By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 5, 2022
It was a sweltering day in July, seven years ago, when my husband, Jef, and I packed our rental car and headed down to Ponce Inlet, Florida, for a family gathering by the seashore. Everyone rented condos and convened at my aunt’s home for supper, followed by long walks on the beach.
We took the little cousins to the Marine Science Center to see the rescued turtles, the stingrays and an octopus named Octavia. On one morning walk, Jef and I happened upon volunteers, who were digging out baby turtles that hadn’t managed to leave the nest the previous night. We watched in awe, as the tiny creatures, released upon the sand, immediately trundled into the ocean.
One day, after swimming, Jef told me he had fought a strong undertow. “You nearly lost me,” he said, and I shivered, because I couldn’t imagine life without him.
We drove back to Georgia on Aug. 1, and then two days later, Jef rose early and headed over to the library, where he worked mornings. As it neared noon, I heard the sound of his scooter in the distance and greeted him at the door. He told me he was planning to return the rental car and then walk home. We exchanged a quick “Love you” as he got into the car.
About two hours later, a woman telephoned from the emergency room of a nearby hospital. “Your husband collapsed while he was walking.”
I went into full panic mode. “Is he alright?”
“The doctors are working on him now.”
At the hospital, I rushed to the front door, where a social worker was waiting for me. I thought he was taking me to the emergency room to see Jef, but instead he led me to the family room, which was empty except for a young minister. I sat down and took his hand, and we prayed together.
Finally, the door opened and the doctor came in. “I’m sorry. We did everything we could.”
The words shattered my heart into a million pieces, and I started shaking and went into shock. The nurses wrapped me in blankets and asked if there was someone I wanted them to call.
I asked them to call Father Richard Lopez, who had been our friend and confessor for 15 years. When he arrived, we went into the room where Jef was lying on his back with the most peaceful expression, like he’d just fallen asleep. I stroked his hair and face, and wept. How I loved that crooked nose, the result of a childhood diving accident. How I loved that thick brown hair, which I trimmed every few months.
When I left the hospital, the nurse gave me a plastic bag containing Jef’s clothing, his wallet, rosary beads and the crucifix he wore around his neck. His wedding ring was also there, and I immediately put it on.
It turned out my darling had suffered a heart attack on a serene, tree-lined street a few blocks away, while he was walking home. A doctor driving by saw him, tried to resuscitate him and called an ambulance. Later, I spoke with this doctor, along with a neighbor who had been there, and they both said, “It was very peaceful.”
For a long time, I rarely slept without dreaming about him. He would appear, happy and healthy, and we’d walk together, like we always had. I’d try to explain that he had died, but then give up, since it didn’t seem possible.
Shortly before his death, I saw a woman at church who reminded me so much of my mother, who had died years ago. I looked into Jef’s eyes and asked, “Do you think I’ll see her again?” He smiled so gently. “I know you will.”
These words sustain me until God calls me home and I once again walk at the ocean’s edge with my husband. And these days, whenever I’m at the beach, I see, in my mind’s eye, the two of us watching turtles emerging from the sea, full grown and thriving.
Artwork (“The Lamplighter”) is an oil painting by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.