To Mike: A Letter to My First Husband, On His Deathbed

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At my first wedding, waiting for Mike to walk to me, with my parents

Below is a very personal outpouring. I discovered my ex-husband was dying on Sunday night, and he died yesterday morning. My oldest son is his son, but my ex had cut himself off from everyone, including our son and his parents, for over fifteen years.

The marriage wasn’t a good one. I married very young and he was a much more dangerous person than I dreamed of when I married him. Still, he died alone, with no friends or family, after fifteen years away. This is the only eulogy he will be getting. It will have to do.

 To Mike:

I got a call from your mother Sunday night. She got a call from the hospital. There you are, dying, never to awaken again. The hospital wants my son. Our son. Your son. To make the decision to pull the plug.

There’s the, of course, ‘fuck you’ side of this. How dare you do this to him. You haven’t seen him since he was five. What kind of father does that to his son.

But I already know what kind. I married that kind, and then walked, and ran, away. Eaten up, so consumed by hatred and bitterness that you spread its poison to my heart too, where it lingered awhile. Determined not to be who your parents wanted you to be. You showed them. (I want you to know they both cried when they found out. Both of them.)

Turns out you’ve been dying for years, and no one knew. I only knew that you still haunt my dreams, the nightmares, the silent shaking, the ducking when Call of Duty is on the Playstation, because the gunfire. The gunfire. And yet.

In with ‘fuck you’, resting uncomfortably, is pity, raw and deep, and another anger. This me who I am now? It’s in response to you. My own ‘fuck you’. I’m going to be the better person. I’m going to be good, and generous, and compassionate, and its going to matter. That’s what I told myself, and it worked.

But never, ever, for you. And there it is. You were my first love, the one who first kissed me, the one whose phone calls made me dream for hours of our future together. Your chocolate eyes had me believing your lies for so many years. And so I mourn. You never grew, you never changed, you never learned.

You stayed stuck, and in an irony I didn’t believe until I got that call last night, you were homeless and alone all those years I was caring for the homeless. All those years I was caring for you, still. All those years I still wanted you to grow, to learn, even though it was too late for us.

I can’t let anyone see me cry over you. My son. OUR son – never knew you, save as a small boy that yes, you treated well, until you abandoned him. My husband, my husband now and always. The man I love now, who gave me everything my heart needed and wanted. I can’t hurt him with this love I still feel for you. I can’t because he knows its an echo, a shadow of something that died long ago, and he has the fresh, the alive me of today.

And you, unconscious. You still control everything. You still get your way, in the end. I have to think of you. I have to be a part of your death as I was part of your life. I hate you for that, as much, or more, as I ever loved you.

Your son will call the hospital. He will do what he needs to do. He will go to his grandparents and let them mourn with him. Through it all, he will feel very little, possibly nothing, of you. He doesn’t know you, the quicksilver grin, the rages, the anger, the jokes that were so, so cruel, and yet funny. He doesn’t know how you held my hair while I cried, while the worst depression of my life washed over me again and again, for years. He doesn’t know, really, how utterly terrified I was of you, even long after you were out of my life.

He doesn’t know, and he never will, and damn you, it’s all on you. I don’t want to mourn you. I don’t want to hope that you will be reborn again in a child with another chance at happiness, at love, at inner peace. But that is what I hope for you.

Thank you for the one truly good thing you produced in your life – your son. For him, much of the rest of your life can be forgiven.

Added later: (You died this morning, before anyone got there to say goodbye, before anyone had to make that hard, hard choice. I guess you got it after all).

Goodbye, Mike. May you reach out in the next life for the things you rejected in this one. Goodbye. May you and I both find peace, at last.


March 1965 – January 2013

Grief is a complicated thing. I’m finding myself unwillingly remembering the good in him, the things I saw in him when I married him, when I held on to the fear and hate and anger for years in order to survive.

It is time to let go of all of it. The irony of it all was that, in the end, he was another of my homeless guys. I had heard the rumors, but I didn’t believe them. Like a cat, he had always landed on his feet. I thought he was invincible. I was wrong.

He produced an amazingly wise and kind son who makes me proud every day of his life. That’s not too shabby an achievement, for all of that.

Thank you, gentle readers, for reading this. I hope it helps you when you go through your own grief at a loved one whose life course angered or disappointed you. Remember both halves, the good and the bad, and honor your feelings of grief as well as your feelings of anger, disappointment, shame, whatever you’re feeling. You’ll get through them much faster.


  • The Half-Life of Grief (
  • All Right With Death? (
  • You can’t hold me down long.. (
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