'And Then He Was Gone:' Debbie Dingell on 'the Saddest and Hardest Time of My Life'

February 09, 2019, 7:38 AM

The Michigan congresswoman who married John Dingell in 1981 reflects on widowhood. This was posted before dawn Saturday on her Facebook page, with paragraph breaks added.

By Debbie Dingell

Sleep is hard. I am wearing one of John’s Michigan sweatshirts, holding another and letting the memories flood me. I was so blessed to have this incredible love affair for so many years.

I want to share his last few days. He was lucid, visiting with friends, in charge until the end.

And trust me: He knew exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it and we did it his way. The chief medical director of hospice met with us last week, and John was simply not ready to say it was time. He had things we wanted to do and a woman he wanted to love.

On Monday, he really started having problems walking and we knew we needed help. His 6’ 3" size to mine or to Christine’s who had stayed with him overnight while I was in session, was simply too much.

"He wanted to get up, and he did and then he was gone. Just gone."

God bless the Dearborn firefighters, who have more stories on John Dingell stubbornness over the years (they would make you laugh). When he needed a hand up, [they] were there. (Among the stories: Pushing his medical alert button and not knowing it. When firefighters arrived, he was naked in the shower and looked at them and said: 'Fellows, can I help you?' Or when he fell and needed stitches, refusing to go and then locking himself in the bathroom. When they convinced him he had to go, he was changing his T-shirt to a clean one before anyone saw him.)

'I thought we would have more time'

I did not think this would come so quick. I thought we would have more time.

He spoke to both President Clinton and President Bush his last 24 hours. He was very John Dingell in what he had to say, made them both laugh and gave them very clear, serious instructions.

[Rep.] Steny Hoyer, his dear friend, flew in Wednesday night and [Rep.] Sandy Levin came while [he was] there. They told stories, looked at pictures of old times and got more instructions.

Close friends just came and sat and talked with him on the bed. Thursday, Lynda Carter and Robert flew in with our two godchildren and shared the morning. He gave Robert instructions too.

Pay respects: Public visitation is Monday and a funeral mass is Tuesday. See details.

Tuesday he had asked for a pad of paper. He had things he wanted to say. Writing had become hard.

Wednesday he started dictating to me, had thoughts he wanted shared when his time came. Thursday morning he kicked me out of the room. He started dictating to Christine, and dictating and dictating. Than he let me take it again. He was pointed, would say: "Woman, are you getting this?" He had a lot of thoughts he wanted shared. He had proverbs he loved as well.

A Washington Post editor's timely call 

Christine warned me to not think things were OK. She worried his energy would give me false hope. It probably did. I tried to accept where we were, but when you love someone as I do, you always have hopes and prayers.

Thursday afternoon, Mike Duffy [Washington Post acting deputy editorial page editor], a friend having no idea John had done this, wondered if John wanted to do an op-ed. I shared the email and John started talking more. You all now see the thoughts he shared ["My Last Words for America"].

"I thought I should share how he wrote that [Washington Post] letter and why."
(Photo: Facebook)

He was talking with me when he died. Our former neighbors -- brothers to me, sons to him -- were coming each day to check on him and make sure he was OK. He had his normal jokes and he wanted to tell Andy, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, what he had told President Bush.

I had been trying to get him to eat. Chocolate pudding his favorite. He wanted to get up, and he did and then he was gone. Just gone.

Dearborn first responders: 'part of our family'

I want to thank Dearborn firefighters and Chief Joe Murray and Dearborn police and Chief Ron Haddad. I didn’t know what to do, and they were all there, trying to help me and him and handle what happened. All of the guys are kind, good, loving men who helped John and me through a very very very difficult time. And they didn’t leave me. They loved John and he loved him. The Dearborn men and women in blue were part of our family.

It is so very hard. Little things just make you cry -- the straws I used to get him to drink, the refrigerator full of all his foods I would try to get him to eat. His phone, his iPad with his favorite movies. His bathrobe which I hold.

He loved this country. He loved public service. And he loved people. It’s hard. But I thought I should share how he wrote that [Washington Post] letter and why. 

He wanted to make sure we all knew we are all part of this great democracy. And he wished for very person who wants to be nasty, loves social media for taking shots and use harsh rhetoric to think about whether the message could be shared with less hate and a gentler tone. And he loved people. He knew we are part of community and that community is the strength of democracy.

My community is getting me through the saddest and hardest time of my life. I love him with every ounce of me. I love you John Dingell and he loved all of you and this country.

Read more:  Facebook

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