October 10, 2018 was the day that changed everything. First, I need to go back a few days. Laura and I had just ended the summer season of our lives, along with our sons, Sam and Luke. The summer of 2018 was awesome. In our 20th year of marriage that summer, I think that we had grown closer and stronger. I’m not embarrassed to say that the year before we had done some counseling together and it really had an impact on how we communicated with and loved each other. As school had started in September, we were in full swing with two sons now in high school, two established careers, a bunch of various activities, soccer, lacrosse and polo, travel and a throng of friends and family locally and around the country who we loved to spend time with.
I spent that first week of October in Chicago on a business trip with my team, at an annual summit meeting where we participate in readiness and training. It was a great week, and on Thursday night I was excited to leave and get home. We had plans for the four of us that weekend; since it was Columbus day weekend (still a holiday??) and the boys had a 4-day weekend, we were going to spend it in Manhattan, enjoying NYC in some beautiful early fall weather. I had booked a 2-bed, 2-bath apartment in Midtown thru Air BnB, and we had a full weekend planned. The trouble was, I hadn’t received check-in instructions from the “host” owner of the apartment.
I spent Friday morning trying to reach the host and contacting customer support for help. Finally at noon, Air BnB confirmed that the host was either out of country or a scam, and they couldn’t help in the situation. It was then past noon and we didn’t have a place to stay for the weekend. The support team offered to try to find another place for us, but Laura and I talked and weren’t up for the adventure of heading to Union Station to catch the train with the boys and hoping that something would be available for us when we arrived. I had visions of us ascending from Penn Station, bags in hand, wandering around at rush hour looking for a place to stay. Maybe in our younger days, but with two boys, we’d learn that beds, mealtimes and schedules were important – even if they were teens now.
In a way, I think Laura and I were both fine with not doing the weekend in NYC. I was tired from my travel, and she had been in Nashville the week before that for business travel, so the thought of a relaxing 4-day weekend was pretty nice, and the weather in our Virginia locale was beautiful that weekend. With 4 unplanned days, we started to unwind Friday afternoon and think about what we might want to do instead.
It didn’t take long before Laura mentioned that the breeder where we got our 3 year old black Labradoodle, Reno, was having an open house on Sunday. It would be “fun” to go “see” the new puppies. For months, our youngest son, Luke, had been pleading with us to get a second dog, so that Reno would have a friend. “He has a friend,” I often responded to Luke. “You.” Lately though, Luke’s persuasion might have been influencing Laura. More than once, she left the website for the breeder up on my computer in the office. There was some serious collusion that was going on between Laura and Luke on this puppy thing. Throughout Friday I was quite adamant that we weren’t going to the open house, because one of the golden rules is that you never just go “look” at a puppy. Let alone 12 of them at an open house. Sometime on Saturday, though, I relented and agreed to take us to the open house at the breeder’s farm in Berryville, VA on Sunday. So, on Sunday morning we loaded up and headed to the farm. I had an ace up my sleeve though… I didn’t bring a checkbook specifically to thwart any attempt to buy and bring home a new puppy. We’d had two dogs with our labs Indy and Leo, and we loved them both, but two canines was a lot of dog and a lot of work. I kept saying that we were really solid as a one-dog family.
We arrived at the farm and we greeted with two playpens full of Doodles. Labradoodles and Goldendoodles of different colors and sizes – minis, mediums and full size. This breeder is so well established in her Doodle breeding that she actually owns the url http://www.labradoodles.com. That is her website for Glen Eden Doodles, and if you visit the website, you get a feel for the cuteness of being greeted by a dozen puppies, and the uphill battle I was fighting to not bring one home.
Laura and I did agree on a few points about a second dog – even though we weren’t getting one…. it would be another male, another large-medium or standard size, but not “large” and would not be black to match Reno. As it happened, there were no puppies present or available that fit our wish list, which was a bit of a relief. There was one female that we all adored. She was a standard size, brown with a white chest. It was easy to fall for her, but we still had in our minds that another male would be a better choice for us. So, we were resigned to get back in the car and head home. Well, at least I was. and a bit relieved that there wasn’t a puppy joining us.
