When bad things happen: News of my husband’s passing while I’m in Ireland


(Irish-born Yvonne Waterson who emigrated in 1988 is a highly acclaimed school principal and education official in Arizona who lost her husband, Ken, last month while she was in Ireland and he was at home in Arizona)

I was back home a few weeks ago – business in Dublin and then up to Belfast to visit friends and then in rural South Derry with family. While I was away, my husband died at our home in Phoenix, Arizona.

When is the time right to tell the world my husband died? When do I announce to everyone that I am “newly widowed”? He always said – and I never understood it or really agreed with him – that “dying is a private business,” that when the time came, he wanted to die alone, just to sleep on.

And so he did. It was last week, and it was the day before our 22nd wedding anniversary. And it was when our daughter and I were far away in rural Derry, in the heart of Seamus Heaney country.

And it might even have been around the time I was talking to blacksmith Barney Devlin’s son Barry in The Forge on the side of the road at Hillhead, hearing all about the great night’s craic behind Heaney‘s "The Midnight Anvil" when Barney struck the anvil twelve times to ring in the new millennium with another son listening in on his cell-phone in Canada. Posing for a photograph with Barry Devlin on the other side of "The Door into The Dark" I was happy to be back home and anxious to write about it, holding in my hands the anvil that made the sweeter sound.

All I know is a door into the dark.

Later (yet earlier in Arizona), I knew something was wrong when he didn’t answer the phone; when, troubled, I sent a troubling text to my best friend to ask her to please go check if he was home and alright; when, nervously, she told me that, yes, both our cars were in the driveway and that our little dog, Edgar, was sitting on the couch, silently staring back at her; when she found a key under the doormat; when she opened the front door and tentatively called my husband’s name once, twice, and then a third time to no response; and, finally when she crumpled.

“He’s passed away! He’s passed away!” she cried. “He’s so cold. I’m so sorry.”

Then our daughter’s primal scream, a horrible, harrowing sound from somewhere deep within her, a sound I will never forget as she heard me tell my friend on the other side of the Atlantic on the other side of America on the other end of the line to please call 911. Just. Call. 9-1-1.

Too quickly to be true or anything good, I heard the noise of our house filling up with strangers, kind and efficient, from the police and fire departments, the crisis management team, and finally the people from the one mortuary that agreed to take my husband’s body even though there was some as yet unresolved fuss over who would sign the death certificate.

If nobody would sign it, perhaps he wasn’t dead.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” I asked.

“Yes. He’s dead. Yes. I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”


They pronounced my husband dead at 1:10pm not a full hour after I had called and left a message for him to please pick up the damn phone. Replaying my voicemails, back in America, my lovely loving parents with my daughter and me now, I can hear the irritation in my voice, and it reminds me that I find it easier to harbor annoyance than worry, and that anger is infinitely easier to bear than sorrow.

Blue morning over the LIffey

A week before, I had been so happy, wandering streets of Dublin still familiar to me, as though I had never left Ireland. I called my husband from Trinity College, where I’d happened upon a graduation, and when I told him how much fun I was having, he told me to have some more. And, I did. I was proud of myself, smug even, finding the perfect anniversary card for him in one of those bijou boutiques that have popped up on the south side of the Liffey and then breezily asking the concierge at The Brooks Hotel to mail it to America for me as though I were Meryl Streep‘s Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada."