Dearly Departed Hugh

//Dearly Departed Hugh

Dearly Departed Hugh

Dear Hugh,

When we heard that line “till death do us part” in our wedding service, did it even register? I mean, come on. We were babies then. Twenty-years-old! Did we ever even think about death? No. We were too busy living. Remember when we were in Vegas on our honeymoon (let’s not talk about the phone calls to Pete – never Dad, always Pete – to ask him to Western Union you more dough, because your double-down theory at the tables wasn’t really working) and we met up with your aunt and her husband for a drink? It was their last night in town and your aunt said, “Well. What are you gonna do? You gotta give ‘er!”

Gambling? Life? Same. You gotta give ‘er!

And, since we’re talking about odds and life, let’s look at the mathematical probability that you even existed in the first place. I just finished reading this great book, The Humans by Matt Haig. I guess it’s sci-fi, so you’d be as surprised at me reading it as my fiancé B. It’s a book club pick, though, and I really enjoyed it. So, this alien, from 8653178431 light years beyond Earth, inhabits the body of Andrew Martin, husband of Isobel. He studies her and sees a miracle:

You see, when you looked at a human’s face, you had to comprehend the luck that brought that person there. Isobel Martin had a total of 150,000 generations before her, and that only includes the humans. That was 150,000 increasingly unlikely copulations resulting in increasingly unlikely children. That was a one in quadrillion chance multiplied by another quadrillion for every generation.

Or around twenty thousand times more than the number of atoms in the universe. But even that was only the start of it, because humans had only been around for three million Earth years, certainly a very short time compared to the three and a half billion years since life first appeared on this planet.

Therefore, mathematically, rounding things up, there was no chance at all that Isobel Martin could have existed. A zero in ten-to-the-power-of-forever chance. And yet there she was, in front of me, and I was quite taken aback by it all; I really was. Suddenly it made me realise why religion was such a big thing around here. Because, yes, sure, God could not exist. But then neither could humans. So, if they believed in themselves – the logic must go – why not believe in something that was only a fraction more unlikely?

Wow. Gets you thinking, huh? God really isn’t a stretch. And you and me? Existing? Meeting? Creating three beautiful children? One of those children creating two? That same child in the process of manifesting one more? Life? It’s mind blowing.

What is becomes what was becomes what never will be again. Husband. I vowed to love you, and I did, “till death do us part”. You made me a widow with that and wearing that label, at 46, is not for the faint of heart. None of our friends were widows. It’s huge loss to come to terms with. And since I was always so good, I think, playing my supporting role to your starring one, the kids, suddenly, lost their powerful, constant guiding force. Dad.

Hugh, never in a million years (remember Mom’s old saying?) did I expect to be hanging around on Earth for so very long without you. Things keep on happening here, buildings being built, traffic lights installed, other people dying – Iman is grieving David, Cindy, Glenn. Time marches on, as “they” say.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you, if you haven’t figured it out already with the “fiancé” label above, is that I’m getting married again. I picked a date outside of March, because, you know, that was our month. But really, who in their right mind gets married on St. Patrick’s Day? No chance for a romantic meal when every eating establishment is packed with people wearing green, swilling green beer, singing, “Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling . . .” No. We couldn’t beat ‘em, so we joined ‘em.

Anyway, B and I are getting married on February 29th. Get it? It’s leap year this year. So, it’s a sneaky day. It’s kind of a joke, but not really. Because – and it’s hard for me to say this to you, because we were so committed to one another, and also possessive, jealous and all that, which really has no bearing anymore, but – I love him too. He’s been married a bunch of times before though, so it seems he sucks at it, marriage, but I can tell he loves me too, so that’s all that matters right? Anyway, having an anniversary just once every four years to remind him he’s married is probably fine. Do you know that it was the success of our marriage that was part of his attraction to me in the beginning? The fact that I’d figured out how to stay married for 25 years? And you know what I just realized? You’re the only one I will ever be married to for that long!

Please don’t feel betrayed. Maybe Matt Haig and The Humans can help with this part too. Alien inside Andrew Martin in bed on Earth with Isobel:

There was moonlight, starlight, airglow, streetlamps, and sunlight backscattered by interplanetary dust, but the humans still spent half their time in deep shadow. This, I was sure, was one of the chief reasons for personal and sexual relationships here. The need to find comfort in the dark.

I wish I were stronger, I really do. I know you always said I was it, that there’d be no one else for you if something happened to me. We’ll never know, because that’s not how things went down. And I feel a guilty twinge, I do, when I watch a biography on a widow or widower and then, accusingly, this flashes on the screen at the end: SO-AND-SO NEVER REMARRIED. Yes. That person deserves a gold star. Me? I’m afraid of the dark: physically, psychologically and metaphorically.

I miss you. I love you. Your legacy goes on and on. In the way me and the kids face our days, despite adversity – “It’s going to be a great day today”. In the way we try to not take life too seriously. You know I’m prone to that. Remember, there were times when I just wanted you to take one thing seriously? Or, maybe don’t exaggerate so much? Or, find new material perhaps? But, it all had to be one huge joke, didn’t it? Life? And when you look at the odds of being, existing – I guess you had it figured out, huh? – it makes you want to jump up and down in pure rapture.

Sometimes, when gravity – that thing always pulling a human down, that thing I ignored until the day you died – tugs at me, the sun will explode, through cloud, casting warm and abundant light on my face and I think, is that you? Is that Hugh? Pieces of Hugh, in rays of sunlight, still able to assure me? “Rita, things always have a way of working themselves out.”

Love, Rita



  1. Leslie blumas February 3, 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Wow. Beautiful.

  2. Cathy Popovic February 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Hugh would never want you to be alone, Rita. He would be so please that you found happiness and love again. I can just picture that big goofy smile on his face right now. Love ya girl.

  3. Angela Sekeris February 3, 2016 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    So happy for you Rita! You may remember from our chats that I was a widow at 45 and was never going to remarry either. Well I like you have decided I don’t want to live the rest of my life alone. I truly believe that we aren’t meant to. Someday I hope I too will find someone who inspires me to write a Dear Rob letter. Thank you for expressing both through this and your book what so many widows feel but are unable to articulate! P.s. I love the Feb 29th date! Xo

    • Rita Hartley February 3, 2016 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      Oh thank you Angela. For reading and commenting. And good for you for deciding not to be alone! No fun that, being alone. Best of luck in your search. Stay open. Truly living and loving, I believe, is how we honour our dearly departed spouses. Take care xo.

  4. linda smart February 3, 2016 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    wow..what a beautiful read…straight from the heart…I am positive he is watching over you and elated that you found happiness again…btw..congratulations on your upcoming marriage…Hugh was a fun loving , happy spirit…I still can see his wonderful smile..all the best Rita

    • Rita Hartley February 3, 2016 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Linda! I do feel he watches over us. Hugh was a positive happy guy with a great smile. And B is positive too, in a quieter, steady way. I’m a lucky gal. Twice blessed in love. All the best xo.

  5. Pemny February 17, 2016 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Beautiful read, Rita

  6. Lydia DiCola February 17, 2016 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Your writing always moves me…this piece in particular. I see and feel Hugh’s presence everywhere. Even though we have never met. Simone looks like him, her smile especially. Your beautiful children cherish the life they have had with you both, he is with them everywhere they go. We celebrate this next stage with B, a perfect match for you Rita! You are both so incredibly fortunate to have met one another. We wish you only the best always!!

    • Rita Hartley February 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Lydia. So beautifully said! Xo.

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