ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 16: Grief Connection/Disconnection

I go to my grief-support group. A dozen of us sit in a circle: ten women, one man, and our facilitator, Judy. All of us are mourning a loss.

Nancy’s husband, Steve, died in a camping accident. His two buddies were on a cliff above him, blindly throwing firewood down to him at the campsite. One chunk of wood hit Steve’s head. He never regained consciousness.

Nancy hadn’t kissed him good-by. “Why would I?” she asks us. “It was only an overnight camping trip. When he left, I was on the phone. He was coming home the next day. It hurts me that I didn’t kiss him good-by. One final kiss.”

Nancy and Steve were married twenty-eight years. They have two sons, both still at home. She and Steve were to grow old together. That was the plan.

Six months after John’s wife died, he received a letter from his first wife, who’d left their marriage to pursue an academic career. I took the wrong path, she wrote him. “The saddest five words I’ve ever heard,” John says. The wife he mourns clasped his hands before she died and said to him: “Thank you for loving me the way I wanted to be loved.”

“These words mean the world to me,” he says. “I have no regrets. No guilt. We loved each other.”

Nancy and John are each mourning the loss of someone they loved. I’m mourning the loss of a person I didn’t truly know, didn’t know how to love.

Guilt and shame overcome me. I must stop coming to these meetings. I don’t belong here.

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.