Wife Interrupted

How one woman is navigating a family tragedy and single motherhood—in a very public way.
December 2011

At first, Robb wasn’t interested. His staid demeanor was nothing like Tricia’s outgoing personality, and he was four years older than her. (Their age difference was largely why Robb waited two years to ask her out.) Tricia was similarly wary, but Robb, at six feet tall with short-clipped hair, looked endearingly like an oversize teddy bear to her, and she soon warmed to their dynamic: Tricia the vibrant one, the helium in their balloon; Robb the string that kept her grounded. Three months after their first date, Robb proposed.

Robb’s father married them in 2000, and the pair eventually moved to Colorado, where Robb worked as a corporate trainer with Farmers Insurance and Tricia taught elementary school in Jefferson County. They lived the classic suburban life in their modest two-story atop a stamp of land in Highlands Ranch: going to church, playing in the park with the boys, sitting together at their favorite coffeehouse. Sometimes they’d invite friends over. Robb would bake an extra pan of lasagna and make everyone feel at home.

After their wedding, Tricia had a premonition. “She needed to love every moment with him, because she felt that he’d somehow be taken from her,” says Melissa Eisenbrandt, a friend of Tricia’s. Robb had a sledding accident in 1989, after which he had his spleen removed and nearly died. Since then he’d struggled to fight off even basic illnesses. Colds lingered. Infections recurred. Once, his intestines became twisted, a complication from the surgery.

On December 22, 2010, Tricia fetched a prescription from the pharmacy; their Christmas party plans had to be scrapped because of Robb’s flu. But the doctor said with some rest he’d be fine.

Robb had already gotten a Christmas tree, bought toys for the boys, and had found red satin pajamas and sassy black boots for Tricia. Wrapped, tagged, perfect. As he rested in their bedroom, Tricia tried to hand him some medication. “No, no, baby girl. Stay away,” he told her. “You can’t get this.” He said she should sleep downstairs.

Tricia fell asleep on the TV room couch. At 5 a.m., Robb called her cell phone: I need you. She bolted upstairs to find him sitting at the edge of the bed, his eyes wide, gasping for air. Tricia dialed 911. Robb collapsed onto the floor. Tricia screamed for help as his face turned gray. She screamed again.

“For a moment, he opened his eyes, and in a valiant, courageous effort he pushed himself to a sitting position,” Tricia wrote on her blog two weeks later. “He leaned against the wall, rested his head back...and he found me with his eyes.”

Then he passed out. Tricia tried to clear his airway with two fingers, but Robb bit her. Paramedics arrived and tried to revive him while Tricia waited in the kitchen, but Robb, stricken with streptococcus pneumonia with complications from sepsis, never regained consciousness.

Christmas was a fog. The boys played with their new toys as family and friends hugged and cried around them. Pans of lasagna began filling the refrigerator, although Tricia couldn’t bring herself to eat it; nobody made lasagna the way Robb did.

Tricia’s friends came by to get her out of bed, help her take a shower, or walk her to her doorway so she could look out the window and see the sun. She wrote one blog post about Robb’s death and downloaded audio of her speaking at his funeral, but then she stopped writing until January 4. That’s when she drove to a nearby Starbucks—“I felt like it was the only place people weren’t staring at me”—and began a new chapter: “My husband died on the morning of December 23, 2010,” she wrote. “The following is my personal account of his final hours, the story I must write. Please be advised, these paragraphs are graphic, detailed, personal, and mine. Read with caution, respect, and care. These words hold my very heart.”

Tricia’s site soon began receiving hundreds of page views as it was passed along outside her circle to women’s groups and neighbors and new widows just like her. By last summer, the blog was getting more than 3,500 views per month.

Her earliest posts focused on her newly widowed life. As winter melted into spring, she looked ahead, rarely hiding her pain. “Suffering is not scary; worrying is,” she wrote. “I haven’t yet found a moment I couldn’t make it through, but I’m nearly always very, very afraid of the next one.”