Clare Saumell VanderWeele

essays on living

Category: Death

I Am Not the Hero

It is a year ago, and the stomach flu has hit our household. Except, it only hits Mike. He can’t eat. Everything makes him nauseous. His doctor said sometimes it can last a week. I coax him into eating soup and bananas, drinking coconut water in tiny sips. I am being the good wife. The one who vowed to be there both in sickness and in health.

Incredibly, neither Nicholas or I catch it. That’s quite the miracle, really, as we all know how eager the stomach flu is to spread from hand to hand, mouth to mouth.

After two weeks, Mike is still sick. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my empathy starts to break down. I wonder if he is exaggerating, getting carried away by hypochondria. Buried by work, by kindergarten homework, by 4-month pregnancy hormones, I rebel – just a little. I make my sick husband carry the laundry from the basement to the second floor. He is out of breath half way up, doubled over in exhaustion. I frown. I force more bananas on him.

After three weeks, the most I can do is keep Nicholas out of his way and beg him to go back to the doctor. It is a Monday morning, and, instead of the doctor’s office, he drives himself 45 minutes to work, where he almost passes out just sitting down at his desk. He goes to the doctor. And the doctor tells him to go the ER.

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On Empty Milk Cartons and Gum Wrappers

Chris used to put almost empty milk cartons back in the fridge.

And when I say “almost” I mean there was literally one gulp left.

He’d eat almost all his dinner except two bites and put the almost empty plate uncovered in the fridge… On the off chance that one lonely bite of cold, congealed dinner would sound appetizing later.

He would leave empty tupperware containers in his car after work. Empty gum wrappers littered the bedroom floor as they came flying out his pockets, and empty Marlboro Reds packages would stack up on his night stand.

All the empty drove me nuts.

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On Death and Diets

For Lent this year, I gave up diets.

Yeah, I know. That sounds less like sacrifice and more like indulgence.

But here’s the thing: I was secretly obsessed with diets, bouncing on and off various forms of them for at least the last decade. For weeks at a time, I would restrict whole food groups, all under the guise of “healthy eating.”

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Why I’m Terrified of Dying

I didn’t expect to be afraid of dying. The terror crept up slowly like the dawn until all of a sudden it was blinding and hung over my day.

When I had planned out my life years ago, it was with youthful ignorance; predictable and familiar.

I did not expect to become a mother who, exhausted and emotional, reaches for cheerios for her kid’s dinner.

I did not expect to be searching for signs of my husband in the soft sleeping face of my son.

I did not expect to be offended by the rows of summer corn, growing tall as if nothing ever happened, as if time had not stopped.

I did not expect the dust to gather on his nightstand.

As the expectations collapsed, I was left with the bitter fear of my own death.
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How Death Brings Us Together

I was utterly terrified to hit the publish button on my last post, The Day Death Ripped My World Apart. In fact, WordPress tells me I made 83 revisions to the post before making it public. Perhaps that’s a clue on just how anxious I was to share my words with the world.

But almost 600 Facebook shares and a couple thousand readers later, I am so glad I did it. The emails, messages, and Facebook comments I received were touching. It blew me away that something I had to say could have such an impact.

I truly hope that anyone facing their own loss will see that they’re not alone, that they can make it through these dark days.

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The Day Death Ripped My World Apart

There’s something deeply human about imagining worst case scenarios. We like to think we know how we’d react to hearing horrifying news. From Hollywood to the Hallmark Channel, we see movies of people screaming, fainting, punching walls, or wailing.

But when three policemen knocked on my door on an October Friday morning and uttered the words that would ring in my ears for the rest of my life, I didn’t – couldn’t – say a word.

Words are not possible when you discover your lungs have morphed into cinder blocks; when the bitter truth ruptures your chest, searing through your abdomen and down to your toes.

I still have no clue how I didn’t drop my 18 month old son in my arms.

His father, my husband was dead.

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