Till Death Do Us Part

Widowhood. I still cringe when I hear the word. It’s not what I would have chosen, and it’s certainly not what I expected for this time in my life. After all, my husband’s family has a history of living well into their 90s. I actually expected he would outlive me by at least 20 years. I’d half-jokingly tell him that when I died, I wanted him to cry bitterly. I wanted to be missed. I wanted to know my life mattered and his grieving would somehow prove that. At times I’d think of our single friends and wonder who would replace me once I was gone, knowing he wasn’t likely to remain single after my demise.

Instead, after almost three years without him, I still find myself at times crying bitterly when his absence becomes overwhelming.

After all, for 23 years we were almost inseparable. The only time we weren’t together was when we were at work. Then came the cancer diagnosis: fourth stage adenoma carcinoma. From the onset, the prognosis was grim. I thoroughly researched his condition and knew from what I had read that our remaining time together was brief. I decided to take a leave from work to care for him and he went on temporary disability.

We moved to an apartment close to where he would take daily radiation treatments. Over the next nine months, he was in and out of the hospital. He underwent four major surgeries and many minor outpatient procedures. I rarely left his side. In order to spend the holidays at home, I was taught how to give him fluids through an IV to prevent dehydration and acute kidney failure. During that time, he wore a line that allowed chemotherapy to continually be distributed throughout his body. If those things weren’t enough to deal with, his surgeries caused him to develop blood clots. This required me to give him daily injections of a blood thinner in the abdomen in order to prevent the blood clots from traveling to his lungs or heart. At one point, under tremendous distress, I broke down and confessed to a dear friend that I didn’t have the mental or emotional strength to go on. Thankfully, out of dedication to my husband and through the support of our family and friends, I continued.

Nine months after our ordeal began, he had his final surgery. We were told the cancer had destroyed his colon, and there was nothing else to be done. We were advised to contact hospice services, which we did. They were very helpful and left material for me to read, explaining what to expect during his final days. Shortly after moving back home from the apartment, his pain was so intense I was giving him liquid morphine every hour. He remained in an almost comatose state for over a week. Then one morning, at the age of 58, 10 months after receiving the cancer diagnosis, as I held his hand, he turned his head towards me and laboriously said for the last time, “I love you.” Then he winked three times, which was always his way of reassuring me that everything would be OK. I knew immediately he was saying his final goodbyes. That night as I held him in my arms, he breathed his last breath. Then began the most difficult journey I’ve ever experienced: life without him.

Widowhood is carrying heartbreak alone, and realizing no one can share that pain with you as he could.

No, widowhood at 52 is not what I expected. But over the past three years, I’ve learned what it is. It’s coming home at the end of a tough day of work to an empty house, longing to have my husband’s strong arms wrap around me as I allow the cares of the world to melt away in his reassuring embrace.

It’s something as simple as running into an old friend of ours in the grocery store, who we haven’t seen in a while, and being eager to call him on his cellphone, wanting him to guess who I just ran into. Only to realize, after I’ve reached for the phone, there’s no one to answer.

It’s planning for a future without having someone to plan with. Someone who is equally invested in your hopes and dreams to hope and dream with. Someday, after retirement, we were going to take a cruise to Alaska. Now there’s no more talk of someday; retirement is something I dread rather than anticipate.

It’s knowing he isn’t going to be there to walk our granddaughter, who we’ve raised together, down the aisle. Instead, in his remembrance, we will light a candle placed by an old photograph of him holding her in his arms when she was an infant. Pretending somehow that makes him a part of the ceremony.

It’s going out to eat and hearing the hostess say, “Just one?” Then hearing her words echo throughout dinner as you gaze at the elderly couple sitting across from you at the next table, carried away in endless chatter as you sit in solitude.

Widowhood is seeing a purple wildflower in bloom. It’s recalling how he’d often stop by the roadside on his way home from work to retrieve the little purple flowers that reminded us of our daughter, whose favorite color was purple, who we had lost at the age of 13. And although the memory was too painful for us to talk about, without a word he’d hand me the flowers as if to say, “I haven’t forgotten. I still care. We still share all the precious memories we have of her, and in our hearts she’ll live forever.” It’s carrying that heartbreak alone, and realizing no one can share that pain with you as he could. It’s knowing that no one else is going to see the significance he saw in a little purple wildflower.

Simply put, I’ve learned that widowhood is hard. But, I’m learning it doesn’t have to be hopeless. If you’d like to share what you’re learning through your loss, leave your contact information and someone from our team will contact you soon.

Photo Credit: Martin