These are various articles I wrote regarding my wife succumbing to cancer, or dealing with the grief of her loss. They skew dark and self-indulgent, so I separated them from the regular blog. Read on at your own risk.
Turning a Page, Turning a Corner, Turning It Up
New starts are tough for me. I’m like a faithful dog, and once I know where my bowl and bed are, I’m in for the long haul, and I like it that way. I have also been extremely fortunate to have picked great people to ride along in life. Alas, I find myself a lonely widower, and I can either continue as that or start again with someone else.
Today, November 06, 2020, Lynn has been gone exactly eight months. I never expected that I would be re-entering the dating scene at the seasoned age of 56. I thought that was all behind me, but cancer and took Lynn from me and changed that forever .
I asked my 21-year-old son how he felt about me seeing someone that wasn’t his mother. It’s been a tough year for him, too, you know. He said, “I think you should. You have a lot of love to give.”
He’s right. I do have a lot of love to give. Yes, I’m still mourning, but I will be doing that for a long time. Years will pass if I wait until I’m done grieving. Maybe I never stop grieving. I think I’m ready to start seeing someone and perhaps even remarry one day. Still, it’s been 32 years since I was on the dating scene. How do I start?
In the middle of a pandemic, it’s hard to meet someone new. Some days, I never even leave my home. So here I am, awkwardly fumbling around a dating website, and it’s odd. I met a couple of nice women and even went on a few dates. Both women were nice, but it didn’t work out. Different interests or just too much distance between where we lived, but we gave it a shot. I’m trying.
My goal is to find someone special and cancel my account on the dating site forever, not meet as many different women as possible. So far, it’s been bizarre, and I feel like I’m standing on a street corner, holding a sign that reads, “Nice guy looking for a nice woman. Will work for a date.” Surprisingly, some of the ladies are willing to stop and give me a shot.
I’m not a big fan of the pop duo Big & Rich, but they have one song that has a verse that seems very appropriate for this time in my life:
You never stop loving somebody
No matter what you tell yourself
You never stop loving somebody
But you can start loving somebody else.
A Bad Break
I know people expect me to have more acceptance and peace with losing my wife to cancer earlier this year, and I don’t blame them. It has been seven months, after all. As I get further along in coming to terms with my grief, I feel that I am healing poorly. By that, I mean that I won’t be “good as new,” or back to the way I was. I’m impaired.
Consider what happens when you break your arm. You are in immense pain from the fracture, but with proper care, over time, the bone mends, and you heal. What happens if you don’t get proper care or set the break first? Won’t it still heal, but will heal crooked? You would likely lose some function of that arm, and it would be misshapen. Yes, you could get by, albeit inelegantly, but you are forever damaged.
That’s me, emotionally, healing badly from losing my lovely wife to cancer, and it’s changed me forever. It’s like an emotional car crash that I’m recovering from, and it’s left me deformed and handicapped.
And then there is the pain that spikes up out of nowhere and wracks me. That still happens, but it subsides much quicker. It’s no less severe, just shorter bouts. And I still have bad days where I can’t find joy or purpose in anything, but they are becoming fewer. All this is me, healing badly.
Without a doubt, this is the most difficult thing I have done – to keep going without Lynn beside me.
Today, I read a long post from someone who had cancer, and it went into remission. She thanked God and said it was her faith that saved her. Now, I’m happy for this person, but Lynn was a devout Christian, right to the end. Why did God kill her but save this other person? Did Lynn not pray enough? Did she not participate in her church enough? Didn’t read her bible as much as this other person, so you die, and you live? Was it, “God’s will?”
I look at my 92 year old mother, and she’s frail and unable to enjoy life any longer. On more than one occasion, she has said she is ready to go, and that living has gotten very hard, and she’s tired. I love my mother dearly, but each day is joyless and small, passing the time between meals and bedtime with game shows on tv, because anything more taxing is too much for her.
Then I look at Lynn, who was only 57 years old when she was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. She had decades of life left to enjoy. She had a husband that adored her. She was vital and capable, and she loved life so much. But nope. She’s gone.
What kind of god does that to people? What kind of god makes someone keep living when they can’t enjoy life and takes life away from someone who dearly wants to live? For me, that is a cruel god, or a god that doesn’t care, or more likely, a god that isn’t there and never was. God’s will, indeed. But none of that is important.
Yes, I’m still grieving… seven months later, I still mourn the loss of my wife. I’m sorry. I want to be better. I want to be able to think of Lynn and remember all the happy times we had together in our thirty years of marriage, without the sadness because she’s gone, but there is no expiration date on grief. I admit though, it is starting to get a bit stale.
