d lost her partner. Me neither. We even laughed at some funny stories about our husbands. She had the kind of laugh that made me laugh with her. “God is watching over you, just as he is me,” I said. “You’re going to be okay.”
“I’d love to talk again,” Darlene said. “Could I have your phone number?” She grabbed a paper towel for me to scribble on.
Darlene called and invited me back to the hospital. When she returned home we began going out to lunch. We attended the same church and saw each other often. Slowly we rebuilt our lives, leaning on each other. We could imagine a happier future. We were soul mates of a different kind—best friends, united in both tragedy and hope.
Even after I moved away, Darlene and I stayed close. She was one of my first calls when I started dating Jerry, who became my second husband. And I was with her the night she met Jim, whom she married and who became a loving father to her two children. We both had June weddings—a year and a day apart.
Recently I was talking to Darlene on the phone, reminiscing about the 42 years since I’d walked into her hospital room. “Seems like yesterday,” she said. Then she told me something I didn’t know. “The nurses were under strict instructions not to let anyone in that day. I didn’t want to be disturbed. Then you walked in.”
“No one stopped me,” I said.
“I’m glad they didn’t,” said Darlene, her voice choking up. “I still have that paper towel with your number on it.”