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Losing My Husband Was Hard. Here's How a Taxi Driver Helped

The stranger who bestowed lasting lessons on easing grief.

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illustration of woman sitting in taxi cab
Robert Samuel Hanson
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I don’t notice the clothes, babies or giant backpacks on the flight back to Chicago, only the gold wedding rings on the fingers of every man in my section. My husband Bruce rarely wore his wedding ring because he was embarrassed that the tip of his ring finger was missing, cut off when his older sister accidentally slammed a shower door on it. Now the ring hangs on a gold chain around my neck.

I am returning to Chicago from a family Thanksgiving in Connecticut. Bruce and I always hosted Thanksgiving. For nearly 20 years, at every Thanksgiving, every Passover and every birthday celebration, I was part of a couple, so being a widow for the first time at a table full of happy families was difficult.

I was sad and scared and untethered. And now, a man sits next to me on the plane, and I try to hide my tears in the pages of How to Live When A Loved One Has Died.

Today is our wedding anniversary.

After two painful years of immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation, Bruce died (or transitioned, as the hospice nurse kept saying) just a few months short of his 70th birthday and our 45th anniversary. Cancer has a cruel sense of timing.

And I’m going home to an empty apartment.

When we land, the man next to me helps me get my carry-on bag from the overhead bin and I think of the hundreds of times Bruce did that for me. I blink back tears and make a decision: I’m going to visit Bruce. He can’t be alone on our anniversary.

I have not been to the cemetery since the day of his funeral, four months ago, and I promised myself that I would not go alone. But I have to go. I have to tell him I love him, I miss him and that I don’t think I can go on without him.

There is no line at the taxi stand and a nice Iranian driver puts my suitcase in the trunk. I tell him the address of the cemetery, and he asks if I had a good holiday.

“Yes,” I say. “I was with my grandchildren.” What I don’t say is that although I loved being with my family, I was still wrapped in a cloak of grief.

“I have no grandchildren but I help build playgrounds in Iran where I have another home,” he says.

“That’s beautiful,” I say, because it is. He smiles at me through the rearview mirror. We ride in silence the rest of the way. As we approach the address and he sees that it’s a cemetery, he asks, “Who are you going to visit?”

I swallow. “My husband. Today is our 45th wedding anniversary and he died four months ago.” I begin to sob.

I tell him to drop me at the gates, but he says, “You are not going in there alone.” I am in no shape to argue. I direct him along the road past the monument commemorating Bruce’s parents, and there is Bruce’s grave, marked only by a stick in the ground and with a little sign that has his name on it. It will be many months before his headstone is ready to be unveiled.

I get out of the car and sob harder as I hug myself. The driver follows me, a roll of paper towels in his hands, and tells me to kneel down.

“Put your hands on your husband, that’s right,” he says, The sight of Bruce’s name and the memory of him being placed in the ground overwhelm me and I think I’m going to faint. The driver puts his arm around me and hands me a paper towel.

After a moment, he says, “Enough crying. I’m going to take you home.” As we drive to my apartment, I thank him for his kindness.

“I’m Muslim and you’re Jewish but it is the same God,” he says.

He tells me it is very important that I talk to my husband. “Tell him about your Thanksgiving, what you’ve been doing, what the grandchildren are up to. If you do this,” he says, “miracles will happen.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s a way to maintain a connection, if only in my mind. When I walk into my lonely, silent apartment, I will tell Bruce about the trip and how much I miss him.

Before I say goodbye to the driver, I tell him again how grateful I am that I got into his taxi. He says he usually starts driving in the morning but today he started at noon and that’s why he was there to give me a ride. I was his first fare of the day.

Then I understood. Bruce sent him to accompany me so I could see him on our anniversary. The taxi driver is like Clarence the angel from It’s a Wonderful Life, one of Bruce’s favorite movies.

“My name is Haidar,” he says. “Please call whenever you want to visit your husband and I will take you.” He gives me a piece of paper with his name and phone number on it.

I let myself into my apartment, set my bags down, and called out, “Hi Bruce, I’m home. You’ll never guess who I met today…”

Have you lost a spouse? Do you still talk to him or her? Let us know in the comments below.

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