A Life Cut Short Leaves A Devastated Family Behind
By: Christopher Kazarian
This time of year is supposed to be a joyous one, but for the Gardner family of Oak Street, Maravista, it has been anything but.
That is because the family has been coping with the loss of a loved one, David R. Gardner Jr., who died in October at the age of 47 after suffering complications following a gastric bypass in June.
He was Christine A. Gardner’s high school sweetheart; the two met when she was a sophomore at Bourne High School. “He graduated in 1981 and I graduated in 1984,” she said. “It was never me without him or him without me. We were always together.”
Their love continued past those formative years and the two eventually married on February 9 in 1991 at the Bourne United Methodist Church.
To Mrs. Gardner, he was someone she thought she would grow old with, enjoying the golden years of their life together. “Any loss is a huge loss, but this is huge for me,” she said. “Having been together for almost 30 years he is my soulmate and he is not here anymore.”
Mrs. Gardner is not the only one feeling the void caused by Mr. Gardner’s death. His three children are as well.
Two years after the Gardners were married their first child, Adam, now 17 and a junior at Falmouth High School, was born. Adam would soon be joined by two younger brothers, Daniel, 15, a sophomore at Falmouth High School, and Christopher, 13, a 7th grader at the Lawrence School.
To the trio, Mr. Gardner was a father, someone who took them fishing and quahogging in the summer, played Xbox with them during slower days, and was a role model for who they wanted to be when they grew up.
“He literally took care of his family and really cared about us,” Mrs. Gardner said. “He couldn’t wait to come home to us every night.”
When Mrs. Gardner first met her husband, he was a roofer in Boston with his father, at a time when the trade was not the most sanitary. “This was before rubber roofing so they used a pulley system with buckets and hot tar and slopped it on the roof,” Mrs. Gardner said. “It was the most disgusting smell… We would have tar all over the laundry. It was awful.”
About a decade ago Mr. Gardner applied for and landed a position at the US Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod as a civilian employee. While there he was responsible for routine maintenance, which included everything from plumbing, roofing and repairs, or as his wife said, “he was a jack of all trades.”
At that job, Mrs. Gardner said, he established close friendships with those he worked with through his sense of humor and caring nature.
Those friendships later revealed themselves when he became hospitalized. “They were like a big family,” she said. “They jumped in and were right there for us. All the guys he worked with put money in a hat to help our family out when I was traveling back and forth to Boston.”
The Gardners’ life was turned upside down at the end of June when Mr. Gardner went in for gastric bypass surgery at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford.
It was the same surgery Mrs. Gardner underwent in October 2009, a successful procedure that helped her lose over 100 pounds in six months. But for Mr. Gardner the outcome was not as positive. “He went to the same hospital, had the same surgery, except Murphy’s law of averages kicked in,” Mrs. Gardner said. “He had bad complications and in the end was brain-damaged. We had to let him go.”
She said problems arose when it was discovered there was a leak into her husband’s abdomen following the initial surgery.
As a result, Mr. Gardner had to return to the hospital on July 2. That would be the last time she would have a conversation with him. “I was in the OR with him and gave him a hug and kiss and said, ‘You’re going to be fine’ and I told him I loved him and he said, ‘I love you, too. See you in a little while.’ That was about 4:30 in the afternoon and by 6:30 he was on a vent and that was it,” Mrs. Gardner said last week.
From that point until his death, Mrs. Gardner said her husband was kept sedated and on a ventilator. He coded four or five times, she said, the last time in October when hospital staff had to shock his heart several times before pronouncing him dead.
The loss has been devastating on several levels, from emotional to financial.
The children have been taken out of school, being tutored privately until they return to classes after the new year.
While they are typical siblings—occasionally fighting with each other—Mrs. Gardner said those incidents are less frequent than they used to be. “They’ve been really good to each other,” she said. “I think they are all taking it really hard, but they’ve been supportive of me and each other.”
While television and Xbox are one form of release, Mrs. Gardner said she does her best to not rely on those forms of entertainment for solace.
She tries to sit down with her children on a regular basis and have them talk about their emotions, something that has brought them together. “We are really a close family unit since this all happened,” she said.
The family also goes through grief counseling as another means to cope.
In the end Mrs. Gardner admits these avenues are still not enough, as this has been one of the most difficult challenges of her life. “I can’t describe how hard this is,” she said, adding that it is both the big and small moments when she misses her husband most.
“Whenever it snowed out, my husband did the snowblowing,” she said. “Last weekend I was outside with a hammer and chisel because the kids didn’t do it and it froze on the walkway. I put the salt down. Things you don’t think about really leave a big gap. It is the little things like that you miss.”
But it is also more significant moments, such as holidays, when Mr. Gardner’s death resonates with the family. “Thanksgiving was awful,” she said. “We actually ate out and went to Oysters Too. I think I had scallops. That was his favorite holiday because of the turkey. He was such a good cook.”
This month has been even tougher, she said. “Christmas is when he and I shopped together and decided what the kids would be getting,” she said. “He would help me lug all the presents up the stairs, and I’d do all the wrapping. But he carried the things upstairs.”
Now those chores fall squarely on her shoulders. Last week, she was one of the few in town not looking forward to celebrating Christmas. “I think it will be the hardest because it is the first one and so close to when he died,” she said in tears.
While she has decorated her home, she said, “it has been hard to get in the spirit of doing it.”
About two weeks ago, Mrs. Gardner took the drive to her husband’s gravesite at Oakland Grove Cemetery in Bourne, where she placed a silk floral arrangement complete with battery-operated lights. “It got too cold for me to pay for a headstone, so I’ll pay for it in the spring, but at least he had a Christmas tree,” she said.
Financially, Mrs. Gardner’s life has been just as challenging.
Over the summer she was forced to take a leave of absence from her part-time job in the electronics department at Wal-Mart so she could make the almost daily trips back and forth to Medford.
She has also temporarily shelved her goal of obtaining a degree in psychology from Cape Cod Community College, in part, because of the incidents of the past year.
On top of the expenses of traveling to and from Medford where she would sometimes stay overnight—she estimated she spent $5,000 on those trips alone—Mrs. Gardner also had to cover mortgage payments as well as the costs of supporting her family on her husband’s salary.
And in September, one month prior to her husband’s death, she was in a car accident on the ride home from Medford, further complicating her situation.
Toward the end of August, Mrs. Gardner approached the Falmouth Service Center, seeking help. They offered to pay for one month of her utility bills before referring her to Wings for Falmouth Families, the nonprofit that assists families with school-age children during a medical crisis or tragedy.
It has been through that local agency that the Gardners have found comfort during a time they needed it most. Wings for Falmouth Families has paid for a month of the Gardners’ utility bills as well as Mrs. Gardner’s car insurance payment for the remainder of the year. And they have covered her mortgage payments last month and this month.
Beyond that, Mrs. Gardner said, members of Wings for Falmouth Families have taken time to call to check up on the family during their time of sorrow.
They may not be able to make up for the loss of Mrs. Gardner’s husband or Adam, Daniel or Christopher’s father, but these acts of charity have not been lost on the family.
“They were very kind and very understanding,” Mrs. Gardner said, crying. “It was a miracle. They helped at a time when I needed help so desperately. I didn’t think those kind of people were out there anymore. It is just not like that in the world, but I have told everyone what they’ve done for us. These people were so amazing.”