Rinse and Repeat

//Rinse and Repeat

Rinse and Repeat

Pre-Covid, I attended a weekly writers’ group. We’d take turns sharing our stories and being critiqued. One night, a fellow shared a fiction piece about a male protagonist. The scene felt cloying to me: a distraught grieving widower talking at length to his wife in the cemetery.

“That’s not what it’s like,” I insisted, when it was my turn to offer advice. “I lost my husband. I should know. I sure as hell don’t hang out at his tombstone having long chats with him.”

“Really?” the fellow said, eyes smarting, obviously stung. “I read this to my wife and she cried.”

Hmmm, I thought at the time. One can fantasize all one wants. I used to do it too. Until you’ve lost a spouse? You haven’t the foggiest notion how you’ll respond.

Well, I suppose I owe this guy an apology. I think he’s moved west, so I doubt I’ll get the chance.

Since then? I’ve watched many well-done examples of this type of scene on TV. I mean, unless you’re doing a voiceover, how else is the audience supposed hear what’s going on inside the griever’s head? True, the above example is on paper; the writer could just do the omniscient thing, right?

But, who am I, who was I, to think that just because I lost a spouse I have/had the monopoly on responses to it? Eighteen years ago? Had my husband died anywhere in the vicinity of myself? In the loosey-goosey (a term he loved; he’d get on a bent with words that felt good coming from his mouth – “alacrity” is another one – and he’d use them over and over and over) way he died? I’d have been suspect numero uno.

My response to his sudden passing? Blank. Nothing. Nada.

Perhaps it was the way in which I was told. His mom said, “He didn’t make it.” The brain loves a riddle, yes? For the rest of the night my brain tried, in vain, to work this out. Didn’t make what? What didn’t he make? 

This repeated, as I called our oldest to tell her her father was gone. Because he didn’t make something. As I watched our youngest, a son, just 17, still living at home, slouched forward in his bed, long arms, fingers, extending toward heaven. “You’re telling me my father died?” No. He just didn’t make this thing. As I tracked down our middle child to figure out how to get her home. She’d just returned to Whistler, where she was living at the time, from the Vancouver airport, having picked up her boyfriend who’d been home to London, Ontario, for the funeral of a friend killed in a car accident. It was the end of November; icy snow made it a treacherous drive.

There was this: how is it possible that her boyfriend just attended a funeral and her dad, seemingly healthy, just dropped dead? These two things can’t be true. And: how can she get herself safely back to the airport? And: how can she ride in a plane, alone, knowing her father didn’t make it? Didn’t make it.

The family members gathered overnight in my kitchen, watching me make coffee like a coffee-making expert – we’ve all gotta be good at something, right? – saw what probably seemed like a normal human and not a fresh widow. No screeching. No tears, even. No tearing out of hair. Rending of clothing. Definitely not a Hollywood-worthy response. So disappointing.

I feel tremendous guilt when I watch impressive scenes of loss. Now that right there: the catch in the voice, the pained squeal, the wet eyes. Rita! Could you not have offered up something?

He didn’t make it.

This time of year rolls around again and even after almost two decades the shock of that night returns. Maybe if there’d been a warning of impending doom the response would have been different? More outwardly expressive? Proper?

I go to the cemetery. This year I go alone, which is unusual. It looks like his sister has planted new tea roses and his still has one bloom, dried and pale pink. And also? I find a sweet bud. New life. Trying to come, so hopeful, despite winter’s approach.

I pull crispy maple leaves from around the tea roses in front of his tombstone, his parents’, his nephew’s. An omniscient eye watches tears fall. The eye must have ears too because it hears this, over and over and over, “I really miss you guys.” Sometimes the “really” is emphasized. Really.

Walking over to discard the bucket of dead leaves a humongous shiny black tombstone catches my eye. You can put pictures on tombstones now. Did you know that? There’s two pictures on this one, of a cousin of Hugh’s, in a tux, and also, driving a Standardbred horse. Wow. I check the dates. Phew. There’s only one. His DOB. He’s still alive.

