fear of death

Natalie, at 19 months is determined to swim on her own. She fights my hold on her, kicks, flails her arms, and she imagines that she will swim just like Anna. And yet the moment I let go, she sinks. I watch her body slip just below the surface of the water, and then I grab her, and she comes up sputtering, elated, ready to try again, wriggling out of my hold.

After an hour of this, I was exhausted. I brought the kids up to the house and cooked some alphabet pasta. Then we cut open a mango and munched on some berries and yogurt. Both the kids were water weary and I knew we needed an early bedtime, but then John called from the gallery he was working at and asked if I wanted to go out to eat with some friends.

I told him no, I wasn't hungry and the kids needed an early bedtime. He told me that he was very hungry and I promised to make him some Indian food when he got home. By Indian food, I meant a package of Amy's Natural Palak Paneer. Because I buy these at Costco and he'd already had a few this week, he was none too eager for my offering.

The battery on my phone had died, so our "chat" took place on Gmail, and that last I heard from him, he had said, "I'm coming home soon." If you were to sit him down he would tell another version of the story in which he said he would be home at seven. But I digress.

Our conversation took place at 5:39. He was about 15 minutes up the mountain, so I had no reason to believe he'd be home any later than 6. But 6 came and went and he still wasn't here. I contemplated how windy and perilous those roads are. I loaded the dishwasher, folded laundry, wiped down the table and crawled around on the rug picking up small plastic beads from Anna's most recent project. It was 6:45 and John still wasn't there. I tried to remain calm, but this just didn't make sense.

I called his phone, and got a message. That fit well with my growing theory that he'd been a wreck. Of course he couldn't pick up the phone if he was unconscious. It was now seven. I decided I might as well go out on the lanai and eat his Indian food. I watched the sun set over the ocean, listened to the birds calling to each other from the palm trees and thought of how much more enjoyable the sunset would be if he was with me.

Where was he? I thought perhaps it was time to call the police, but I would have to wait for Anna to fall asleep, as she would surely be alarmed by the questions I would ask. I wondered where I should bury him--Hawaii seemed fitting, as he is blossoming here. And yet, if he were to die, why would I stay? My purpose here is tied to him. I guess I'd be wiser to box him up and ship him back to Minnesota, where we could tend the grave. It occurred to me that I would also have to update my Facebook profile, from "married" to "widow."

And then I thought of how sad it would be to tell the folks at the mission, who have waited so long for a priest, that their priest was no more. In particular I thought of an elderly woman who told me on Sunday that she is relieved that John will be able to do her husband's funeral, when the day comes. What would I tell her?

Now on the bright side of things, we could just put this whole Ph.D. business behind us. What a headache that has been! And yet, I don't want to give up any part of this life of ours, I want to be right where I am living this life, with this man--and where, or where is he?

Finally Anna called out, "Dad's here." John came up the stairs. Relief turned to rage. "Where were you?" He countered that he said he'd be home at seven, that I had said that I wasn't planning on a family meal. "But I said I would cook Indian Food for you," I said. "But I didn't want another meal out of box," he said.

Now I was seething. "The last thing I expected, when you returned from the grave, was that you would insult my cooking!"

"Next time I come back from the dead," he said, "I'll try to accentuate the positive."

And then, I heard a soft knocking at the door. I looked out the window and saw a plumeria lei hung over the rail. I opened the door, and there was our houseguest, a cave dweller from Maui. Our squabble would have to wait.

"What's with the lei?" I said. "Well, I wasn't sure you would want it, so I left it outside," he said.

"I would love a lei," I said, bringing it into our home and placing it before the icons, a fragile circle of flowers around the lampada, catching the light and holding it there.


Ser said...


This post is so poignant and funny! Your thought process as you begin to contemplate a car accident is just what my thought process is like whenever this happens to us. Craig is several hours late at least a few times a year, and I always think through the details of his death, even though I know he is clock-challenged.

Regarding Natalie in the water: Henry was just like this and we bought him water wings which give only some support, so he still needs to "swim" (keep moving) but they provide a lot of buoyancy.

Jaime said...

I can relate to this so much! Fr. R has been driving perilous winter roads to the mission for the last 3 years monthly. Now that we have moved he'll be driving another perilous road for Vespers weekly. Sigh.

On another note, we are excited about your mission and you are in our prayers!

Lucy said...

I liked how you were considering the updating of your facebook site in the possible case of f.j.'s untimely death. oy!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jenny. When Bruce is late I wonder if he has enough life insurance or if I must get a job immediately and if I can convince his Mom to move closer to my family if I need to move.

Julia said...

I have these widow-to-be incidents all the time too (most recently when Jeff was out on his bike and a hail storm came out of nowhere). You tell the story so well, Jenny. I love it.

mammamim said...

Oh, Jenny! I have been "widowed in my imagination" so many times in our 40+ years of marriage. You write it all so well. I loved the part about the lei also!

mammamim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment!

Your description of your daughters remind me of my 14 mo. boys! Duncan especially already fights to swim on his own!

I also understand your feelings about waiting for your husband to come home. I had a similar experience a few months ago, and was having visions of him dead along the road--wrecked. I was considering getting my boys up and start driving around looking for him, since I couldn't get him on the phone.

Thankfully, he'd just unexpectedly had a long conversation at a worship practice at church and his cell phone had happened to die.

Meteo1999 said...

Thanks for this wonderful article. It truly inspires me to not take my relationship with Jennifer for granted, nor be too flexible (as I usually am) when telling her the time of my arrival!

Anonymous said...


We've never met - but I found your blog and love it - I am interested in your conversion story, if you have one - have you always been an Orthodox Christian? You seem to have a peace and purpose. I'd appreciate anything you are willing to share.

Jenny said...

Dear Anonymous,

I would love to correspond with you! Feel free to email me at jenschroedel at gmail.com.

Thanks for your kind words about the blog!


Molly Sabourin said...

This is a good one Jenny!! It is nice to know I'm not the only one prone to dismal assumptions regarding the potentially tragic whereabouts of my tardy family members. It is always a joy to read your work.