My Personal Day of Infamy
On August 26th, 2004 my wife's life was tragically taken from her after falling off of a roof, 25 feet, in Austin, Texas. I was on a business trip to Seattle, WA on that day. Little did I know when I awoke that morning it would become the worst day of my life.
At 9am Seattle time (11am Austin Time) I had a few things to take care of before heading out to the airport to catch my plane back home that afternoon. As always, my wife was to meet me at the San Antonio Airport at about 11:00pm that night. We played phone tag for about 20 or so minutes starting at about 11:00am Austin time. At approximately 11:30am I was finally able to contact my wife: (As best as I can recollect)
"Hey Baby!" I said.
"Hey Babe!" She says, excitedly.
"I'm taking some measurements on the roof at Dell. But it's getting a little too hot up here, so I'm about to get down now."
"Ah. Well, it sounds like your having fun."
"Yes, I am," she says contently.
"Well, I'm glad baby. You're finally doing something you enjoy and having a great time. I'm so proud of you baby."
"Yea, me too. hehehehe"
"Well, ok, I just wanted to give you call and see what you were up to. I love you!" I said.
"I love you too baby...can't wait to see you tonight! We gonna have some fun this weekend! Wooowhooo!"
"(me chuckling) Yes, we are....see you tonight, love you! Bye."
That was the last time I would ever talk to my wife again. About 30 minutes later, I received a phone call from a counselor at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. She told me my wife had fallen off a "loading dock" and was admitted to the ER. She told me she had taken a nasty fall and had hit her head, but was unable to tell me of her condition. She said a doctor would contact me within a half hour.
I hung up the phone not really getting the seriousness of the situaion yet. I sat there for a moment, concerned but not overly concerned. After all, there was no way my wife was going to die today, impossible. After a few minutes I instinctly called my wife's cell phone again. No answer, of course. I called my mother who lives about 30 miles south of the hospital. While talking to my mother, that's when it hit me. The gravity of the situation hit me hard and I couldn't hardly talk. I told my mother I didn't know of her condition, but Rhonda was admitted to the hospital and I asked her to please go there and find out what was going on.
I packed up my stuff and hauled ass to the Airport to try and get an earlier flight and switch the arrival to Austin instead of San Antonio. During the drive I had to contact my step-son, Paul, in Okinawa, via the Red Cross, and let him now what was going on. By the time I got to the ticket counter, the full force of the situation hit me after I got off the phone with her brother who just informed me he is headed to Austin from Beaumont. Because of my obvious emotional state and the fact that I purchased a one way ticket at the counter, the ticket lady selected me for "special security." So I had to go through this forever security screening before finally reaching my gate. I still had 2 hours before my plane leaves.
I sat at my gate waiting for the ER doctor to call me, who still hadn't. Finally, he called. He told me her chances were not good and that she had suffered severe head trauma. He said the neurologist was with her now and trying to see if he can save her but was not optimistic. He said he was sorry he didn't have anymore information for me but the neurologist would call me back. Great, more waiting. I began calling everyone I knew to let them know what was going on. This was also to try and keep my sanity. Then, the phone call came in. It was the neurologist. This was the conversation, as best as I can remember: (he did most of the talking and I did all of the crying, I couldn't hardly talk at all)
"Mr. Locke. I'm sorry but your wife has suffered severe head trauma and unfortunately there is no way to repair the damage. She has swelling on the brain and the part of her brain that regulates breathing, heartbeat, etc., has been damaged. I need your permission to continue recessitation."
After a few seconds of silence I asked, "Are you asking me to give you permission to discontinue saving her life?"
"Sir, yes, I'm afraid I am."
"Oh my god. I can't believe this is happening. My wife is going to die, no matter what?"
"Yes, sir. There is no way. Even if she survives this, she would be a complete vegetable. She has been unconcious since the fall; she hasn't felt a thing."
"Well, we actually talked about this before and there is no way either of us would want this. But is there anyway you can keep her alive until I get there in 7 hours?"
"Sir, you don't understand. I have four people standing over her now keeping her alive. She is only alive because we have these people pushing on her chest. I have given her blood pressure pills and her heart keeps stopping. I may be able to keep her stablilized until you get here, but I can't promise that."
