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Painful Power

-Kristen Ladetto

“There are two types of pain, one that hurts you and the other that changes you.” –Anonymous

Recognizing that my pain is my power is a long, never ending, tedious, and grueling process. Fueling my life in an infinite amount of ways that I never knew possible, and leaning on it like a child with a broken leg who leans on a crutch. Begging God for a softer heart is not a daily task, but it seems as though it should be. However, the lonely and bitter drives me to do so…sometimes. Taking the easy way out—in regards to simply “dealing with it”—appeals to my core, but won’t benefit me. So, I talk and listen and ask. That process will repeat with the same topics regarding my own stupidity and mistakes. On the same token, that process will aide in dealing with the most horrific of tragedies yet. My husband, by his own choice, took his light from me and the rest of the world.
“I would’ve just crawled into my bed and not taken care of myself.”
“How do you do what you do?”
“You went through the unimaginable and still have something left to give. That’s impossible.”

To me, it is so incredibly ridiculous when people say these things because my thinking is “What was I supposed to do? Nobody was or is going to do this life for me!” So, my pain became my power. Their words heal themselves before they make even a small attempt to heal me, but I understand others become tongue tied during tragic times. There are a million times when I think “I can’t”, but I do.

In any case, the words that someone can put onto a paper, in a book, or in a movie, is absolutely nothing compared to what someone actually experiences and feels. Putting something like witnessing a death into words can’t compare. It’s incredible.
When you are literally staring at someone who is blue in their face and body—from the outside in—it changes you. I can still see it every day. I haven’t figured out in what way, but I know I am not the same person.

Walking into my house, and seeing through to the bedroom, it seemed sleep held a minor possibility. Weak and worn from months of senseless arguments, I stepped down the hallway that seemed a thousand miles long. Hot and sticky air touched my skin, and feeling like I needed a shower I found nobody in the bed.

We, now I, own guns. They were all out. And thank God he didn’t shoot himself. With at least an inch of belt sticking out between the molding and the door, I tried to get the door open. Closets don’t have locks, and usually are not difficult to open. This closet was jammed with a belt like an old door with hundreds of deadbolts. Finally, I muster enough strength to open the door.
My husband’s lifeless body unfolded onto the floor. His own belt cinched around his neck. Blue.

“Ok. Ok. Ok.” I called 911. My emergency teacher skills kicked in. I took the belt off his neck. I cried. Beat on his chest. Told him to come back. Told him to wake up. Then he made a noise. Oh, the noise permanently sealed, etched, and written in my heart and brain for eternity. He made that final push of air that THEY make, and I thought “that’s it”. I think I even tried to move him, but dead weight is solid and hard. I peeled open his eyelids and could clearly see that the beautiful, chocolatey brown light that shone from his eyes turned off.

The 911 dispatcher asked me if he had a pulse, and I couldn’t tell because my hands were shaking so fast I could barely dial. She asked if I knew CPR, I said no. That’s not true at all! In the past, I worked with children and teens with special needs and CPR training is a necessity. Everything I have ever known about anything left me that day.

ONE COP! They sent me one cop. I answered the door behaving in such a rude way. He could not have been more calm and business-mannered.

“What the f**k are you gonna do?” That’s what I said when I opened the door.

The entire world already knew the inevitable; he died. It seemed like hours before EMTs got there. Time stopped. Everything everyone asked was I don’t know. I don’t know. My eyes didn’t shut, they stayed as wide open as the skies.

Not eating or sleeping for large amounts of time and choosing not to feel anything, liquor became a good friend. I accepted what happened, sure. How could I not after seeing what I saw? I’m mad. I got left in the worst way. What did I do wrong? Immediately, suicide feels like your fault. Where did he go? Away from me, his family, and his friends Why? Only he knows.
I try desperately hard to not let this beast ruin my life, affect relationships, or things that I do, or even facial expressions. I am at a loss for strength and understanding. Seeing another human being the way that I saw my own husband is unimaginable. Grief is a strange animal.

One of the EMTs asked if Justin—that’s his name—was an organ donor.

“Yes, absolutely.” I said this with such assurance and fluidity. I knew he was dead, but I thought “you do whatever the hell you have to do for my husband”. That was an unrealistic expectation to have, right? After I said yes, the look on the mans’ face was one of disappointment and sadness. I later learned that death held Justin for almost 20 minutes before I found him, and reviving him was essential to save his organs for donation.

“Ma’am, do you have a vehicle to get yourself to the hospital?”

“Sir, do you want me on the road right now?”

This man kindly drove me to what would be my home for the next 5 days. My family and I moved in to the ICU waiting room at Mansfield Methodist Hospital. So far, it was the most excruciating 5 days of my life. If you can imagine feeling emotional pain, it feels like a fist taking hold of your heart and squeezing, like boulders sitting on your lungs, like you haven’t ever eaten, or like getting a root canal with no Novocain.

My poor husband was put through a countless number of tests, 2 EEGs, blood tests, urine analyses, heart tests, and a strange one where they cooled and heated his body to stop brain damage. I exhausted all of my wifely energy that week sleeping on a hard bench, in a chair next to Justin who was full of tubes in his body, sleeping beneath a construction zone that was sure to make a hospital better. All of the nights I was there, they told me I was not able to sleep in the room with him. I can’t recall the excuse they gave, but I slept—unshowered—in the waiting room, and then spent the day in the room with him.

His mother and I conflicted at times. We lost our son, our husband, our man, but we love each other and held on to that. From strength not our own we had the ability to come together and plan his funeral. We even felt like we could leave the hospital long enough to meet with the preacher and pick music and words that would somehow paint a small picture of Justin’s short life.

Justin Ladettos’ life was not meaningless. I believe firmly he was caught in something that most people will never think of or understand. Not even I do. He was tall and beautiful, he made me laugh and cry, he took care of me, and would give a stranger his last dollar. His special, cheesy, gummy smile could light up the darkest room, and yet he owned the darkest of darks inside him.

During the last year, I have payed close attention to other peoples’ stories and words more than my own. It aides me more in moving through this tragedy than looking within myself. Without minimizing what other people have been through, I feel like if I can untie a belt from my husbands’ neck, then you can get through a tough break up, losing a job, etc. I don’t say this to equate anyone else’s pain or situation to my own.

The new Kristen is someone whom fear, care, and worry has left. I am no longer mindful of small minute details such as worrying about what I look like or if someone likes the way I did something. Life is too precious and short. I long for the softer, sweeter, less sharp, more gentle me. However, pain is powerful, and it can either change or hurt you. Certainly, this time it has changed me.

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Kristen Ladetto is a .middle school teacher who loves what she does and does what she loves. Though she writes short stories, essays, narratives, and memoirs for fun, this is her first published piece as an author. When she is not teaching or writing, she is crafting with beer caps, behaving mischievously with her nieces, or fellowshipping with friends. You can contact her at