It's not an easy task to say the hard things. She had been my whole life for twenty seven years. The last year had been the best one. That in spite of the fact that we were spending more time apart than ever before. It just didn't matter. The time we did have together was quality time. The future was looking very bright. With our youngest child in high school, we were looking forward to "empty nest syndrome". Not that it wouldn't be difficult. We were ready.
Sheri had started working in Branson to get away from a dead-end job and the first one she found there was even worse. She quit that one, too. But after a season at the Chateau on the Lake she had friends who clearly loved her and a light in her eyes that I hadn't seen in a while. I got to meet some of her friends at the Christmas party. All year long the Chateau had been giving out "funny money" for all sorts of things. You know like a reward for a job well done, guest comment, whatever. They called 'em Holiday Bucks or something. Anyway, Sheri had a huge amount and when I asked her how she got so many she said that other employees just gave her theirs because they said they probably wouldn't ever use them. Sheri had that effect on people. The day that you could use them was the day of the Christmas party. Silent auction, drawings. Tickets could be purchased with the Holiday bucks and then bid on gifts. They had a whole wall lined with tables full of the stuff. But Sheri wanted to know if I thought she was crazy. She wanted to save all of hers for the Grand Prize. The Big Kahuna. An All Expense-Paid Trip to Cancun, Mexico. I thought that sounded fine.
The party was in the Grand Ballroom and they really went all-out decorating the place. The tree was one of the coolest Christmas trees I had ever seen; massive and covered with fancy victorian looking ornaments. Sheri and I held hands and picked out our favorites. The music was good for dancing and they gave you three tickets each for booze but every time I went up to the bar the bartender would say, "Save 'em, you'll probably need them later." We danced a couple of times and Sheri sat and visited with her friends/co-workers. I visited a little but mostly just sat and sipped wine and listened to the music. Then there were endless drawings that we could care less about 'cause we shot our whole wad on the trip. Finally the big moment came. Sheri put me in charge of the rolls of tickets because I'm good at that sort of thing. There were three sequences so I just wrote down the start and end of each roll on a napkin. Only one other person had gotten more tickets for the big drawing. Drum roll, please. And the winner is.....us!
They started playing the theme from "Rocky" and I was hamming it up waving my arms in the air, shadowboxing. Sheri was pulling on my shirt saying, "Are you sure?," as we made our way up to the stage. Then the guy with the mic asked to see the winning ticket so I had to roll the things out up there and find it.
Sheri asked me if I thought we should take the trip right away or save it. The tickets were good for a year. I said I thought we should wait until fall. I really don't remember why.
Branson was about a five hour drive from our home and Sheri would either drive down on her days off or I would drive to Branson and stay with her at the apartment she shared with our son, Jonah. This week she came down Monday night and would have to leave Wednesday in the morning. I was grumpy when we got up. We showered together like we usually did and I could tell she was wanting more than "soap my back" but, like I said, I was grumpy. We said our goodbyes, kissed through the car window and she drove off.
Friday, February 11, 2000 was my day off. I spent the morning like I usually did; on the internet. With only one phone line and a dial-up connection that meant that incoming phone calls were a bust. My boss drove up and knocked on my door a little after ten A.M. Unusual, but I figured something happened at work. When I answered the door he said that the hospital in Branson had called and my wife was in the hospital. He handed me a slip of paper with a phone number. I was starting to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach but trying to be optimistic as I dialed the hospital. The first person I got after the switchboard was a nurse and she wouldn't tell me anything. The doctor would call back. That probably took a whole five minutes but it seemed like years. I recited the Lord's Prayer until the doctor finally called back. Then the story began, "According to co-workers, Sheri had said that she had heartburn during their morning meeting at nine. She went to lie down in one of the rooms and another housekeeper said that she checked on her about twenty minutes later and Sheri said she was feeling better and would try to go back to work in a couple of minutes. A few minutes later an employee checking rooms for linens saw her lying face down on the floor beside the bed. She was not breathing and they couldn't detect any pulse. They tried to administer CPR and when the ambulance arrived they thought they could detect a faint pulse." He went on about medical procedures that were followed and ended with, "We were not able to resuscitate, she passed away." I told him that I was having trouble breathing, too. Sheri would have been 46 years old on March 20, 2000.