More than a Police Widow

Part One

To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.

-Thomas Campbell

In early August, even in the morning, you just know it’s sweltering outside.  I was sleeping in, ensconced in air-conditioned comfort.  Waking up slowly, I gingerly tested each of my aching limbs.  Four consecutive days cleaning my new classroom had left me tired and aching.  Taking the place of a teacher that had taught at the high school 20 plus years that had neglected to clean anything or throw anything out during that time resulted in me dragging out 60 bags of trash to the dumpster and lugging in eight tote boxes of books and supplies. My body was feeling it!  As I lay there contemplating my new teaching position and my mounting excitement about a new school year, I was grateful eight-month-old Robert was not yet demanding my attention.  Catching a whiff of the French roast beginning to perk, I listened with half an ear as my husband Randy continued dressing.

The daily ritual of Randy putting on his uniform was nothing new, but always entertaining.  The leathery creak of his gun belt as he hitched up his pants, the scratchy attachment of Velcro tabs on his bullet proof vest, the military precision of tucking in his shirt, and the final buff to the already mirror shiny boots.  I knew these sounds, these orchestrated motions by heart.  After he had checked on duty using his handheld radio, he kissed me on top of the head and said, “I love you.”  Truly happy in every context of my life, I enjoyed these moments of bliss before I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen for coffee.  Randy headed out to serve the citizens of Texas.

Memories Return Only in Broken Pieces

Robert and I had been out running errands.  After pulling into the driveway back home and unbuckling Robert from his car seat; I was surprised when friends of mine who worked at the sheriff’s department parked behind me.  At the time cell phones were not as prevalent as they are today, and not being home for several hours, no one knew where I was.  Law enforcement officers from three different agencies were looking for me.  I handed Robert to my friend Teresa while Tony drove me to the Texas Department of Public Safety office in New Braunfels.  Not knowing what to think, Tony and I just kept up an easy banter as he drove.

Walking through the front door of the DPS office, the friendly secretaries would not make eye contact with me.  I was escorted back to an office where my father-in-law Kermit sat.   I lowered myself into a vacant chair; I tried to read the mood in the room, but couldn’t.  After a moment, the sergeant came in and delivered the news:  shot in the head, Randy had died.  Looking back, I cannot recall what the sergeant said, but I remember screaming.  I did not pass out, but when I try to reconstruct those moments, all I conjure up is blackness.  After a few frozen minutes, the sergeant returned to where Kermit and I sat.  He then reported Randy had not died, and he was at a trauma center 50 miles away undergoing surgery.  A trooper drove Kermit and me to the New Braunfels Municipal Airport where we boarded a DPS helicopter. Before boarding, I borrowed the trooper’s cell phone to call my Mom.  She and my brother drove in separate cars from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Austin.  They had a DPS escort the entire way.  Kermit gripped my hand for the full length of the flight to Breckenridge Hospital in Austin.  I recall insisting to the trooper flying the helicopter that he radio the troopers at the hospital that they do not allow the media to videotape Kermit exiting the helicopter or me.  We needed to know what we faced for our family before we had a TV camera or microphone blithely shoved in our path. But like most events in the days to follow, these memories only come to me in broken pieces.

How Do I Live My Life Without You?

Randy didn’t die instantly.  Dying was a slow business interrupted by surgery, medical jargon and legal matters.  But the moment the bullet shattered his skull and pierced his brain, his life, his essence was no longer part of this earth.  After several days in the Intensive Care Unit, I decided to take our son Robert into Randy’s ICU room.  You would think the decision to take an infant into an ICU room would be difficult, but it wasn’t.  It was easy and natural; Robert and Randy were part of each other.  No one tried to stop me or dissuade me.  In fact, people couldn’t even look me in the eye. It takes fortitude to forge ahead when people have such pity on you.

I sat on the edge of Randy’s hospital bed with Robert wedged between us. Oblivious to the snake-like tubes and beeping, bleating life-saving machines, Robert just smiled and cooed, happy to see his father.  It was a good decision for all of us, a goodbye of sorts.  After Robert’s visit, Randy no longer responded to the external stimuli tests that the doctors administered; the failure of these tests indicated a total loss of brain function.  It took several more days to remove life support.  I helped the neurosurgeon remove the tubes.  Again it was an easy decision.  I was confident in my love for Randy, confident I knew his wishes, and certain there was no medical hope for recovery.  With nothing left to do but wait for death, Randy was moved from ICU to a private room on another floor.

Twelve hours elapsed from the time life support was removed until Randy’s physical body died.  The memory of those twelve hours, of what I did, or where I wandered in the hospital is only episodic.  I knew Randy was going to die. My son was going to lose his father, and my love was being stolen.  As cliché as it sounds, my life would never be the same again.  I often wondered, “How am I ever going to go on?”  I do remember sitting with my teacher-friend Beth and sobbing through tears, “I’ll never have enough heart to teach again.” Emotionally lost and scattered, I didn’t know if I could pull enough of the shattered pieces of me back together to be even a mother to Robert.  At one point I even lay down on the hospital floor and willed myself to die with Randy, but Randy’s best friend Michael not only pulled me up off the floor, he somehow connected to a part of my soul that tethered me back to earth and most importantly Robert.  I know in my heart that I could have also died that day.

I do possess crystal clarity of my emotions once Randy died.  Tidal waves of grief washed over me while relief flooded my soul once Randy was freed from his damaged body.  God could take him home.  I know Randy was not alone on August 3rd at the intersection of Yarrington Road and Interstate 35 when he faced down his murderer, nor was he alone when he drew his final breath.  I, however, felt very alone.

 

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