I didn’t sleep well that night in the hospital. Our city’s hospital provides beds for the family of patients, and it’s a lovely thought, but oh my, how uncomfortable they are. I tossed and turned, and lay in the half-light listening to my husband’s breathing. He snored, but his breathing had changed. It seemed shallower to me. It worried me, but finally, sleep took me for a few hours.
I woke with a start just after 8:00 the next morning. I checked on him, and saw that he was the same as the night before. I ate breakfast, and drank a cup of coffee. I went into the bathroom and freshened up. Then back to his bedside, to watch his breathing, to kiss his forehead, and to run my fingers through his hair.
The nurses had assured me earlier that he could hear everything, so I got my cell phone and put on some music. Laying in the bed beside him, we listened to Josh Groban sing “To Where You Are.” And then, suddenly, my husband’s breathing began to change. Startled, I called the nurse. She was there is a flash, and encouraged me to speak to him as she fit her stethoscope into her ears. I drew my arms around him, and whispered in his ear, “When you see Him, you run to Him. You run and you don’t look back.” Then he cried out, “Oh!” And while I told him that I loved him, and held his wasted body to mine, he took one more breath. Then, as that last breath came forth from him like a sigh, he slipped away from me into Eternity, forever free from the hideous claws of the Monster. Our love story ended as it had begun—in each other’s arms.
And now the grief…
Oh, you souls who have battled the Monster and lost your loved one, I know your pain. For me, I know that the ground upon which I once safely stood has now cracked and shifted beneath my feet, and I am falling. I am incomplete. I am hollowed out. I am not me anymore. There have been times over the last month and a day since he passed away when I have felt not right in my head, my thoughts have been confused, and I have been consumed and blinded by my rage. Because it’s not fair, and if you feel as I do, then know that I agree completely. IT IS NOT FAIR!! You’re not wrong about that. The Monster has murdered yours as he has murdered mine. It’s not right and it’s not fair. I have no other words…
My husband’s Celebration of Life came and went in a mad blur. I think it was a beautiful tribute though, and there were tears and laughter and tears mixed with laughter. For an hour or two, I gathered together with others who also mourned him, and we shared our sorrow. Then that time passed, I paid the church, and went back to my home. Family and friends returned to continue their lives, and when they were all gone, I was left to face the penetrating silence alone. That is when I at last began to comprehend the finality of his passing, and it was as though someone had hit me with a hammer.
I know that I wept and I raged and I prayed to die…just die. What was left, after all? The life we had lived until that point was over completely, and with that ending, all the hopes and dreams and plans and joys of that life vanished too. It’s almost unbearable. My vows to him are over. I am his wife no more, and this knowledge is revealed in dreadful, echoing silence. For you who are now facing that silence, I know.
And then the world out there…
There are those who will make a valiant attempt to comfort you. They will say things like your loved one “is in a better place,” or “you will learn to find new happiness,” or your loved one “wouldn’t want you to grieve so,” or “hold on to the happy times.” I know this will be difficult, but I urge you to try not to hold their lack of understanding of your pain to their account. They want to sympathize, but cannot. And really, upon who amongst your loved ones would you wish your pain? To truly know, they must first truly lose. If they have not lost, then they are blessed.
Then there are the other kind of people—those who are indifferent to your pain. Your world is broken, and you stand frozen in time as the world continues to rush past you. Most people don’t even glance your way in spite of the sorrow oozing out of you, expelling itself like blood from your pores. Some of them might even expect you to somehow behave the same as you did before your loved one died, or to pull up your bootstraps and get back to business. And when your reactions are blackened by the shadow of death, they will neither see nor understand. Some of them might even think of you as weak or foolish or worse. Perhaps you have a boss who is impatient with you to return to work. Or a creditor that demands payment. And, of course, the government will give a standard, unfelt “sorry for your loss” followed by “we cannot process this request until you send us the completed form.” You will see the cold reality that, contrary to your overwhelming feelings, the world did not stop moving. The earth continued around the sun. Tuesday became Wednesday. Furthermore, you must keep breathing in and breathing out.
But, and here’s the thing, that is okay for now. Just keep breathing. Just keep watching your feet, one foot in front of the other, as if on a tightrope over a ravine. Focus on that, and know that you are not crazy. You are in the midst of a terrible, life-altering grief. This may well be the worse pain you will ever know in your life, so be gentle with yourself, and for all the rest, let that dissolve from your mind into the ether of the Universe. Life, regardless of your pain, and seemingly in conflict with everything you are feeling, generally keeps a balanced chequebook, and you are still part of Life. There is still Beauty…everywhere.
Because I think of my husband and our last lucid conversation in that hushed and darkened hospital room. It was his most cherished desire that I would find happiness and meaning in life after he passed away. He wanted me to engage with my future and “move on” in spite of everything. He asked me not to hold on too tightly, and gave me permission to be free and to love and laugh again. Then he told me that he could not have wished for a better wife and partner, he assured me that I had kept my vows and done right by him, and then, as he fell into a sleep from which he would never again fully waken, he whispered that he loved me. They were his last spoken words and so perfectly gave the summation of his entire life…I love you…and were to me more precious than diamonds. I will honor his life by leaving on the porchlight of my heart, in spite of the unrelenting sadness I feel right now.
For those of you who have come to your own journey’s end, I know your loneliness and your pain. I urge you to seek grief counselling and to speak to God, however you define Him. Speak out your grief and solitude. Refuse to be consumed by silence. Recognize that grief has stages, and give yourself permission to be in your grief, because your pain is as real as it feels, and you are not wrong. Know that there are others—those of us who belong now to this horrible club of lost love. Find an understanding hand to hold, a knowing heart to listen to you, and know that you are not alone. Do you understand me? Right now, wherever you are reading this, say these words out loud: I am not alone. Know it to be true simply because it is actually true…you are not alone.
#Living with cancer
#Grief and loss