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