When Chuck Hughes died on the football field in 1971, age 28, he was the first and is still the only professional football player to die on the field. He and his wife Sharon enjoyed a good relationship, their children, and a future together.
Because the last exchange between Chuck and Sharon had been a quarrel, Sharon went on a campaign to encourage couples to say “I love you” as their last words before parting — whether to go to the grocery store or the football field, whether to part for five minutes or two weeks or two years. The last thing you say to anyone may be the final thing you will ever say to that person.
On my husband’s last day, a Saturday, he woke beside me. We made love. We often made love on a Saturday morning. In the morning, we were refreshed from sleep. On Saturday morning, we didn’t have to rush to work. We slept again, rose, showered together, and went out to breakfast. March 20, the beginning of spring. We could feel it in the air. At breakfast, we shared our plans for the future. Our son was in college, it was just the two of us, my husband 54 and me 51. We wanted to retire and spend more time together and were working on a plan to do that.
We went home after breakfast and did some chores. He mowed the lawn, I cleaned up inside the house. We ate a late lunch together and, after an hour or so, headed out to the gym. We worked out on a few different machines. As we passed each other, we kissed, started a brief conversation, then he was on the floor, his leg jerking, unable to respond. He lived a few more hours, a good thing since I was able to donate his organs, but he was gone from me mid-conversation, in that instant.
A week or so later, at the post office with his death certificate, I stood at the narrow window to push through paperwork at the postman behind the counter. His attention was half on me and half on his buddy behind the next window. My postman was complaining. “My wife wants to out for our anniversary — dancing or some such crap. There’s a game on that night. Women!”
I lost it. “Be glad you have a wife to dance with.” I stabbed at the death certificate I was shoving through the window. “Go home and make love. Go dancing. Enjoy each other. Now!”
I’ve always felt some guilt at my eruption. Understandable, but not how I should have spoken. I’m sure my husband and I had some irritations that we shared with friends or acquaintance or even strangers. But in the post office that morning, I was in a bad way and the postman looked sheepish after he saw what I’d pushed through the window. He mumbled and said something — I don’t remember what — dealt with my paperwork and got my husband’s mail for me.
On my way home, still feeling a little guilty at erupting, I was grateful for my last day with my husband — in harmony, with dreams ahead. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if our last words had been in anger.