‘Scott needed his tonsils removed. ‘I feel nervous.’ Hours later, I got a text from his brother: ‘I’m so sorry.’ He had to be playing a prank.’: Woman loses husband to sleep apnea during tonsillectomy

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“I was married at age 20. I had met someone in college and I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was the culture I grew up in. I was a college student, studying music at the University of Utah, and three years later I graduated. I also found myself facing divorce, and subsequently, my marriage ended. My twenties were spent learning how to work and survive on my own, come to terms with the fact that I was divorced before most of my peers were even married, and dating again.

Dating was hard. I dated several amazing guys, but for one reason or another, it didn’t work out. I also was in relationships with some who were not-so-amazing and found myself in abusive relationships. Thankfully, I had grown up with no physical, mental, or emotional violence or manipulation, but was blindsided when these things became a part of my world. I went through the typical cycles of abuse. I participated in codependency and enabling cycles, dealt with forms of narcissism, and (according to my therapist) survived dating a clinical psychopath. By the time I was in my 30’s, I was tired. I was also more educated and aware of the ins and outs of toxic relationships and mental illness, and knew which signs to look for. I was retiring from dating and preparing to fulfill my dreams of Cat Lady Extraordinaire.

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

My next plan was to move to New York to continue my work in music. I figured I had put in my time trying to fulfill the cultural checklist, and it was time to make a big change. I had a roommate lined up, had contacted several friends there to figure out a plan of attack making work connections, and had a tentative move date. As I looked at my finances, however, I was very unsettled. I had some savings, but knew I would have to really up my game to survive in the city. My energy was not what it used to be. In my twenties, I had toured extensively with artists and shows while dealing with emotional battles from unhealthy relationships. My body had given out. I now had an auto-immune disorder. I had to really take care of my energy and be smart about not over stressing myself. I figured it would help my stress levels, and ultimately my health, to stay in Utah for a few more months to save more money. I also figured I would give dating one last shot.

I was playing the piano for auditions at a local theater around this time. A guy named Scott was directing this particular show. We didn’t know each other well, but I had several friends throughout the years with crushes on him. He was handsome, took care of himself, was kind, made delicious food, and was in his mid-30’s. We had been at events together over the past decade but had never spoken. Until he asked me out.

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

Our first date went great, and we scheduled another. We connected quickly, and I was surprised at how I always felt ‘at home’ with him. It was a peace I had not experienced in any of my prior relationships. We dated for a while, and on his birthday on September 11, 2015, he proposed from the top of a mountain. We discussed when to get married and decided to do it fairly quickly, on December 15, 2015.

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I tried to convince Scott we should elope and skip all the fuss, but he really wanted to have a big party. I figured since I had been married before, I couldn’t take that away from him, so we started planning. It was hilarious to listen to our conversations about decor and food, as I am the least detail-oriented of the two of us. Scott announced he wanted to make our wedding cakes. That’s right — not one cake, but multiple cakes! I told him this was crazy, as did our wedding photographer, but he was staunch about it. The night before our wedding had arrived. I was expecting Scott to sit me down and have an emotional conversation about how we would start our life together and live happily ever after, but he was busy making all the cakes until 5 a.m. He even sent me away because I was not a good kitchen helper and was ruining the sugared fruit. It made me laugh, and I wondered if he regretted his decision to be our wedding baker.

A few hours later, it was time to get married! It had snowed four feet overnight and was a beautiful winter wonderland. Scott was really excited to have the picturesque scenery, and our wedding ceremony was beautiful. I found I had hardened myself with feeling emotions, and as the time to say ‘I do’ approached, I resisted any emotion that came my way. My plan was to get in, get out, and have a fun rest of the day with food and friends. I know this was due to the ups and downs of my emotional life in my twenties. It had been my way to cope with feelings since then. To my surprise, as Scott held my hands, my stubbornness washed away, and I felt all the feelings. I had never experienced feeling such love from all sides. I felt the love from friends and family attending, especially those who had been with me in the trenches, I felt love from Scott, and I think I even felt love from the other side. It was a feeling so bright, perfect, and whole. I even cried, which is a big deal as I have never been a crier.

