I live in the shadow of new life and of death, mere feet from Rose Medical Center – a prominent hospital in the Denver metro area. A place where throngs of babies are born each day and dozens of others draw their last breath on this earth. It’s one of the first things I see, second only to the welcoming face of my perpetually happy boyfriend, Pat and maybe a few expectant, cold, wet doggie noses perched on the edge of the bed. That open, nothing-short-of-jolly spirit is something that first attracted me to him and it continues to make me thankful that it was matched up with my feisty, rough-around-the-edges one.
I walk out into the living room and there’s Rose out the windows, looming over our second floor apartment, cars zooming in and out of the parking lots. We see and hear ambulances throughout the day and into the night coming out of the ER, bleating out their warning sirens before heading into traffic. Pat and I often playfully mimic the sirens, “whoop, whoop!” then go about our day. Except on Tuesday, one of those ambulances picked up one of our friends and took him to Rose, where he drew his last breath. Never have I been so acutely aware of where I live and what goes on across the street until that day. Things are so different now.
I first met Kevin or “Donny” as we usually called him, and his then girlfriend Katie on my first real date with Pat just under two years ago, which also happened to be Donny’s 30th birthday party. It was a minor oversight when Pat scheduled the date with me, but instead of cancelling, I just went with it and thought, I barely know Pat, but why not meet all of his close friends and some of his family on our first date? I think that decision was one that helped seal the deal for us.
Since then, Pat and I have made so many great memories with Donny and Katie. Many a night, the four of us had dinner at their house. Donny would grill very manly-like while Pat supervised and Katie, the hostess with the mostess as Donny called her, would run around lighting candles and making sure everybody’s drinks were topped off. The boys would compare girlfriend/wife meltdown stories while Katie and I drank too much wine, laughed and denied every word. Pat took many trips to Home Depot with Donny and spent hours working in the backyard with him. We helped them celebrate their wedding this past August and before that at bachelorette parties and wedding showers. They made it to our housewarming party even after a long day with the family. We drank too much after a DU hockey game last month and shared a pizza in the back seat of a cab on the way home. Just last week we had dinner and drinks with them to celebrate another friend’s 30th birthday. A few weeks ago, their thank you card from their wedding came in the mail – a photo of them on the beach in Hawaii on their honeymoon. I commented that they looked like Ken and Barbie – a beautiful couple. And, warm, welcoming, loving people that are so special to us on top of that – just really great friends.
I came home from work as soon as I got the call from Pat and a few hours later we were on the doorstep of Donny and Katie’s house. Nobody was home yet, so we went to a nearby bar and on the way, Pat had the realization that he was with Donny at that same bar the night Donny asked Katie’s dad permission to marry her. Tears. A few beers, toasts to Donny and a mini therapy session later, we were back at the house where somebody had found a spare key. We hauled pizzas and beers through a crowd of about 30 somber faces, some I knew, some I didn’t. It definitely wasn’t the usual atmosphere of the gatherings we had at that house. It was strange; haunting. He was just there that morning and now he was gone. Just photos of him now in a house fully decorated for Christmas – a real tree trimmed with baby’s breath in the corner and children’s Christmas books on the coffee table.
Katie arrived a bit later, a little surprised and overwhelmed, I think, at the crowd of open arms that greeted her. She sobbed and said, “thank you so much for being here,” and we all followed suite. Her wails of pain echoed through the house - just a thick blanket of horrible, deep sadness that cut to the bone. However, she immediately said, “The Christmas lights need to be on, find the switch!” Then, she grabbed the remote for the TV. “I’m just going to turn on some music,” she said, changing it to a country music channel. Brief spurts of the real Katie came through the grief stricken woman standing in front of me despite being in the midst of the worst day of her life. It made me smile for just a second and I thought, hostess with the mostess.
She shuffled to each person, crying and hugging while wearing his watch dangling off her wrist and his wedding band on a chain around her neck. When she got to me, I said, “It’s going to be OK and we’re going to help you.” The thing is, it’s not going to be OK for a really long time, but one day it will be better. I would go to the ends of the Earth for that woman and the kindness she has shown me from day one and I’m sure many others share my sentiments. She’s so genuine, fun and cheerful and lights up a room – literally – when she walks in. I’ve never seen her sad. I just want her to be OK and for it to be better right now – right this second. I want to help her, but what else can I do besides show up, bring her lasagna, chat with her and make sure she knows I’m always here? I wish there was more that could be done. I feel crappy and helpless.
Throughout the night, waves of people came and went and with each wave came a renewed pit-of-your-stomach feeling of despair and uncontrollable weeping. This actually happened. We’re not going to wake up because this is real and we’re never going to see him again. At one point, Katie went into the bedroom, brought out Donny’s cowboy boots, set them on the coffee table in the living room with his hat and said, “That’s my boy.” She found a picture of the two of them on her iPad and propped it up next to the boots. I sat behind her and watched as she slumped down on the floor against the couch and just stared at the still life she had created while Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” played in the background. I completely lost my shit for the 42nd time that day.
Donny was only 31-years-old and from what can be gathered in this mess of emotions, whys and I don’t knows, it was a heart attack that took his life way too soon. How? How does a healthy, physically fit, non-smoking, happy 31-year-old man have a heart attack? How? I think that’s a question everyone is asking and maybe we’ll find the answer. But, the question I heard Katie asking that night is something we’ll never know the answer to…why? We’re good people. Why? Why does such a thing as a 28-year-old widow exist and why does she have to bury her newly wedded husband right before Christmas? Why? She said, “We were going to have such a wonderful life together.” They wanted babies and to grow old together and isn’t that what just about everybody wants and plans to do after they get married? It isn’t fair. It’s insane, it’s bullshit, it’s fucked up, it’s everybody’s worst nightmare. This isn’t real, is it? I will never understand life and why these things happen and the timing upon which they do.
I’ve been through some pretty horribly sad things in my life, but because of the circumstances, this might top them all. I haven’t been this pained and distraught since my Uncle Pete died. Death is funny like that. It can show up at any time and it can make you feel like nothing else can – a kind of misery that lingers relentlessly, hanging on you like an annoying, painful parasite. My mind is just blown…my heart is broken and my gut is wrenched.
This is a shit situation, but it did make me realize for the first time since moving to Denver that I belong to a group of people here that love and care very much about each other – and that group extends beyond the people that were there that night. It’s amazing and reassuring to see people come together and support each other like that. Kevin was a remarkable person…and a handsome man, too. A bit of a curmudgeon in such a way that it made you laugh when he’d grumble out a comment…then he’d smirk and laugh right along with you. He was somebody you could count on – somebody that would help you out in an instant no matter the circumstance. Katie was his everything – his one true love – and it showed. One time, he said to me, “Katie is so amazing. I don’t deserve her.” How beautiful. We will miss him so very much. My whole body aches for sweet Katie and the rest of his family.
Pat and I held tight to each other last night – arms and legs wrapped around each other, fingers intertwined, feeling the crushing weight of the what ifs and uncertainties of life. The thought of waking up and not seeing his smiling, bearded face in the flesh is just too much to bear and the thought of knowing that it could happen is even worse. I just love that man so much…and my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, friends near and far, pups…and we are so happy. These kind of things make you dismiss the stupid annoyances that got under your skin yesterday – a stubbed toe, the co-worker that always seems to throw a wrench in your plans or the inconsiderate driver that cuts you off during rush hour. Who cares about that stuff? Life is a privilege we take for granted every day as we get wrapped up in the seemingly mundane routine of it all. Snap out of it and take the time to realize how lucky you are, and always cherish and breathe in the people and the things that you love because you never know what the next minute could bring.