‘I Knew My Wife Would Want Me to Keep Running’
People pressed him about how he was coping — 'Have you moved past the death of your spouse yet?' — but he surprised them all
It’s impossible to be prepared for tragedy. It strikes without warning.
When it involves the death of a loved one, it rips away a part of you.
As I said in the dedication in my latest book, my wife, Ann, was my wife, my lover, my friend, my navigator. She was an accomplished pianist, violist, a Ph.D. in microbiology, and a great distance runner. She broke the 25K national record for a 60-year-old by over two minutes and was one of the seven fastest women in her age group for many years.
She was on a trip around the world when I met her in Houston — and that’s as far as she got on that trip. The more important thing about her was that she was a wonderful person with a beautiful soul.
We were married and our time together was special.
When it became possible, we moved to Mexico, where she concentrated on the viola, piano, and running.
I was happy and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
One day, friends were coming to visit, so she was busy cleaning the house. I went into the garden to check on the flowering plants and fruit trees, as I did almost every day.
When I came back in, she was lying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, her head in a pool of red. She’d fallen from a stepladder on the floor above and tumbled down a stairwell. She landed on the stairs.
I rushed her to a clinic, where the doctor did his best to prepare her for an ambulance ride to the hospital in Morelia. On the way there, she died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
I’d had bad things happen in my life before. My father died of multiple myeloma, and I helped take care of him as much as I could. My mother lost so much blood in a disastrous operation that it affected her mind. We took care of her, too.
But both of them had lived long and full lives, which in some small way softened the blow.
How did I get over the loss of half my life and the source of a great deal of my happiness? The short answer is: I didn’t.
I don’t think people ever “get over” the loss of someone so important to them, especially in circumstances like that.
I got through the immediate aftermath because friends didn’t wait for me to ask for help. They just took over.
Most of them are Mexicans who live in the little town of Quiroga near our house. We’d gotten to know them because they invited us to join their running club when they saw us running in the town plaza.
I was in Morelia, Mexico, and my Spanish wasn’t very good. I had to leave Ann lying in a hospital bed and go directly to government offices, where they filled out forms and asked questions. I have no idea how many different officials I saw or how many documents there were. It was all a blur, but one of our friends went with me every step of the way and made sure I went to the right places — and that they understood what I said.
Ann had said many times she wanted to be cremated, so they found the funeral home and arranged everything.
She’d be disappointed if I let myself go to pieces or started drinking.
One of our friends told me she wanted me to come to her family’s house and eat every meal with them forever. I didn’t do it, but it sure made me feel good to think she’d make that offer.
Maybe, by now, you’re getting the idea that I consider friends to be important for my moving-on phase of life.
I’ll tell you something else that worked for me. I did my best to carry on the way my beloved wife wanted me to — as I knew she would. She’d be disappointed if I let myself go to pieces or started drinking or what have you. I knew she’d want me to keep running, so I went to the track and ran three miles the next day.
I consciously kept in my mind: “What would Ann want me to do now?”
Whatever it was, I did it. I fixed meals (not very well — she was a good cook.) I kept writing. She’d said she admired me when I kept writing when my father was ill, so I knew she’d want me to do that.
Even though I lost her five years ago, no, I have not “gotten over” my wife — and I don’t want to “get over her,” either.
I want to remember the things we did together. I wish she were here with me to say, “Yes, I remember that” — but the memories are good.
Yes, I’m getting on with my life now. But I’ll never “get over” her. She’ll always be there in a safe compartment in my mind, where memories will live forever.
Richard Ferguson was born in Houston, Texas, and while serving in the Army, he wrote for Stars and Stripes. His book, “Spirit Runner,” is now available.