"Ok, please do what you can until I get there. Thank you."
Approximately 45 minutes later, I received a phone call from my mother, who had been there by her side throughout most of the ordeal. My mother told me she was gone. She passed away 30 minutes prior. My mother told me she was holding her hand and whispered into her ear that we all loved her. I was a basketcase. I phoned everyone I could to talk to someone who knew her and would miss her as much as I would. I couldn't stand to be around a bunch of strangers who had no idea how wonderful she was. I was at ground zero. My life, as I knew it, was over.
My god! All I want to do now is get in touch with Paul! He has got to be hurting as much as I do right now. No one loved her as much as her husband and son. By this time, Paul, in Okinawa, had been informed that his mother was in the hospital. The red cross patched him into the hospital where he spoke to my mother. My mother, who was very emotional, of course, told him his mother was in very bad condition. He dropped the phone. When Paul finally called me a few minutes after I learned of her death, I was boarding the airplane. I wasn't sure if he had heard of his mother's fate yet. He was headed for a long 30 hour wait between hearing his mother died to his plane arriving in San Antonio. I sat in my seat and began to have the most emotional and hardest conversation I would ever have. I still makes my cry alot when I recall it:
"Hey," Paul said.
"Hey, Paul. Paul, I'm so sorry. I love you so much Paul." I said.
"I love you too. We have to stick together to get through this."
"I know," I said.
"Can you do me a favor? Can you try and keep her alive until I get home?"
"Oh Paul! She died 3O minutes ago. I'm so sorry, Paul!"
I really don't remember the rest of the conversation after that, but we cried on the phone together for several minutes until I was forced to turn off the phone while taxiing to the runway. All I wanted at that moment was to be with him and hug him. That was suckiest moment of my life. While airborne from Seattle to Austin (a 5 hour flight with a lay over in Denver) I wrote the following letter to my wife:
To My Roo, 08/26/04
Where did you come from? You swept into my life like you were on a mission to take me over. You know it was exactly 4 years ago today that we went on our 2nd "real" date [and most successful one ;)]. I remember we were going dancing by it quicly changed to a night out with the boys at the poolhall (Shea and Zane, I think). And that is also when I met Paul for the first time. On that day, I, I mean to say WE, knew we were going to be together for the rest of our lives. DAMN IT! You were so much fun!
Unbeknownst to our family and friends, we got married 9 weeks to the day we first set eyes on each other. Some felt for sure we wouldn't last but regardless our family and friends were all super happy for us. We found each other as if we were old friends.
You, me and Paul began our rough and smooth ride together on Halloween 2000. One of the lasting memories I'll have is seeing the light on Paul's face shine the day we told him we were getting married. I never thought I would ever get married and neither did you. I was a forever bachelor, thinking there was no way I would ever find anyone who could put up with me.
A year later you and I headed out on a grand adventure! Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater or BUST baby! I was just thinking the other day how it was time for us to start planning our next trip to Fallingwater very soon.
Baby, we have laughed together, we have loved together, we have cheered together, we have screamed together,we have played together, and we have cried together. Fallingwater, Big Bend, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Marine Corp Recruit Depot, New York City, Broadway, Gettysburg. All of these places will forever be remembered as places we loved and shared together. Baby, last weekend I am so grateful we were able to spend our last weekend together on earth wining, dining, and laughing the night away on 6th street. I am also thankful the last words you heard me say to you and you to me was "I love you"...until we cross paths again, I will always love you and I will never forget you! With Arms Wide Open! My love!! Thank you for making me a better man!
Love, Your loving husband and best friend for ever!
PS-Shit, I almost forgot, now I have to go jump out of a damn airplane! Thanks baby, you always did wanna give the last word.
I later learned the last conversation I had with my wife happened just seconds before her fall. In fact, I'm convinced as soon as she hung up the phone, she fell. She fell approximately 25 feet off a roof, backwards. She landed on a concrete loading dock where she hit her head causing the terminal damage. Paul, myself and scores of her family and friends will miss her forever. She was an unbelievable human being.