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"I will raise our children so they will know your qualities—deep sincerity, perseverance, and integrity."

By Nan Tian

My husband, Song, was killed in a car accident with a pickup truck on April 25, 2017. Life is fragile, but I had never thought that he would leave us so early. We didn’t have a chance to say good-bye. He was only forty-eight.

The last several months I have experienced an unspeakable amount of shock, pain, sorrow, and frustration, but also outpourings of love and support from friends, colleagues, and our community. I will always treasure the kindness I’ve received.

The truth is I wasn’t ready to write about him in the past tense. 

Many of Song’s colleagues and friends wrote about him after his tragic loss. They made a collection—“In Loving Memory” (忆松集)—and asked me to write a few words too. I couldn’t provide anything. The truth is I wasn’t ready to write about him in the past tense. So I said maybe later.

Waking up at one a.m. this morning (jet-lagged after a fourteen-hour flight from Washington, D.C., to Beijing), I opened one of the five copies of Option B that I received from friends and read chapter 10: “To Love and Laugh Again.” And then I started to write down my feelings—some pieces of them, anyway, as I’m still going through the fog of his death:

“I never liked to be alone. In fact, I’m afraid of being alone, or to be more precise, to be lonely. Sixteen years ago when my first (short-lived) marriage ended in divorce, I felt it was the end of the world and I cried to death, afraid of being alone for the rest of my life.

“At a crawling speed, I regained the strength to look into the future after several years of shutting it out. I found laughter and love again when Song and I got married and when I learned that I was pregnant; 2004 was a great year.

“For thirteen years, we lived together. Our longest time apart was less than a month—one time Song went to Hong Kong for his sabbatical and another time I worked in Beijing.

“Life was not always perfect in thirteen years as a couple. I complained that Song spent too much time in the yard. Song said that I was too focused on my job—I’m totally guilty of it. The quarterly cycle stress has a negative spillover effect.

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“Leaving the down moments aside, we had so much fun, so much joy as a family.

“I’m used to waking up to the buttery smell from the oven on Sunday mornings.

“I’m used to picking up the phone anytime during the day, saying, ‘Call me back.’ (Now I’m struggling about whether to remove his numbers from my contacts or leave them there but knowing they will never be touched.)

“We are used to hearing Song’s loud voice when he stepped in the house. He was never dull.

“I don’t know how other people cope with the sudden loss of their family members. Is there always denial and a numbing stage like what I felt after receiving that phone call? Or is there continuous wailing and screaming in the first few days and I’m an odd exception for not having done that?

“A few weeks after the funeral, my nanny, who experienced the sudden loss of her loved one several years ago, said to me, ‘Nan, remove Song’s pictures. They will only make you and the children sad. You need to live and move on.’ My initial reaction was ‘No.’ I felt less lonely when seeing Song’s pictures. I wanted him to be back.

“But he will not come back. Last month, I took Song’s pictures down.

“Song, if you can hear me, please understand that we are fine. David, Kristen, Jason, and I will be fine. We will live our lives to the fullest, for you and for ourselves.

“I will raise our children so they know who you were, all your hobbies included, although I don’t expect any one of them to become a carpenter, a chef, or a fisherman when they grow up.

“I will raise our children so they know what you did at work. I will ask your friends and colleagues to share stories about you, as I’m not talented enough to illustrate econometric models or knowledgeable about short-term funding markets.

“I will raise our children so they will know your qualities—deep sincerity, perseverance, and integrity.

“I will raise our children so they will always remember your love for them, from the first moment they were born until the day our lives departed. Song, your love will be with them forever.”

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