Pepper Nix Photography
Pepper Nix Photography

After pictures with the wedding party, we had a wedding luncheon and then prepared to go to the reception, or ‘Scott’s Production,’ as my mom called it. He had called his lighting, designer, and catering friends, and I had asked my musician friends to supply music for our party. They all came together and created a spectacular evening.

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It was a party of parties. We had so much fun that we didn’t want to leave! The music was amazing, the food was delicious, and Scott’s cakes were delicious. It was so fun to see so many of our friends come together just for us, not only in making the event happen but in attendance as well. Someone later said if someone had bombed that building that night, the entire theater and music community in Utah would be gone.

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Scott and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon. We had fun relaxing, zip-lining, kayaking, and eating. We returned after a week in paradise to our winter wonderland and enjoyed the holiday season with our families.

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The fun continued into the first months of the year, and we skied as much as possible. We both had new ski gear, passes, and passion, and it seemed like we spent more time on the mountain than not. It was the best life and I was sure it would not end. But of course, we gradually got back into real life and started navigating the merging of two independent and self-sufficient personalities in their mid-30’s.

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A few months after we married, I was in a high-speed car accident. I had many physical injuries, and over time, I realized I had severe depression and anxiety. I started having migraines, had a torn shoulder and shifting pain, but I tried to keep life as normal as I could by continuing to work through it. One day, my mental state frayed severely. Scott helped me get into a doctor so we could address it. I was glad to know it was normal to have such responses to accidents. Scott was a trooper, helped me get to my appointments, and handled my ailments in stride. He was also not feeling very well, and during knee surgery, he found out he had sleep apnea.

The months came and went, and so did our busy work seasons. I was playing for a lot of weddings that year, and Scott was busy with his home-automation company job and directing shows. We had both decided we needed some time together and were looking forward to the close of his show in October of 2017. Scott had scheduled surgery to get his tonsils out and his septum straightened out to help get rid of the sleep apnea. He had visited with a few doctors, and the one he felt the best about was in Boise, Idaho, where his parents live. A few days after his show ended, he boarded a flight to Boise. As he packed his bags, he stood up with glazed eyes and said, ‘I feel a little nervous.’

I, with my blunt communication style, replied, ‘Do you think you’re going to die?’ He said no, that he was worried about the surgery affecting his singing voice and getting rid of his high notes. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’d rather have you as a living baritone than as a dead tenor.’ I thought I was so funny.

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

Scott then flew to Idaho. The plan was for me to come up in a few days, and when he was feeling better, we were going to visit our favorite lake, get a cabin, and be together. He didn’t want me to be there for his surgery, and had also scheduled it at a time I wasn’t able to rearrange my work schedule. It also happened, my uncle unexpectedly fell ill and was hospitalized the same day Scott left. Family was flying in from across the country to potentially have to say goodbye if he didn’t pull through.

Scott went in for his surgery and FaceTimed me when he got out. He had black eyes and his head wrapped, but was in good spirits. My uncle had taken a turn for the worse, and as Scott and I were talking, I was walking into the hospital to say final goodbyes to my uncle. Scott, always so kind and thinking of others, said in his hoarse post-surgery voice, ‘I’m so sorry I am not there to help you and your mom right now.’

My uncle passed away and the funeral was set for that Friday. Scott and I decided I would drive to see him after the funeral, which would delay my travel plans by a few days. The day after my uncle died, Scott really started feeling the recovery that comes with a tonsillectomy. We didn’t communicate much, but he did text me how he was feeling, although was trying to keep a sunny disposition. The last text I sent him that night was, ‘Love you, hope tomorrow is a better day!’

The next morning, I called and texted to see how he was doing. I didn’t get a response but figured he was still sleeping. I was feeling really excited to drive up there in a few days and get to spend some time together and was hoping his recovery would go well.

A few hours later, I was charging my phone when I got a text on my watch from his brother. ‘Mel, I’m so sorry. Scott didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.’

