Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Mourning: The Sudden Death of a Spouse

Today I have Alyssa Rogers Williams on the blog. Long story short, we were roommates back in San Francisco in the early 90's. When we lived together, Stevie Ray Vaughn died. I wasn't familiar with his music at the time, but Alyssa was a fan. On the 25th anniversary of his death, which was a big deal here in Texas, I thought of her and looked her up on Facebook. Turns out we both live in the same city. How odd is that?

Alyssa has a double degree in Political Science/History from SFSU and Masters in Classics from Cal (University of California Berkeley.) After student teaching, she abandoned academia for the tech world and we moved to Austin, TX. Her husband became an IT expert and she designed web pages. They co-owned a Garage Rock Festival in NYC called. CAVESTOMP: The Garage Rock Festacular along with The Vipers leader and NYC talent booker Jon Weiss and eventually Little Steven Van Zandt.

DW: Who was the person who died?
AW:  My husband of 10 years, Christofer K. Gast.

DW: How old were you at the time?
AW: I was 33 years old.

DW: How old was he?
AW: Christofer was only 34 years of age.

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
AW: It was an incredibly sudden death. He had a very severe headache, It was an aneurysm, which we found out later. We went to bed and our Labrador retriever woke me up, pawing at me. I looked at him and it was quite frankly horrific. It was clearly death. Eyes slightly open, mouth blue tinged, very white. I called 911 and did mouth to mouth and was initially hopeful with a rattle, but then realized it was just my CPR,Yet by his warmth it was clear he had just passed. EMS were there quickly and tried to resuscitate for at least 15-20 minutes but I knew. The dog knew. The most overriding feeling was numb disbelief as if in a bad dream.

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away from you when you were grieving?
AW: The support was immense. We were living in Austin and within 15 minutes my best friend from childhood was there, my cousin who lived there and another cousin came from Houston to let me rest and handle the flow of  calls. It was immensely overwhelming and I think that support was so incredibly necessary. Our two best friends from SF and LA were there by the next day. However, some definitely felt awkward and some of his oldest friends from his hometown of San Diego were in such grief they were just paralyzed.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?
AW: There was nothing to do differently. Life was beautiful, he'd landed a dream job 10 minutes from home, brand new dream car and then poof! In the span of 6-7 hours all of that....gone. If I had known the headache was THAT bad I would have insisted he go to the ER, but he'd had a stressful day at work and a headache didn't seem that dire.

DW: Was he buried or cremated?
AW: Chris was buried, mostly because of his parents and my parents more  traditional feelings. This was difficult. I'd have preferred cremation, but his parents and sister wanted to "see" him one more time. That was when I broke down the most, open caskets seem a macabre mockery of life. If I'd truly honored wishes he'd have been burned on a Viking ship and  sent out to sea. (I don't think that's allowed? ;). But I knew he wouldn't have really cared, he'd have wanted his parents happy. He was quite ambivalent about death and always felt he would die young.

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
AW: Yes. I did learn that many of the clich├ęs are true, One of which is that time passing helps immeasurably. But I also learned that everyone grieves so differently. I'm very private and can compartmentalize and outwardly people would comment on "how well" I was doing, unaware of nights spent in unspeakable grief. I was also very angry. I guess mostly at the Universe because his death seemed so premature at 34. He had so many friends, his life was good and we were happy. I had to do a lot of reading on death and grieving (highly recommend) to get  through subsequent days that felt so meaningless.

DW: Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to the person?
AW: YES! As a musician, music lover and part owner of a large music fest, the songs chosen were deeply personal for him. No traditional hymns etc, We had personal eulogies and the focal piece a song from Arthur Lee/Love that represented the beauty and fragility of life and to the vibrant beat in which he had lived. The service was how he would have wanted it. People speaking from their hearts and the beautiful music overall saying goodbye to him.

Thank you for sharing on the blog, Alyssa!  I really appreciate it.  If you'd like to share, contact me at thedeathwriter @ gmail dot com


  1. Although I am still quite afraid of my own death, one thing I do always say is that I want to pick the music for my funeral, leaving space for a song to be chosen by my loved ones. Thanks Alyssa for sharing your story and music.

    1. What songs do you want played? I'm always curious.

    2. Fire and Rain by James Taylor. Not completely sure of what else yet.

    3. That's a good one. I am still waiting to hear back from James Taylor's publisher to see if I can use a few of the lyrics from Sweet Baby James. I was supposed to get my answer a week ago.

  2. Pamela, the response when posted on my Facebook page has been tremendous. Ou filled in gaps for old friends and it's touched some of us that know that time heals wounds, those who touched your life so significantly are never, ever forgotten. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  3. I like reading your blog Pam! I definitely have issues dealing with death. My best friend passed away August 6, 2014. I feel like I don't have closure and maybe I haven't finished grieving. It was sudden and things went too fast after it happened from the dreaded phone call from her husband to the funeral mass and burial to the one year anniversary. She's always with me.

    1. Thank you! I don't think grieving ever stops, it just changes over time. If you'd like to do one of these posts, you know how to contact me. It's good to get our feelings down on paper.

  4. I often here people say they want cremation because they don't like the open casket viewing. But cremation or burial is only what is done after everything else is complete. Full funerals, even church services are always an option regardless of what is done with your loved one's body.

    Furthermore, a funeral is not for the deceased. It is an opportunity for the living to say goodbye or to help in the realization that the person has passed. Or better yet, a celebration of the person's life.
    No one should be burned up like yesterday's trash. Everyone deserves a funeral.

    1. I would say that everyone deserves a memorial service, but what that person wants done with their own body at the time of their death is up to them and they should get it in writing. That way their family and loved ones can comply with their wishes.

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  6. sweet cousin alyssa, i love you, and i love chris. it was so easy to love you both as individuals, but together, the two of you had that rare intangible attribute that fuses two souls into one entity that, unto itself, was easy to love. that so gracefully cool picture made me realize this with such clarity. i was in wichita falls visiting my parents, when your brother craig called with the cruel news; relentlessly unwavering in its' reality. i drove as fast as i could back to austin, believing perhaps, that if i drove fast enough, some how that reality might change. everyone that shared in the the life that was chris and alyssa, hoped in vain for their own loophole. of course i don't have to tell you, that chris is ever present. i believe he had a hand in guiding you and dana, the one other person in this world with whom you share that rare intangible quality, together, to form an entity that allows him to live on in our hearts. as far as the mind goes, i miss chris, and think of him often. and, when i do, he makes sure i smile...yours always, brady


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