"Transient Ischemic Attack," was the diagnosis received from the physician in charge after he and Jill spent more than four hours in the Emergency Room at the local hospital.
"Does she have a history of circulatory problems?" the doctor asked.
Seth nodded his head in the affirmative.
"Numbness sometimes in her extremities. Cold feet. And it runs in her family. Mother, siblings, all suffer from a variety of symptoms."
"Not her, but others in the family. And hers seems to be more frequent lately, particularly in the last year or so."
"Has she been under any particular stress over that time? Has she lost anyone close to her?" he asked.
Seth thought about the past twelve months, and all that was going on. "Yes," he said.
"Not surprising, then," the doctor concluded. "These things tend to be genetic and prone to be exacerbated by stress. Especially long-term stress."
"So this was a precursor to a stroke?" Seth asked, battling ferociously against a growing feeling of helplessness.
"It could very well be," he replied. "Technically, a typical stroke is caused by lack of oxygen and blood to the brain. Your wife suffered a brief overabundance, causing her to lose consciousness this morning for a time."
Seth felt a chill descend across his chest. Images of Jill being stricken at any moment by a massive stroke filled his mind. Paralysis, even death could be the at-any-time result. Each morning, each moment could be her last. He would never hold her or speak to her again. Their children could be without their mother at the tick of the clock.
He tried to bury these mental images but they would not stay covered, bubbling horribly to the surface of his thoughts no matter how hard he tried to suppress them.
As an intellectual possibility, the sudden loss of a loved one was always in the back of his anxiety-ridden mind, but this was an immediate, and clear and present danger. This was real. And there was very little he could do about it. Whatever medications or therapy regimen recommended would never really mitigate the risks in his mind.
This woman with whom his life was inextricably intertwined could suddenly cease to be. For real. Today. Tomorrow. Any moment.
The prospect was unbearable. It made every single second with her intolerably poignant. How could he live with this hanging over his head?
And his girls, could he, should he, tell them? He knew Jill would want them to know the truth and then just get on with their lives. Of all of them, Seth knew that Jill and their daughters would be the stronger. He was the one who would undoubtedly collapse, and his weakness would, in effect, leave his children orphans.
"I am in the Lord's hands," she had told him as he grasped her hand in the back of the ambulance he had finally had the sense to summons. "He knows the number of my days, and will work all things together for good, even this," she assured him.
He was buying none of it, and yet - and yet - what else could he do?
"You cannot die before me," he told her. "You cannot leave us," he begged.
"It is not up to me," she said with a weak smile. "Or you. He knows what's best."
A desire to scream his frustration at her swept over him almost uncontrollably. Almost. He clamped down on it with all the will power he could muster. How could he possibly ever be angry at her again given that she could die at any second?
But how could she believe such nonsense, really? If there was a God, and this God loved her, why would He do this to her, or, at the least, allow it to happen to her?
Of all the people he knew in the world, his wife deserved this fate the least.
"I know what you're thinking," she had said to him. "I always know what you're thinking, husband. And you're wrong. It's not nonsense. It's the truth. And all of us deserve death."
"Not you," he choked out.
"And I am not worried about our girls. Not really. They know the Lord, and He will take care of them. I am worried about you, though. You are so very thick-headed and stubborn."
"You cannot leave me," he said through tears. "It is too soon. You are too young. The girls are not all grown."
"When I die, Seth, I will be with the Lord in Heaven. If He takes me home now, or 20 years from now, I know where I will be. But you…"
She did not finish the thought, and for the first time since this all began, he saw fear and unutterable regret in her eyes. Her sudden tears were not for herself, but for him. It broke his heart even further.
And it made him want to throw himself out the ambulance onto the highway.
The anticipated grief and pain of loss was simply too great. He wished with all his heart he had never been born.