Then, literally seconds before we turned for our car – in fact our older son Sam was already in the car – one of the staff came walking out of the puppy barn holding a matching brother to the brown and white puppy. “We forgot about him,” she said. “He was in the dryer after getting his bath.” So yeah, there he was. 12 pound of brown and white fluff and sharp teeth. Just as cute as could be. It was all over for me. I had lost the game. *Surprisingly* Laura had one check in her wallet to counter the move I had made of leaving my checkbook at home, and within the hour, we were on the road with puppy in tow. The name game ensued and popular choices were Nacho, Chase, Jeep and the one that stuck was Finn. I think Luke came up with that one.
The rest of that Sunday was truly a blessed day. Beautiful weather. Finn and Reno took to each other easily, and Reno was a great sport about tolerating a puppy brother. Late that afternoon, I left to go play a polo match and I drove home that evening with the windows down, enjoying a beautiful twilight through the Virginia countryside, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Laura and the dogs were getting along fabulously when I returned home. The family was together and dinner was a joyful time.
The joy was interrupted, several times, that night as we turned in for the night and introduced Finn to his new sleeping quarters, a crate in our room. I know he would have been happy, and Laura, too, to be snuggled in bed with us, but this was one battle I wasn’t going to lose. Just a few nights, I said, and he’ll get used to it. Since we were taking Monday off, a little sleep deprivation seemed ok to endure. Uh, maybe I had forgotten what puppies and newborns due to sleep. Laura and I both dragged around Monday after a restless night and experienced the same conditions on Monday night. Tuesday at the office, I was dragging and so was Laura at home, but we knew we’d prevail with Finn if we just kept to it and stayed firm. I arrived home from work about 5:30 that Tuesday, October 9th. The boys were in the backyard playing with both dogs, and there was a note from Laura. “Hi Guys! I went to get a haircut and highlight. Dinner is already made in the fridge. I’ll be home about 6:15.” Sure enough, there were two dishes in the fridge with instructions – one for the oven and one for the stove. I followed the directions and dinner was ready about 6:30, which is quite early for us, but it was ready and the boys were hungry. “Where’s Mom,” Luke asked. “Should we wait for her?” I explained that women’s haircuts weren’t like ours and took a lot more time, often with very strong or negative feelings about them once completed. “Let’s eat now,” I decided.
About the time we finished, Laura came in through the mud room from the garage. She was beaming. You could literally see joy on her face as she walked through the doorway. Her haircut and color looked great, and we all three boys commented to her and complimented the look. The boys cleared our plates, and we made one for Laura as she sat down to join us for her dinner. We caught up on all the day’s reports of Finn and Reno, since Laura worked from home. All four of us at the table and the dogs beside us, that was the last time we were all together. I’m so very grateful of that memory. There was nothing but love that night at the table. No complaints, no bickering, no arguing, nothing but joy and love.
The boys asked to be excused to descend to their game room in the basement, which was fine with Laura and me. After they cleaned the dishes, they went below. Laura and I moved to the family room with the dogs and both played on the floor with them for some time. We were both exhausted from a couple of sleepless nights, but happy in our surroundings. We discussed our plans for the rest of the week. Luke had a soccer game tomorrow night, Wed. and Thursday was our 21st wedding anniversary. Should we go out to the Italian restaurant where we went last year and took the boys with us? They enjoyed that, and so did we. Yeah, maybe let’s do. First, let’s get through the night. I had an idea from our days with newborns, that I would go to be bed early if she kept Finn up late, and then I’d get up in the a.m. hours when they puppy needed to be taken out. So, somewhere around 9:00, I headed upstairs. I don’t remember how I said good night. I don’t remember if I told her that I loved her or let her know how important she was to me. To us.
I was in bed and drifted off by 9:30. Around 11:15, I vaguely remember her coming in the room and putting Finn in the crate and then crawling into bed next to me. A little after 1:30 a.m., Finn cried, and I took him out. He did his pee business quickly, and I scooped him up and took him back upstairs, placing him back in the crate and myself into bed. He was quiet as a mouse, and I was back asleep quickly after a mere 15-minute interruption.
