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Losing A Wife, Mother: Going Through Grief Separate From The Pandemic

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Debbie Williams didn't have COVID-19. She died in April because of complications from a thyroid disorder. She is survived by her 34-year-old son, Andy, who lives in St. Louis, Mo., and her husband, Scott in Lebanon, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT WILLIAMS: We go back to - we were in "Our Town" together in high school.

MARTIN: The play.

S WILLIAMS: Yeah, I was the male lead and she was the - she was Emily Gibbs (ph). And we started dating then. We would have been married 40 years in July.

ANDY WILLIAMS: She was a generous person. She was the kind of person that spared no expense or time on other people but, you know, neglected anything for herself.

MARTIN: An ambulance took Debbie away, and it was the last time Scott saw her. The pandemic had everything to do with that.

S WILLIAMS: I had no access then until they called me the day she died and said, we're in end-of-life protocol and you can come see her and say goodbye, which - I was an hour away. And then by the time I got through the COVID protocols in the hospital, she'd already died. And so I wasn't able to at least put a phone up to her ear for Andy or anything.

MARTIN: I'm so sorry. And so many families had that happen this year...

S WILLIAMS: Right.

MARTIN: ...Where you were robbed of that moment. Did you try to have some kind of funeral or memorial service?

S WILLIAMS: I asked Andy - I was in the funeral home the next day, Andy, or maybe the day after, and I called him up so that he could be with me via FaceTime. And I said, what do you want to do? They can do a Zoom service immediately. And he instantly said, no, I want a live service.

MARTIN: Like, in person, Andy, is what you meant.

A WILLIAMS: Right. I mean, you know, at the time, you know, we were hearing maybe more optimistic views of when things would return to normal. And it's just another layer of separation, you know. But in retrospect, if I had known that this was going to drag on for, you know, months and, you know, over a year probably, maybe my calculus would have been different in that, but, you know, a funeral would be the way that I would ideally want to do it.

S WILLIAMS: And I still support that, Andy. I still support that.

MARTIN: I mean, for so many people, it helps you move through the grief to a different stage of it.

S WILLIAMS: I've reflected on that a lot. There's a reason why we have that gathering of people to mourn together so that you can move along on the next step. And we haven't done that. You know, we've done it through texts and cards and people dropping by. And it's not the same. It's not marking the event in a community. And that's - it's just so strange. It's just on hold.

MARTIN: Do you feel like that, Andy?

A WILLIAMS: I do feel like that. And I think the benefit to a Zoom funeral would have been, you know, a quick sense of closure. But now, you know, we're kind of stuck in a limbo of no closure. You know, like with a lot of parts of life, everything is kind of on hold. Although I do hope that maybe once we do have a funeral, whenever that is, you know, we'll be further along, you know, the path of processing this and we'll be able to kind of have more of a celebration of life.

MARTIN: Andy, may I ask how you're doing?

A WILLIAMS: I'm doing well, you know, well enough. I think, you know, the nature of what we just talked about, it's just one more, you know, terrible thing that's happened in a terrible year rather than a terrible thing happening in an otherwise normal time where you can focus on it a lot more. So I expect that a lot of people probably, you know, have that same experience, that there's only so much stress and pain and grief that you can experience. And, you know, we're all kind of experiencing a collective stress and pain and grief. And it crowds out a little bit of the, you know, the room that you have for your own personal thoughts. So I guess I'm doing well, but, you know, I haven't finished the process yet either.

MARTIN: Scott.

S WILLIAMS: About all I've done the last nine months is thought. So one of my thoughts is as I've progressed along or evolved along since she died was how hard it is for people who can't share their grief with you or have an opportunity to express that grief. What I think about is that everybody's got that story. You said that earlier, Rachel. Everybody's got a story like that. So I don't think of it as my story. I think of it as I'm so sad that Andy lost his mother without even saying goodbye. But I see it in this bigger picture of how this pandemic has just steamrolled us in every direction.

MARTIN: I know it's strange to be in this situation with me in this kind of intimate conversation, but I do want to give the opportunity for each of you if there's anything you want to say to the other.

A WILLIAMS: Yeah. I mean, you know, I hope that, Dad, that you know that I'm here for you, even if I'm in St. Louis most of the time. And, you know, it's not been the easiest path just because we're kind of disconnected. And I think it came at a terrible time for you because now you're stuck in a big empty house with nobody around, although I do try to get my kids over there as much as they can to play with you. But, you know, we'll figure this out and let's talk about the service. Let's talk about anything you want to talk about.

S WILLIAMS: You know, we talk a lot. We stay in touch. We're very close. So we don't need - Rachel, you can referee this for us, but you really don't have to. We're good.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

S WILLIAMS: Andy and I had - they were home for the Fourth of July, and he and I had a kind of a mini wake a couple of nights before the fourth. And we stayed up till 3 o'clock listening to music, talking, maybe sipping a little bourbon. And that was so important.

A WILLIAMS: Yeah, I agree.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW HYMN")

JAMES TAYLOR: (Singing) Source of all we hope or dread.

MARTIN: Scott Williams and Andy Williams, thanks to you both.

A WILLIAMS: Thanks, Rachel.

S WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Take good care you two, OK?

S WILLIAMS: Thanks, Rachel.

A WILLIAMS: Bye, Rachel.

S WILLIAMS: See ya, Andy.

A WILLIAMS: Bye, Dad.

S WILLIAMS: I love you.

A WILLIAMS: I love you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW HYMN")

TAYLOR: (Singing) That your hid mouth will say again let there be light. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.