Ever since Lynn died in March, and we went into lock-down because of Covid-19, things that bring me joy have been hard to come by. Even the things I used to enjoy were now lifeless activities. That is, of course, one way depression affects a person. I was so fixated on the loss of my wife, it bled into all aspects of my existence. It poisoned everything. I felt like I was always on the brink of tears. The smallest issue would lay waste to my fragile façade of a smile and crush my heart. I know I’m melodramatic, but honestly, that’s the way it felt to me at the time.
Recently, someone asked me, “What brings you joy?”
I couldn’t answer him. I wanted to say, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing brings me joy anymore,” but that is defeatist and pathetic, and even if I was defeated and pitiful, I didn’t want to sound that way.
Finally, I said, “I have some things that bring me a degree of comfort. I haven’t actually been joyful since before Lynn died.”
I remember feeling committed to NOT having any joy in my life, even though I enjoyed the things that I referred to as “comforting,” my mind didn’t want to unlock and accept the joy, whether I admitted it or not. That was a strange thing because I was denying being happy, even though it was right there.
I went away and thought about it. I asked another person what brings them joy. They have also suffered a severe loss, though different from my own. He said, “Spending time with my dog makes me happy. I enjoy our nightly facetime calls, and I enjoy spending time with my son.”
Wait a minute. I have two dogs that I dearly love. The absolute delight Jasper exhibits when we play does make me happy. Jojo’s goofy Beagle smile is adorable. My son is the world to me, and I enjoy my friendships and family, too. I enjoy playing games over the internet while facetiming my sister-in-law and her family. I do have things in my life that bring me joy. As simple a thought as that is, it was a revelation to me.
It was at that very moment I realized I could miss Lynn and still have happiness, too. The two were not mutually exclusive. Yes, missing Lynn was profoundly sad, and I miss her so much it hurts. I can also do things that make me happy, and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel both sad and happy in the same day, hour, even minute. It’s okay.
This new outlook made my previously meaningless day much more fulfilling. I regained my focus and started accomplishing work assignments I was putting off. I tackled a couple of small projects around the house. I started cooking more. Not just microwaving a frozen dinner; I was cooking. And I acknowledged when I was happy, and just realizing that made me even more pleased!
Now, I wrote this to help me get clarity on the situation, but I hope it’s helpful to someone out there going through their personalized, nightmarish version of this. My heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry. Take all the time you need to grieve; there is no time limit. Be kind to yourself, and when you can, identify the things and people in your life that bring you joy, and acknowledge them. I’d love to hear what they are if you’re willing to share.
Grieving the Loss of a Spouse During the Covid-19 Lockdown
If you have lost your spouse during this time, I am so sorry. My lovely wife of 30 years, Lynn, lost her life to cancer on March 06, and we went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus ten days later, making me stay at home, with reminders everywhere that Lynn is not here anymore and never will be again. To not be able to hold a gathering and celebration of her life. To wake up every morning and sleepily reach over in the bed to touch her and then realize she isn’t there. That is a special hell. So if you’re going through your version of this, I sympathize, and I believe this experience is unique for everyone, but I also think there are similarities. I’d like to share my experiences with you, with the hope that it might make you feel slightly better, slightly less alone, or somewhat less in despair.
First of all, grief is the right thing to feel after losing my wife. It’s correct to grieve during this time. In truth, I was grieving her all through the chemotherapy treatments and then through hospice, before I started grieving in earnest when she died. The sorrow was less when Lynn was still present. I could hold her and kiss her. Once she was gone, the despair cranked up to 11.
Things people say to try to make me feel better are minimal at best. Often, people unwittingly say something that makes me feel worse or angry.
I’ve had several people tell me they know exactly what I’m going through because they have a mother, father, or close relative, who died from cancer. I don’t diminish their despair, and I know losing a loved one is difficult. I empathize, I do, and I nod understandingly, but inside my head, I’m screaming, “YOU DO NOT KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH!”
I’m not trying to make out like I’m special – many others have done this before me, and I’m just doing what I can do. Still, unless you were the primary caregiver for the person you love more than anyone else in the entire world, daily feeding them, changing colostomy bags, helping them get dressed, taking them to never-ending doctor’s appointments and chemo sessions, and finally, helplessly hold their hand as they take their last breath, you do not know what I’m going through. You can’t, and if you wonder if I envy your nievete, I do. It is the darkest enlightenment.
