Author Joan Didion chronicled similar experiences in her 2005 bestseller, The Year of Magical Thinking, about the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. Like Sink, she lost a partner who shared her professional success and had to console a grown daughter and examine her new identity.
"Life changes fast," Didion wrote. "Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."
After Bill’s funeral, someone gave Didion’s book to Sink. She hasn’t opened it. "I just can’t let myself go there," she said. "It wouldn’t be worth it."
For Sink, ever the CFO, this has been a year of mathematical thinking.
She gets by on careful calculations: When you go to a fundraiser, drive yourself so you can leave if the tears come. Schedule meals with friends so you don’t have to eat alone. Exercise, pack your schedule, travel. Stay in hotels because then you won’t wake up and wonder why Bill isn’t there.
And when you walk into the closet, don’t look to the right. All of his things are gone.
A loss for words
On their last day together, Dec. 22, Sink and her husband strolled the streets of tiny Mount Airy, N.C. — the model for Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.
Sink grew up there, in a three-story, 19th century farmhouse built by her great-grandfather and his brother, the original Siamese twins. Chang and Eng Bunker toured with P.T. Barnum and used their sideshow earnings to buy a 110-acre tobacco farm. They married sisters and raised 21 children between them.
Sink’s father still lives in that home. She and her sister, their husbands and most of their kids had gone back for the holidays.
"We went shopping that morning. Bill took me to a jewelry store and told me to pick out my present," Sink said. She chose sapphire earrings that match her engagement ring.
They bought clothes for their kids. Ate pork chop sandwiches.
Back at the house, Bill went up to his room to read.
"Mom, come here!" her son, Bert, cried just before dinner. "Dad’s collapsed."
After that, everything seemed surreal. Her brother-in-law trying to breathe life back into Bill, the ambulance squealing, the pronouncement: Heart attack.
Bill had suffered one before, after he ran for governor. This time, doctors couldn’t bring him back. He was 67. "But God was looking out for me," Sink said. "When it happened, I had all my family to help."
It didn’t register right away that Bill was gone. Instead, Sink focused on what she had to do: Contact a funeral home, schedule cremation, stay strong for the kids, Bert and Lexi.
At the memorial, hundreds of people packed Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa to tell stories about Bill the Marine, Bill the fisherman, Bill the lawyer, mentor, life of the party. Former Gov. Bob Martinez was there, along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The children gave eulogies.
Sink wanted to tell everyone about their first date, selling hot dogs at Bert’s football games, long weekends at their house in the Bahamas. She wanted to tell everyone that when Bill was running for governor, he came home almost every night, no matter how far the trip, so he could be there in the morning to hug their kids before school.
But Sink worried she might break down. What good would that do? So she didn’t speak.
Sink started her banking career in North Carolina when she was 25, climbing the ladder at NationsBank, making her way in a man’s world. When the bank promoted her to a job in Miami in 1984, everyone kept telling her about this good ol’ boy, do-gooder Democrat lawyer in Tampa, an English major who played Gator football, left law school to fight in Vietnam, came back and made Law Review, then landed a position at Holland & Knight.