Huh? I didn’t know what he was talking about. I called him, and he kept telling me he was dead. I kept telling him he needed to check again. He finally told me the ambulance had taken his body away and there was nothing they could do. I was so confused. Nothing in my surroundings had changed, but apparently, my husband is dead in Idaho? It didn’t compute. My emotions didn’t catch up, because of course, this wasn’t real. He was just playing a prank. My logical brain kicked in and I started calling people telling them the news, wondering why I wasn’t hysterically sobbing yet, like in the movies. I eventually succumbed to the emotions. Friends, and family came over. I laid in my bed welcoming them as we sobbed, laughed, and reminisced together.

Scott and I hadn’t even been married two years. This couldn’t be happening. And how did he die? Initial autopsy results rule out blood clots, stroke, asphyxiation, etc. We would have to wait to get the full report, which would take months.

Like most people who suddenly lose a spouse, the next few months were a blur. I remember planning a funeral but being confused about it, because of course, Scott was not dead in my mind. Many of the same people that participated in making our wedding so great had also helped plan the funeral, which we had at the theater. It was the day after my uncle’s funeral, so the family was still in town. I remember I spoke, but can’t remember what I said. I felt a huge responsibility to make sure I had to help others be okay, and I needed to make sure everything was how Scott would want it. I wanted to know everything about how his body was prepped at the mortuary and wanted to make sure I saw the casket lowered into the ground. I wanted to make sure the little nieces and nephews were as comforted as possible, so I made sure they all had teddy bears to hold throughout the service. It sounds strange, but I took a moment at the funeral to realize that the same kind of love and light that was present at our wedding was also present this day. It’s not usually kosher to say my husband’s funeral was one of the best days of my life, even though it was also the worst. The love there was something I’ve only experienced on our wedding day.

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

And then it was over. All the help, company, and planning was finished. The holidays arrived, and I got the flu. Our second anniversary arrived and I got bronchitis. Christmas and New Years appeared and I got pneumonia, which I had for almost 3 months. I couldn’t shovel snow or drive places because of my injuries–was this a cruel joke? I got into EMDR therapy and learned it was normal my brain was not working properly after a shock like this. I learned to be even more patient and kind to myself, and also tried to look for ways in which I could recognize Scott in this new and unfamiliar life. The owners of our rental house were selling, so I had to get out on Memorial Day. Scott didn’t have a headstone yet, but my friend and I decorated it with tacky rainbow unicorn decor–just to bug Scott.

Before Scott died, we had discussed ways in which we could help kids and communities with our different skill sets, and had a few meetings with organizations we could partner with. Now that Scott was gone, I decided to start a non-profit in his name to continue his vision, and it is currently in the works.

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We eventually got the full autopsy report back. There was no one thing that caused Scott to stop breathing. It was explained to us as a perfect storm of health conditions, and he just slipped away and stopped breathing. I was confused there was no real reason, but also glad it was not due to medical error or something preventable.

Some ways I have coped with my new reality is to find something that helps me want to continue on with life. I am currently a 37-year-old crazy dog lady and have two beautiful pups and enjoy adventuring and training with them.

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

As far as work goes, I continued playing my usual gigs, and even kept playing at weddings, but was losing motivation for life and was clinically labeled ‘passively suicidal.’

Courtesy of Melanie Shore

I started a blog chronicling a bit of my journey, and have also started a podcast ‘Widow We Do Now?’ with a fellow young widow. My emotional state was deteriorating for a while with so much change, as I was a bit of a transient with my housing situation for one year after I had to get out of the rental house. I started clearing things in my life and turning down jobs. I knew I needed to restructure so I could get back to a better place. Just as I was about to change careers and go back to my pre-marriage cat lady dreams, I was offered a job on Broadway in NYC.

I am currently 2 years and 2 months out from Scott’s death, and just last week made the cross-country drive with my two dogs and am now a resident of NYC! I hope to continue to raise awareness for grief management and mental health while doing even more healing myself. I would never wish for anyone to become a young widow, but if this is my path, I want to help as many people as possible by providing a community, real talk, information, hope, as well as the thought that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. I am grateful for all the support and love I have received, and hope my story can help others.”

Pepper Nix Photography
Pepper Nix Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melanie Shore of New York City. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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