“Part Of Life Is Death.” Wife’s Tragic Death Reveals Importance of End-Of-Life Planning.

by Shirley Riga

My name’s Shirley Riga from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

I was married for about 13 years and I got divorced. I had two girls. And unbeknownst to me, I’ve found myself being very attracted to women. I met a woman and she had two girls. We ended up getting together and actually got married. And when our family met, all the girls were – there’s three 8-year-olds and one 10-year-old. And so pre-puberty, we went through all that with the girls, often joked about going to the grocery store and we needed a cart for all the sanitary pads and Tampaxes and a cart for the groceries. That’s one of the jokes that we always had when we were together. And so the kids all grew up together and graduated from college, went to college, graduated from college.

My wife was going to work one day and black ice in lovely Massachusetts in January of 2006, and she lost control of her vehicle hit a car in the other direction. And it was a fatal accident. She lived 3 days. I got the phone call on my way to work – I was working in Hartford at the time – and immediately went to the hospital. And, you know, got all the kids there. They’re all adults at that time. The social worker met us there and they wanted to know who I was and I said I’m her wife. And they treated me with the utmost respect. I was quite surprised because I heard horror stories about that.

And I knew when my wife, she was going downhill, and the doctors would come and ask me, “How much more do you want to do?” and I knew that she wanted all heroic measures taken until there was nothing else left to do.

And then that’s when I said, “Okay. We can’t. We have to stop.”

And everything was trending down. It was inevitable but they put the power in my hand to say, “We need to make that decision. Let me know when you want to do it.”

I picked out the time and then everyone gathered and we all were in the room when they stopped the machines. And it was really, really hard, but at that point, she was already gone. It was kind of “Oh – she’s gone already.” It’s not like we’re giving her permission to leave, she’s already left.

After everything happened, I was sitting in the waiting room, after she had died, feeling like, what do I do now? And one of the nurses came out and said to me, “We have your wife’s hand for you,” and it was like “What?” I actually was climbing up the back of my seat trying to get away because I had no idea what they’re talking and then she brings out this white like plaster form of the imprint of her hand. It was an incredible experience, even though it was also devastating.

One of her daughters had a very, very hard time and got really, really angry at me. And I didn’t quite understand why. But she ended up having a lot of fights with me about the estate. We could not find a will and never did find a will and this one daughter ended up hiring an attorney, trying to block my right to have what was left of the estate. We were legally married in Massachusetts. She lost and to this day we don’t talk anymore. It was kind of a terrible experience but the court system backed me up and it was a – there was a no brainer to it.

I so celebrate watching people be in love with each other. But part of life is death.

Couples whether same-sex, different-sex, they need to talk about health care directives and they need to talk about their last will so that when you’re faced with these situations, and you don’t ever want it to happen but they happen, it’s in place. I really encourage people to make a plan around what steps to take when you come to that position so that it’s at least talked about once, so that we know.

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