I go back to hang with my late husband’s tombstone for a bit. Regard the beautifully engraved horse heads on either side, at the top. Regard the four letters below “beloved husband of”: R-I-T-A. No middle name, no DOB, as though in denial that half of her ashes – her life was split in two after all – will reside here someday. With the remains of a man who loved and helped define her so long ago, with horses, with children, with all the “Heart, Spirit and Inspiration” his name could offer up.

The omniscient eye with the ears hears this: “Why?!” Over and over and over. It does not hear an answer.



  1. Leslie+Blumas November 30, 2022 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Love and hugs. Les.

  2. Rosie November 30, 2022 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    So clearly from the heart….. loved this!

  3. Denise Capitano November 30, 2022 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    I think of Hugh on this day every year. He is dearly missed. And of course I think of you and your kids… tears still glow for your loss😢
    Sending you big hugs💞💞

    • Rita Hartley November 30, 2022 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Denise. It’s comforting to know others miss him as we still do. A huge guy, a huge loss, despite the passing of all these years 🤗💚🙏

  4. Katie Millar November 30, 2022 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    Your words never fail to move me Rita…grateful to you for your willingness to share xo.

    • Rita Hartley December 1, 2022 at 7:06 am - Reply

      Thank you so much Katie. Hope all is well with you on your new surroundings 🙏🤙

  5. Linda smart December 1, 2022 at 7:10 am - Reply

    I can relate 😥. So beautifully written..WHY? My loss was also in November

    • Rita Hartley December 1, 2022 at 7:26 am - Reply

      You just never get an answer to that question, do you? It doesn’t seem to matter how many years go by, November is a tough month. Thx & hugs Linda 🤗

  6. Linda smart December 1, 2022 at 7:12 am - Reply

    I can relate 😥. So beautifully written..WHY? My loss was also in November,,Hugh was a great guy

  7. Nancy Joyal December 1, 2022 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    “A life split in two afterall.” Thinking of you. Forever missed indeed. ❤

    • Rita Hartley December 1, 2022 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      And you, unfortunately, know what that’s like 😢. Thx so much for your kind words 💚🙏

  8. Richard Campbell December 1, 2022 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written. Just so perfect.

  9. Richard Campbell December 1, 2022 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written. Just so perfect. You bring the story home, Tita!

    • Rita Hartley December 1, 2022 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      Thx so much Richard! As always, I appreciate your knowledgeable feedback 💚🙏

  10. Grant Clark December 2, 2022 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    All my love Rita, sad for your loss but I hold on to the fond memories.

    • Rita Hartley December 2, 2022 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      And there are so very many fond memories to choose from! Thx Grant 💚🙏

  11. Cathy Popovic December 2, 2022 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    I remember going into work a few days after our Christmas party, and asking Alicia if Hugh was in. Pierre owed him money for a football bet he lost ( he ended up giving it to Jay). She looked at me confused, and asked which Hugh. I said Hugh Davis. Then she told me the news. I drove home immediately, and almost got in an accident, because I couldn’t see through my tears. I went home and called your house (hoping Hugh would answer, and tell me it was all a bad joke). Tina answered and confirmed the horrific news. I drove over to your place, and you were the one comforting me. I couldn’t hold it together, but you were so strong. Shock I’m guessing. And how you got up and said that amazing speech at his funeral, with such courage and strength. I’m still amazed. You sure did suffer a lot of loss in s short period of time. You always amaze me. Lots of love and hugs to you all ❤️

    • Rita Hartley December 3, 2022 at 7:36 am - Reply

      I still feel terrible about how you found out about his death. It happened so fast, at night and it was really hard to get the word out to everyone that needed to know. In that respect, I’m sure the shock of that night rinses and repeats for you too 😢. I didn’t know it was shock, for me, at the time but I understood it later. The brain can only take in so much. If it’s too much, it’s impressive at deflecting. Thx so much for sharing Cathy 💚🙏

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