Waking Up

a Memoir by

Nancy Francese

There are self help books for every single problem life can throw at you. But nothing could prepare me for the first morning I woke up after my husband died the night before in Jersey Shore Hospital. I would never again wake up to savor the smell of coffee brewing, no rustling of the paper, no footsteps trying to quietly crisscross the bedroom, no one singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling in the shower. None of the things I so easily took for granted yet loved the most.

I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to get out of bed. “I can’t do this,” I thought.

During our marriage there were only two occasions that we were apart. One time I went to a church convention for a night, and the other time, I went to visit an old friend in Ohio who was dying. Other than that we went to bed together and woke up together roughly 6,570 nights. There was an I Love You every night before I drifted off to dream of redecorating one room or another, or redesigning the backyard. Carl, I can almost certainly say drifted off to replay Pebble Beach Golf Course or perhaps Ballybunion or any one of the dozens of courses we played. Even the mornings he didn’t have to get up early, he got up before me, fixed the coffee and brought me a cup in bed. The fact that he was a tea drinker made this even more thoughtful.

The final month of his life he prepared me for sleeping alone. He said sleeping in bed was too difficult; it was easier to sleep sitting up on the couch. I put a pillow behind his head and the TV remote within reach.
Where is Elephant? he asked. Elephant, a blue and green sock elephant, was one of our grandson’s treasured stuffed animals which he gave to Carl.
“I’m giving Grandpa some of my stuffed animals to help him feel better,” said Miles. I nestled Elephant in next to Carl’s elbow.
“Thank you. I like having Elephant; I feel safe. I love you”, he said.
“I love you”, I responded with as normal a voice as I could muster.

Once in bed, I listened carefully for his breathing to change to a gentle rhythm of 1-2, in and out signifying sleep, and then I could fall asleep. Ironically one morning he said to me, “I listen for your breathing to change, and then I can fall asleep. “

And so, I became accustomed to going upstairs and going to bed alone. I could do so because I knew he was downstairs. And I could get up in the morning because I had to make sure he was alive, still.

He was until the night he wasn’t.

I had gone to bed, but in the morning when I remembered the horror of the night before, I couldn’t make myself move. I won’t move. I’ll go back to sleep and wake up to all the familiar sounds of a husband and wife sharing a morning. I won’t roll over; I won’t look. I can’t bear to see the pillow still perfectly fluffed and the blanket unwrinkled. I will just lay in bed, look out the window and let my tears silently seep into forever.

And then one day I woke up without feeling like 10-pound weights were attached to my ankles and wrists, got up, dressed, made coffee and grabbed the paper from the front porch. And then I did the same thing the next day and the next and the next until slowly death succumbed to life.


Nancy Francese is a retired school teacher and college English professor. She is currently working on a collection of personal essays which focus on her experiences living on a farm, her 25-year teaching career and the loss of her husband in 2017. She has a son, daughter-in-law and two fabulous grandchildren. Nancy lives in New Jersey where she enjoys golf, reading and writing.

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