I awoke at 5:00, feeling really refreshed after a good sleep. Finn still hadn’t made a sound, so I decided that I would get him and take him out before he cried and woke Laura or Reno. I took him out of the crate and carried him out of the room in the pre-dawn’s morning hours. I spent a good 30 minutes outside with Finn. It was a warm October morning and the day was just breaking, bringing light to the world around us. We played outside and then I brought him in, where we continued to play. Around 6:00 I fed him his first meal of the day. He devoured it and after taking him back outside, I decided he was probably ready to quiet down a bit. I took him back upstairs and slipped into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. I left him loose in the bathroom while I showered, and it wasn’t until I was shaving after the shower that I heard Reno “knocking” on the door to see Finn. After opening the door, the dogs began one of their playful wrestling matches, with Reno providing loud auditory groans and grunts for sound effects. They spilled and tumbled together from bathroom to bedroom, where Laura was still asleep in bed. I wondered how she could sleep through this new racket going on. “Really tired,” I thought. I passed Laura in bed on my way to the closet to get dressed and coming out, passed her again. This time I paused to see if she was really still asleep.
Something was not right. She was sleeping on her stomach, quite common for her, but she still hadn’t moved. Nothing. She had rolled from back to her left with her right arm on the pillow beside her head. As I watched her, I noticed how white her hand and arm were and thought maybe it had fallen asleep as she’d slept wrong on it. I reached across the bed to the hand and touched it to check on her. “Honey? Laura?” When I touched her hand, I just knew. It was cold. She was cold, and my touch on her became a shaking to wake her. I ran to the other side of the bed to roll her over. There was no response. Laura was gone.
The next moments were traumatic. Certainly the most traumatic of my life. I grabbed a phone. Dialed 911. Pleaded for help to come. The operator provided instructions. Get her our of bed. On the floor. A hard surface beneath her. Begin chest compressions. Put the phone down. On speaker. Count the compressions with me. One, two, three, four,… “It’s not working, she’s not responding! Where are the paramedics?” Luke, always an early riser himself, was in the doorway. “What’s happening? Is everything OK?” The bed was between us, and he could see my head, but couldn’t see his mother on the floor on my side of the room. “Mom’s sick, Luke. She’s not well. Go downstairs and unlock the door. Wait for the paramedics!” I sat back and looked down at Laura. Crying. I was still trying the chest compressions. “Where are they? I need help.” I heard people and noticed the flashing blue and red from the ambulance and fire trucks lights filling the room along with the dawn’s light. Paramedics came in and I stepped out. I found Luke in the hallway. “What’s happening?” he asked. Fear in his voice. About then Sam walked out of his room – a look of confusion. “Come here, I said.” He joined us in the loft space that was Laura’s home office. I had no explanation for them – I hadn’t yet said anything other than “Mom’s sick”.
The three paramedics came out of the bedroom slowly. Not rushing and not with Laura. The last of the three looked at me and waived me over. He took me into the room. “I’m sorry. She’s gone. It’s been too long. We got here too late.” WHAT??? “From what we see, it looks like her heart.”
I took the boys downstairs. To the living room. The room we never use. The Christmas tree room. We sat on the couch we rarely use. I put my arms around the boys. “Mom’s gone. Mom died.” I couldn’t breath. Couldn’t talk. We held. Each other. Cried. Sobbed. “How? What” I don’t know…. I don’t know how. what.
From there, it was surreal. Next a deputy. Then a chaplain. Then a Sheriff’s sergeant. The brought down the dog crate with Finn in it, and closed the bedroom. We sat with the dogs in the family room. I made a couple of calls. My sister. My brother-in-law. A neighbor and close friends. Lots of emergency vehicles in the cul-de-sac. Lots of neighbors coming out, taking their kids to the bus stop. Questions. Concerns. Shock.
Questions to me started. Explanation that based on circumstances, this had to be investigated. First the deputy then the sergeant. They wouldn’t let friends in the house to see us. A “Crime scene” until cause of death and homicide ruled out. It was like some fucking movie. The sergeant wanted to question me in the living room. The boys sat alone in the family room.
“I need to be with them,” I explained.
“No, you’ll stay here and answer my questions.”
“No, I need to go to be with them.”
“No you’re staying in here.”
“No, you can get the fuck out of my way and out of my house.”
“No, you can leave here in handcuffs if I want. I can do that in this situation.”
I pleaded with the chaplain who was standing by and watching this. She finally intervened and let me be with my sons.
Time passed minutes. Maybe into hours. a detective arrived. the Chaplain introduced us and calmly, we sat down together in the living room. I answered his questions, I shared every detail I could. No drugs, no addictions, no coke, no heroin, no meth, no opioids. no struggles, no signs. Laura may be the only CU grad who never even tried pot in her life. She was clean. Happy. Healthy. Loving. And no, I didn’t take her life. I shared as much as I could. The only prescriptions in the house were mine – various meds and painkillers. Vicodin for an old injury. Stuff like that. All in my medicine cabinet.
Time passed. The medical examiner was coming. Laura was still upstairs. A crime scene investigator was coming, too. Through the help of the chaplain, they let us leave the house to go three doors down to neighbor friends. I had shorts and flip flops. and a phone. No wallet. No keys. No money. that was the deal. OK.
The boys and I waited there with the dogs. the chaplain came. Requested I come back to the house. the detective and CSI. More questions. That sergeant was still there and he tried to apologize. “Sorry, I’m a big guy and can be intimidating to others. Do you want to pray with me?” he asked. No, I didn’t want to pray with him to make him feel better. I still needed to be with my sons. They let me leave again. Chaplain stayed with me. I made more calls. Tired to figure out what to do. The detective came down the street. Asked to speak with me outside. Scared. What’s happening. He described their investigation. In her medicine cabinet, behind her perfumes was another prescription. For her. Valsartan 80 mg. Take once daily. Used to treat high blood pressure.
Oh my God. I had completely forgotten about that. She had been to the doctor some months ago. Felt fine. Just an annual exam. But she had high blood pressure. They prescribed this. She took for some time, but stopped. We hadn’t talked about it. I’d forgotten about it. She hadn’t refilled the prescription.
Laura wasn’t keen on doctors. Me – better living through modern medicine. Her – are you going to go to the dentist this year? Me – 3 dental cleanings per year. As many things as Laura was good at, doing doctor things for herself wasn’t one of them. She never missed an appointment for the boys – physicians, dentists, othro, allergist,… she was on top of it all as a mother.
That day continued. The detective described they were turning over the investigation to the M.E., terminating the homicide investigation. Some relief. But what now? Coroners came. They took Laura. Didn’t want the boys to see that. Before they came, they let me go back. Into my room. Alone with Laura. I knelt beside her. Still on the floor. I held her hands. Kissed her face. My love, my girl, my wife, my best friend was gone. Goodbye, my love.
October 10, 2018 was the day that changed everything. In the days that passed, there were details. I spent the next day, Oct 11th meeting with a funeral director. The weather had changed. It was cooler and raining. That day, October 11, 2018, was my and Laura’s 21st wedding anniversary. Instead of spending it together, I spent it at a funeral home mapping out bits of plans. It took some days before the death certificate was issued by the attending doctor; finally I was called to pick it up. Cause of death: Coronary Artery Disease and Hypertension.
I drove home on October 11 from meeting the funeral director feeling very alone. No anniversary celebrations, only grieving. The loss was unbearable. I stopped. I cried. I drove. I stopped. I cried. I drove.
Never in a million years did I think this could happen. Odds are it should have been me. The male. More stress. More travel. Higher odds. But it wasn’t. Instead I looked in the mirror and saw a 49-year old widower. Two incredible sons. A small but close family. Loads of loving friends. A dog and a puppy.
A beautiful wife. Gone. A life left unfinished.
Laura loved her lists. She was known for her lists. Grocery lists, shopping lists, vacation lists, gift ideas lists. I am forever finding lists around the house. On her desk in her office was a list of to do’s for October. “Doctor appt/Cardiologist” was on the list. How I wished that would have been on September’s to do list.
Laura’s beauty lives in her sons everyday. I see it in them. In the faces, in their mannerisms, in their character. She shaped two beautiful souls in the boys she raised, and I so wish she was here to seem them today. To be in her office when they come home from school, where they each spent time telling her about their days.
I so miss Laura. Everyday. In different ways. Moving forward has been the mantra. Have to. I move forward but not moving on. I’ll continue living and fulfill some of the promises we made to each other about the future. But hard to move on. Part of me will always be stopped with her on that morning of October 10.