What I Wish I Could Say To My Husband Who Died Suddenly

Leslie Blanchard

You know how the freshly-widowed always seem to mention how difficult it is to deal with their husband’s clothes after they’re gone? I guess because the scents and textures remind them so intensely of their dearly departed…

I didn’t actually experience that. A few days after you died, I ventured into your closet and tried to find you, but you weren’t there.

I couldn’t figure out why. I went in totally prepared with a gigantic box of tissues. Perhaps it’s because you didn’t smell like anything in particular. That’s when it occurred to me that you didn’t have a “signature scent.” You didn’t wear cologne or aftershave like my dad, nor did you have any kind of strong soapy smell.

We both know 20 years immersed in dirty diapers entirely eradicated my sense of smell, but you’d think, at the very least, I could’ve garnered a whiff of your Safeguard for the love of God and the emotional moment I was trying to have for myself.

I stood there inhaling and exhaling deeply like I was in a yoga class or attending one of those lamaze classes you teased me about. (You always claimed they were pointless because I always ended up begging shamelessly for the epidural.) But since there are no epidurals offered widows during the mourning process, those clever breathing techniques came in pretty damn clutch.

But once I lost you, I could never again smell you.

As for your general attire, you mostly wore black mock-turtlenecks or button-down oxfords, inspiring your young work protégées to lovingly refer to such as “The Jim Uniform.”

You questioned me one day a few months ago whether or not I thought you were “fashionable.” After I chuckled inside a little bit, I assured you that you were the “Clint Eastwood/Al Pacino-type” and your rugged brand of masculinity transcended mere attire.

Basically assuring you that you were so incredibly sexy that no one had a chance to even notice what you were wearing.

So, when the time came, I took another deep breath, marched right into your closet like the brave woman I am and boxed up all your clothes. Remember what our toddlers used to say?

“I did it all byself!”

I knew you wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in your closet. I set aside a few things for your boys and then, as you would’ve put it, I “handled–up on business.”

But, dude… our Spring Break trip to Louisiana last week — that was a different matter altogether…

From the second I walked off the plane and into the airport in New Orleans, it felt like I was stepping back into you.

The Jim-ness was as thick as the humid air down there — you could cut it with a knife.

We crossed over the Bonne Carre Spillway on our way into Baton Rouge. It’s open right now, by the way, to keep the Mississippi River from flooding New Orleans. (Ever the goal.) The water was rushing with focused determination. It had somewhere to go.

(Just like you.)

In fact, the whole place was a remarkable study in contradiction and contrast. Power and urgency versus laid-back languidity.

(Just like you.)

The entire week was a full-on assault of my senses and my heart.

(Just like you.)

The music and the moss-draped trees.

The food and the accents.

The purple and the gold.

The waterways and the Creole people.

The streets over by LSU and on the other side of town by your parents’ house reminded me of all the hours we whiled away when we thought we had all of eternity out in front of us. We just cruised around in your car as teens — our old stomping grounds, as they say. Where it all began.

Going nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

When my dad was transferred from Dallas to Louisiana, I was only 15. I crossed the Texas-Louisiana state line in the backseat of my parents’ Cadillac, pouting up a storm. Entirely unaware my Cajun Prince awaited. Convinced my life was over.

But, of course, it was only just beginning. I met you about two years later. And, even though we left Louisiana on the day we were married and never officially “lived” there again, it was always your home.

Which, by virtue of unwavering devotion, made it my home.

On our last day there, I saw to it that your son made it down to the Quarter for some oysters and seafood gumbo. It cost me $150 in Uber surge fees. Worth every penny.

We took a quick stroll over to the levy to pay our respects to “Old Man River.” I attempted to turn it into a brief history lesson on the majesty of this fine port city. But it was pretty obvious by the disinterest on our son’s face that Louisiana’s significant historical contribution to the trade and commerce of this great nation wasn’t what captured the attention of a 17-year-old-boy in the French Quarter.

Maybe I’ll try again in 20 years.

Three hours and another $75 Uber dollars later we were sitting on the tarmac waiting for our plane to depart New Orleans International Airport.

They call New Orleans “The Big Easy,” and maybe that’s true most of the time. For us, it was a bittersweet homecoming: healing and necessary. But, I could’ve used that box of tissues from your closet and was pretty grateful for my focused and disciplined breathing abilities.

Because you might not have had a “signature scent,” but you definitely had a “signature place” and it wasn’t all that easy.