Sometimes, a second life can follow tragedy

Last week, a man walked into an assisted living center and shot his wife. I don’t want to assume any details or ascribe motives to people I didn’t know. But from what I’ve read, it seems Cornelius Donovan loved his wife Joan very much.

The Donovans lived at the end of a cul de sac in a quiet, suburban town. They were married for 60 years.

According to an article in The Record, next-door neighbor Lana Smyth said she used to see Cornelius taking Joan out for drives.

“He was very attentive to her, and I guess when [the illness] would get too much, he would take her out for a drive to calm her down,” Smyth said in the story.

Those who knew them said they were a devoted couple. Officials kept the details private. But here is what we know: It was her first day at the center. Her failing health made it impossible for the disabled husband to care for her any longer.

It seems many were surprised when Cornelius shot Joan and then turned the gun on himself. But there was one detail that stuck out in my mind. Cornelius sat with Joan for four hours before the horrible scenario was played out.

He didn’t walk in and start firing impulsively. The local police chief said he didn’t believe the man wanted to harm anyone else.

I know writing about a murder/suicide seems like an odd topic for a column called The Joy of Life. But as I finished reading the story, my mind was flooded with thoughts of loved ones.

“I love you” and “Thanks for being my best friend,” I texted my wife immediately.

I thought of her parents. I know she worries about her dad having a hard time coping if her mother happened to go first. These are dark, personal thoughts, I know. And I thank my family for allowing me to share them. I think I would be in the same boat as Sarah’s Dad if I were left without her.

After several conversations with friends and family, I get the impression that women might actually be better at dealing with these things. Is it because even in this day and age men are still tamping down their feelings, not having conversations like the ones this tragedy brought out of me?

Sarah’s family handles hardships with a morbid Western sense of humor leftover from the pioneer days. It seems to serve them well. Some aren’t as open when it comes to talking about loss. How much harder will that make it for them to handle loss when it comes?

Next I thought of my parents. They are a tightly knit unit. They work like a well-oiled machine, each one taking care of their non-overlapping respective duties to make sure that their household and relations with others are in good order.

My Grandma, who is now in her 90s, once told me that when Grandpa died of cancer in the 80s, she didn’t know how she would move on without him. She didn’t even think she’d be able to take care of herself since he handled so many of the day-to-day tasks, like paying bills.

But she did find a way. Not only did she carry on, she grew stronger. Eventually, a new path was forged. Grandma found herself walking down a path she never would have wanted, a path she could have never pictured herself on. But that path led to happiness nonetheless.

The Donovans’ deaths were the eighth such incident in New Jersey in the past three years, reports The Record. Many more have been reported nationally.

It seems the anxiety he felt over putting his wife in a home–as people generally say–was insurmountable for Cornelius. Reading a difficult story like this in the news can help us cut to the quick. In such situations, our daily busyness can’t serve as a distraction or defense mechanism.

For a moment we have no choice but to focus on what is really important. And that is why this story brought my own family to mind.

The grandma that I grew up knowing is an amazingly strong and self-reliant person. She went on to be the matriarch of the family. Seeing the strength she exerted to keep our large family in line inspired me.

It wasn’t a role she envisioned for herself while Grandpa was taking care of things, and yet it was a role that she grew to love.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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