Human beings are both emotional and rational beings. They have a sort of equilibrium between emotional and rational. When one goes up, the other goes down, like a seesaw. When grieving, the swings are jarringly radical.
Grief does strange things to me. It crushes my heart and soul. I am stunned by its depth and power. It hijacks me, incapacitates me, demands my full attention, and it does it multiple times a day. Sometimes it’s because of a trigger, like seeing Lynn’s wedding rings on the dresser, but other times, despair comes out of some dark, masochistic corner of my mind.
I’ve learned to let despair happen. I’ve tried to suppress it, and that does not work. I’ve attempted to run, and that does not work. Let it happen. Feel it, in all it nightmarish devastation. I let it wash over me and through me, and eventually, it passes. It does, and I can collect myself, wipe away my tears, and move on.
There is also a constant, dull ache in my heart. It’s emptiness like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I feel very alone. That, too, I’ve learned to accept and just feel it. After Lynn died and early on, I tried to cheer myself up. I’d buy myself things I didn’t need. That doesn’t work. I did discover that going for walks in the morning or evening does help, so there’s that.
I’ve also learned that voicing my feelings out loud helps. I usually am not saying it to anyone, just to myself.
“I miss you, Lynn!”
“I feel so alone. I’m empty and depressed.”
“I’m so angry right now.”
As they say, “The only way out of pain is through it.” It helps me acknowledge my new normal. I think emotions must not be denied and must be felt. I let them be what they are. In some small way, this honors Lynn. I’m saying how important she was to me and how much I loved her.
I mentioned earlier that I bought myself things I don’t need to try to feel better. The desire to feel better can push you into unhealthy decision-making. Several times, I nearly bought a new car when I have two vehicles, and both are perfectly fine. I almost adopted another dog when I have two of those, too.
Something I do need that I can’t give myself, I need to know I took good care of Lynn and didn’t let her down. I need to know I’m not crazy. I need to know I’m going to be okay. I lean on my loved ones and close friend, unsuccessfully trying to not expose how broken I am, but I rely on them to tell me these things. And they do.
I’m going to keep going, which is nothing special. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, but it’s the only way I know how to move forward. I’m going to work on being kind to myself. I’m going to remember to take deep breaths. And I’ll continue to be stunned by my emotions because right now, eight weeks after my wife passed, I should be. Grief is like an emotional concussion, but I’ll heal. Despair is a marathon, but I will pace myself. My whole world seems empty, and everything I do seems pointless. What I’m shooting for is the day that’s not the case.
I am going to KFG.
Advice From Someone on the List for a Liver Transplant
I have a friend, Mike L. whom I admire, support, and love, and he’s been careworn with serious health issues for several years now. He wrote and shared the following piece with me. I thought it was profound, particularly when you consider the place he is coming from.
Mike L. gave me permission and rights to post it, so I’m sharing it with you. You probably are not exactly in the place Mike is in but anyone struggling with health issues will identify with what he’s saying. As a caregiver, I certainly do and appreciate his advice.
I’ve been battling liver failure and waiting on a transplant for a while now. I am also now confronted with battling cancer as well. This process has given me time to really reflect on life. Here are some of the things I’ve come to realize.
- Let those you love know they are loved every chance you get. None of us knows what may happen in the future.
- Work to live. Don’t live to work. The memories you make will last far longer than the material things you may pass on.
- Make time to take good care of yourself (you may come to find that you want those extra years on the back end rather than living it up on the front end).
- Travel and learn about other cultures, focusing on the things that unite us rather than divide us.
- Be respectful of others opinions. You may not always agree with them, but it may allow you to see something in a completely new way that you have never thought of.
- Often the world only unites when faced with a tragedy. Politics, by their nature, tend to create divisions. The world is at its best when following the Golden Rule.
- Even when you are at your lowest, remember that there are still others who are facing bigger battles and lend a kind word or helping hand whenever you are able. Your life will be blessed and someday you may be that person needing help.
- Work tirelessly to see that one day only “human” is listed under race. It won’t be easy, but what a wonderful world it would be if we got there.
- Celebrate diversity. Stop spending so much energy and time criminalizing, penalizing and stigmatizing things that aren’t just like you.
- When it is your time to go, seriously think about organ donation. It could possibly give someone a second chance at life. It is one of the most selfless acts possible. Please check out The following link to learn more about how you can help: https://share.upmc.com/2018/09/living-liver-donation-at-upmc
Some of this stuff Mike writes here will be obvious to some of you but not everyone. That’s the point of this post. Me, I agree and appreciate each point he brings up. I hope it helps you, too.