I hate January 3rd. I really do. It was the worst day of my life.
In early December of 1990, I was running errands with my infant daughter and 2-1/2 year-old-son. I was thinking about a fear that I had had for over 10 years: that my husband Walt would die before me. He was 20 years older than me, and I had worried about it constantly, especially since we had had children. But he told me over and over to stop worrying about it, that everything would be fine. On that beautiful December morning, I decided to let it go, to let go of my longstanding fear and just enjoy the wonderful life that we had with our two beautiful children and our love for each other. Little did I know that 3 weeks later he would die.
Nothing could have prepared me for that day. It started out like any other day. Except that I had been mad at him for a few days before and was barely speaking to him. That morning when he woke up, he found me up with the baby and said quizzically, “Honey? Are we in a fight?” Well, I had been mad at him but I said, “well, if you haven’t even noticed, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore and we aren’t.”
We smiled at each other. It wasn’t important. Then he said, “I have the worst indigestion.” That was very odd for him. He NEVER complained about anything EVER, much less any physical ailments. It was strange.
But he continued on with his day and took my car somewhere for some brake work. Then he came home to test out some new chicken recipes. Our daughter was to be baptized on that Sunday the 6th. Even though he didn’t quite believe in baptisms and all that, he was going along with it for my sake. He had taken off a few rare days from work; he loved to barbeque, and was planning to try out a few new things for that Sunday.
My sister Teresa came over later that day with her 6 month-old daughter Rachel. We decided to take the kids out and have pizza. I almost left 2-1/2 year-old Ryan with Walt, but thank God we took him with us.
When we returned, I opened the front door and placed the car seat with my daughter in it on the floor. And then….I looked up and saw my husband on the kitchen floor. I remember shouting “Walt’s on the floor!” without realizing what this could mean.
I learned that day how amazingly well I operate in a panic. Even though my heart was racing and I was shaking, I knew what to do. I grabbed the phone and was already talking to the 911-operator while Teresa stood there frozen. She eventually got both our babies to the sofa and started reading to them, and kept trying to coax Ryan to join them. But he kept coming into the kitchen and saying “Mommy, why is Daddy sleeping on the floor?” The 911 operator was telling me how to perform CPR.
“Mommy, what is Daddy doing? Daddy, Daddy, wake up!” I didn’t hear the operator when she said to pinch his nose before blowing air into his mouth. When I finally did hear it and did it…the result was awful – the gurgling sound, I will never forget it. A weird “knowing” came over me.
The EMS personnel came and filled my kitchen. I immediately scooped up my daughter and started nursing her. I knew on some level that I might be gone for awhile and she had never had formula or any other food. I kept asking them, “Is he going to be OK?” Finally, one of them said, “It doesn’t look good Ma’am.” I appreciated that. They cut his jacket up his arm to put something in his vein. (Side note: I love that jacket, I still have it and I used to put it on to feel his arms around me.)
At some point they took him to a local hospital. I remember taking my children’s pictures from my wallet and pacing the halls, saying “Please, God, please.” But then I saw a doctor come out and a nurse was following him with one of those little boxes of tissues….and I knew. He didn’t make it.
I sat with him for a long time. I put the pictures on his chest. I thanked him for giving me Ryan and Hannah, and for all the love he had given them and me. I opened his eyes to see them one last time. They were so beautifully big, and so beautifully blue (both of my children have his eyes). Finally they told me that I had to leave him and go home. Someone drove me, I don’t remember.
I walked into my house and said to Teresa “he died.” She already knew. Then, I went to make the phone calls. For some reason I called his boss first. “Mr. Freddolino, this is Lisa Ramelow. Walt had a heart attack today…and died.” He gasped and said something I don’t remember, and then composed himself. He was a nice man and I knew he needed to know. It is an understatement to say that my husband had an important job at Rockwell International: he was in charge of all of the electrical wiring systems on all of the Space Shuttles as well as all of the information on the 35,000 tiles on each of the Shuttles. For the previous 3 years, Walt had alternated weeks, one at home and the next at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). We were both fine with his travelling. My sweet humble modest Walt, he would never say this, but he was a really big deal at Rockwell, he really was.
Next I called his daughters (from his previous marriage). I love and adore them so much. Then…his mother. This would be the 3rd son that she had lost. I called my sister-in-law; her heart sunk but she said she would tell their mother.
“But Mommy, I thought Daddy was just sleeping on the floor. Was he broken?”
“Yes honey, Daddy was broken.”
“But Mommy, couldn’t all those men fix him? Daddy could fix anything.”
“I know honey, but no, I wish they could, but they couldn’t fix Daddy. And he can never come home again.”
“Mommy are you sure?”
“Yes honey, I am sure.”
For weeks after, whenever the mailman opened our screen door, Ryan would forget what I had told him and would run to the door and exclaim “Daddy’s home!!” thinking it was like before. I would have to remind him, “Daddy really loved you and didn’t want to leave you ever, but he cannot come home anymore.”
“Well Mommy, can we go visit him on a plane? Daddy always took planes.”
“No son, we can’t.”
And on it went.
So now….. so, so many years later…I still don’t like January 3rd. And I never will. But I am at peace with it now. And here is a strange bit of fate: a few months before my husband died, he was slated to transfer to Johnson Space Center in Houston. I didn’t want to go there. But he did, and was excited about the possibility. If he had lived…. we would have more than likely moved to Texas. My kids might not have gotten to know their cousins or my parents as closely as they did.
And you know what else? There would be no La Strada. It would never had existed as it does now. And all of you who know me or know each other because of it….none of it would ever have happened. And isn’t that strangely contemplative?
I will never be happy that my Walt died that day, or that he missed out on experiencing our beautiful children growing up…..but the whole universe would have gone in a completely different direction. And that is so uncomprehendingly amazing to me. And it was totally out of my hands….and in God’s.
Thanks for reading about this part of my life….xoxox Lisa