Far more than December 7, October 21 is the day that “lives in infamy” for me. In the wee hours of the morning of that day in 1991, my husband’s surgeon called via telephone.
“His heart expired,” the doctor said, as if that clarified the jumble of words he’d just vomited on me.
“What are you saying?” I cried, not wanting to understand. “He’s dead? What do I do?”
At that he quickly passed the emotion-filled phone to his nurse to deal with the rest of the call.
My beloved William Anton Olson was 25 when he died on October 21, 1991. Had he lived, he would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year. As of today, he has been dead more days than he’d been alive. In that sense, 1991 truly was a lifetime ago.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he called December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy.” I wasn’t alive in 1941, but even so I am aware of the date each year — in part because repeats of movies and documentaries relive that episode in American history as the date draws near.
Likewise, my mind replays episodes of my life with Bill as October 21 draws near. Knowing the special significance of the date this year, I began reading my journal that I’d begun shortly after his death. I had waited to begin writing in a journal (and thinking) because “my first remembrances of Bill’s death [were] too sharp, too real.” And yet I understood the need to “capture them with ink and paper.” I’m glad I did.
The first day’s entry was December 19, 1991, which marked the 3-year anniversary of what Bill and I had called our “Hello Forever Day,” the date we got engaged. (Bill and I had completed two summer missions projects that always ended on the 19th day of August (he lived in Wisconsin; I lived in Florida; the day was marked by grief at goodbye); he specifically asked me to marry him on the 19th to remedy that memory.
Within that first entry was this:
“Someday, I will write a book entitled, “When Forever Isn’t.” Bill and I were so careful to marry forever, for keeps, for a lifetime. We talked of growing old together. We talked of dying together — for we didn’t think we could possibly live without one another.
Here I am, alive. Alone.
How can I — with a heart that married Bill for my lifetime — go on? Get remarried? Bill’s death more than takes his life — it forever alters mine. Now what do I do?”
I went on to record my struggle, thinking it would be so much easier to die than to live through the pain and the changes. I had been reading Warsaw Requiem at the time, part of the Zion Covenant book series that recorded the tribulations of the Jews and those who stood against the rising tide of Nazi terrorism under Hitler, and recorded it in the journal as a reminder why I must go on:
“For the sake of the name of the eternal, you must continue to live. It is easier sometimes to stand against the wall and let them shoot. But for the sake of the name, we are called sometimes to suffer and go on living.”
I had concluded the day’s entry with “I don’t understand why — but I know how — with Christ and for His glory.”
My journal is filled with rants and raves and questions — and explorations into God’s amazing grace and, more personally, his “enough-ness.” I copied quotes from books I found inspiring and Scripture that touched my heart. I recounted experiences and people and our interactions. Mostly, I recorded my thoughts and struggles and my pursuit of God. It doesn’t record a lot of answers. It certainly doesn’t record why Bill’s life ended as it did or why my life was so dramatically altered. But it shows a loving God, a path to peace, and the arms of the people who surrounded me with their strength throughout those dark days. What a blessing to have such a record!
“I loved him — more than any other person,” I had written at the time. “…Bill loved me — and I think I blossomed because of who he was. He’s a big reason I’m me.”
I am thankful that I had the opportunity to know him, to love him, to call him my own. And I’m thankful for the part he had in making me me. Even after he was gone. Indeed, it seems a lifetime ago.