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'I took my husband for granted, and then he died. Here's what I'd have done differently.'

His name is Herrin – was Herrin. It was a beautiful name. His parents were hippies. He was 47 and reasonably fit and healthy. He was an exceptionally talented musician, a digital marketer, a devoted dad to two young sons and a loyal, loving husband. 

On May 20, he complained of a pain in his chest, which he passed off as indigestion. I insisted we go to Emergency and get him checked out, just in case. An hour later, he was dead. 

Watch: Robin Bailey shares how her job helped when her husband passed. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

The last thing I said to him was, "Don’t go into the light". I wish the last thing I’d said to him was "I love you", but we shared an irreverent sense of humour and neither of us thought he was having a heart attack. It was just indigestion from the plate of nachos he ate for lunch. His blood pressure was up, but the doctors and nurses didn’t seem too concerned. 

The ECG looked "a bit funny", they said. The pain subsided for a minute and he brightened up. Relief washed over his beautiful face. Yep, it was just indigestion, we can go home. That’s when I joked about not going into the light, and he laughed. 

I rubbed his leg, said I’d better get out of the way and let the team do their thing. Seconds later, his legs began to shake, his body stiffened, he arched back and had a massive cardiac arrest. They worked on him for an hour. 

I called his mother and we sat outside the room, listening to the defibrillator’s chilling siren, a blur of beeps and serious but calm voices. It was all under control, surely. Then everything went quiet. Great, they’ve stabilised him, I thought. The doctors and nurses filed out of the room in slow motion, looking at the floor. 

"Is he okay?" I heard a tiny voice ask a futile question. It didn’t sound like me. No words can adequately convey the feeling of losing someone you love suddenly and unexpectedly, but here goes. 

It feels cold and dark and terrifying and sickening. It is utterly surreal. Incomprehensible. Unbearably painful. The pain is all-encompassing and overwhelming. 

A steel-capped boot kicking you repeatedly in the guts, day and night. A mind that won’t stop racing and reversing time, back to when something different could have been done. Falling endlessly into a bottomless, hollow pit of despair. A nightmare that begins every morning when you wake up. 

We were together for 11 years, married for two. Our relationship was far from perfect and we had many challenges to work through in order to reach a place of happiness and contentment. We constantly forgave each other for our faults and flaws and shared a very real, honest and enduring love. 

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We didn’t just love each other, we liked each other and were great friends. We used to joke about who was going to die first and I would demand that he not die before me, because I didn’t want to be the one left behind.

We talked about growing old together and he said I would be even more beautiful as an old woman. He massaged my feet almost every night in front of the TV, pulled the covers back on the bed for me, filled up my water bottle. He made a point of doing little things for me each day to show me how much he loved me. I didn’t. Sure, I told him I loved him every day. But those little things, I didn’t really do. Not as often as he did. 

I poured a lot of energy into the kids and he often came last. He was big on communication. He complained we didn’t talk enough and he was right. He was always ready for a deep conversation. He lost his dad 10 years ago and he knew something I didn’t – that we take our loved ones for granted. He knew how important it was to talk, to really connect, to share as much vulnerability and intimacy as we could. Because it could all end at any moment, for any one of us. 

Sometimes, I found him a little too intense. I would conveniently forget about our twice-weekly scheduled catch-ups, where we were supposed to go into a room without the kids, close the door and just talk to each other. 

During COVID, when the four of us were stuck at home all day together, I actively avoided it. I just wanted to tune out, scroll through Facebook and Instagram and not do the hard work of connecting with the man I loved. I took him for granted. 

I thought he would always be by my side, loving me, caring for me, encouraging me in my creative pursuits, turning off smoke alarms, catching spiders, making me laugh, making me a cup of tea exactly how I like it. He tried to make me realise that an hour on social media could have been an hour of being present with him and the kids. He complained about me prioritising work over him, about being too tired to put the work into our relationship that it required to stay healthy. 

He talked about the emotional bank, that I needed to make more deposits than withdrawals. Yeah yeah, I thought. I’ll do better tomorrow. We have time. I was wrong. It has been the biggest wake-up call of my life. 

Our time here is limited, but we waste it. We waste it on meaningless pursuits, we waste opportunities to be with our loved ones, we waste time on petty dramas, we waste time allowing fear to control our lives, we waste our creative talents and spend years of our precious lives in jobs we hate and for what? To buy stuff we don’t need. 

Motivational speaker Kurek Ashley says: "Everything in this life is borrowed. You have to give it all back. The only thing you get to keep is the love you gave, the love you received, and the experiences your soul got to have."

I was a good wife, but I could have been better. If I had another chance, I would do things differently. He knew I loved him, I just wish I’d shown him how much I truly appreciated him. 

Leigh Robshaw is a Sunshine Coast journalist and author of the memoir, You Had Me at Hola: In search of love & truth in South America. Visit her website here.

Feature image: Supplied.

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