There is a subgenre of thrillers where a woman’s husband dies and then later, sometimes years later, she finds out that he is still alive.
Sometimes the widow is convicted of killing her husband, and when she gets out of prison, she kills him for real. Sometimes the widow killed her husband, and the supposed “sighting” is a hoax to flush her out. Sometimes the husband faked his death. Sometimes it’s the wife and the children who are declared dead, and only later is the husband united with the children, but not the wife.
I think about these stories as I read them, and wonder how I would react if I found out Jeff hadn’t really died. It would be impossible, of course, because I was there when he took his last breath. I even waited a few minutes before I notified anyone. And, I was there when they shrouded his body with a white blanket, covered it with a red plush blanket, and took it out to the mortician’s SUV.
Still, I wonder. What if I hadn’t been there, and they took the body without waiting for me. What if all I had was an urn they said were his ashes? If I had seen him just a few months after his death, maybe even a year or two, I would have been ecstatic. Later, of course, I might have second thoughts as the sense of betrayal set in. If I had seen him five or so years later, my first reaction might be delight, but it would be followed immediately by fury. How dare he let me think he was dead; how dare he abandon me and subject me to years of grief! Still, I’d listen to his explanation, and if it was reasonable enough, I might forgive him, but I don’t think I’d be able to pick up our life where it left off.
Now, if I were to see him, it would be completely different. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d even recognize him. Eleven years is a long time. And if I did, I’m not sure how I’d react. It would seem a betrayal of him — and my grief — not to want him in my life again, but I’m not the same person I was all those years ago. And if he was willing to walk away from me, then he wouldn’t be the person I thought he was.
His story would have to be truly remarkable to get me to believe that he didn’t simply abandon me. What if he did it to save me? He had actually talked about driving away and leaving me when he got too sick; he didn’t want me to spend my life caring for an invalid, and he didn’t want to be cared for. I can see a scenario based on this — he drove off a cliff, survived and was found, though he had no memory. Perhaps the person who found him was able to heal him. And perhaps years later, he remembered who he was but couldn’t find me.
That’s not an unreasonable scenario — there’s no way he’d be able to track me to this town. I haven’t left much of a paper trail. And yet, I still have the same cell number, and he could find me with no trouble on the internet, so he’d be able to contact me. Maybe he found out via this blog that I’d found a modicum of contentment and he didn’t want to disturb my peace.
Come to think of it, this could be an interesting book. So many of the undead husband novels end up with the husband getting dead for real, disappearing again, and — in a very few cases — becoming reconciled with the abandoned wife. But no book that I know of hints at what the reconciled life would be. The only thing similar is one of those stories where a kidnapped child finds his/her way home years later to a not-happily-ever-after ending.
Maybe someday I’ll write the book, but I don’t really want to think about the story. And I won’t until the next time I pick up an undead husband thriller.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator
April 28, 2021 at 12:39 pm
Oddly, I’ve been thinking about a similar but backwards version of this. I recently watched a movie in which the wife kills herself following the accidental death of her children and then her husband. As a suicide, she goes to hell. The husband learns of this in heaven and travels to hell to retrieve her.
I have no idea if there’s anything after death, but I did consider voluntarily joining my wife in whatever it is or isn’t. Having decided against doing so, I’m learning to live in this life without her. Whether that continues for 30 seconds or 30 years, I have no idea. For today, at least, it won’t be by choice. Will we be reunited then? If so, will it be the version of me who existed when she died, or the quite different version extant when I join her? Will I be mad at her for leaving early? Assuming time passes on the other side of death as it does on this one, will she still be the version of her I knew in life? Do I even remember what she was really like, or has that reality been supplanted by my flawed memory?
On either side of death, I suspect being reunited would/will not be as easy as one might think.
April 28, 2021 at 9:37 pm
I’ve been wondering the same thing about Jeff. Is what I remember of him what he was really like?
The other thing about recognizing him (or her in your case) afterward is that there is no guarantee they would look like what they did at the end. After Jeff died, I found a photo of him as he was when I first met him, and I didn’t recognize that version of him at all. Nor did I recognize him in a photo that had been taken twelve years previously (the only photo of him I had.) For a long time, I didn’t look at the photo because I didn’t want to confuse the photo with the person he was at the end, even though the photo was an exact likeness at the time it was taken. Eventually, I decided that he was all of those people, so it didn’t matter which one I remembered, so I chose to remember him as he was in the photo. If he chooses a different image of himself, there’s no way I’d recognize him.
On the other hand, when we met, I didn’t fall in love at first sight — it was more like falling into recognition. Something deep in me recognized him even though I didn’t. So maybe it would be like that.
All just thoughts to confuse an already confusing issue, especially since although I want to believe in an afterlife for him, I don’t really believe in it for myself.
April 29, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Pat when I read Estragon and yours it is really heartbreaking. I live still very confused life after dead of my soulmate. For a hypothetical situation if she come back to live with me there’s no change in our everyday life except I try to make more concessions for the better for a peaceful life for both if it necessary. I don’t believe in life after dead but if there is I better like to join with her the way she wanted to live with me.
I don’t know.
April 29, 2021 at 6:09 pm
What’s sad is that while other people still have their mates, all we have are hypothetical situations. Yet we survive.