Fall of 2016 my life changed forever.
My husband Jim, who other than a bad back was in good health, was feeling tired and losing weight. On Thanksgiving weekend he started to turn yellow. A few days after going into Emergency, a specialist confirmed our worst nightmare – Pancreatic Cancer. Ironically, his younger sister was diagnosed with the same awful cancer a few months before. I immediately started researching options for this cancer.
Long story short, he was at Princess Margaret in Toronto 2 weeks after for a consultation and then he had the whipple surgery at the end of November. Everyone kept saying how great he was doing after the whipple surgery. They wanted to do chemo as an insurance to stop it from coming back. We were so excited because we thought he would be one of the few people that would survive 5 years.
He had to stop chemo a little early due to complications so they did radiation. On his last day after he “rang the bell” at the cancer clinic, the doctor shook Jim’s hand and said “Hopefully that will give you a year before it’s back.” We were both in shock. We left so confused and scared.
We continued living our lives as normal as possible and just hoped he was wrong.
Then on Valentine’s Day of 2018, I went to see my sister who was admitted in the hospital the night before. I decided to go pick up Jim’s last blood results. When I looked at the paper my heart sank. The numbers were back up and this meant the beginning of the end. I then went to see my sister and the doctor came in and told her she had liver cancer. Not a good day!
Again, we continued to live as normal as possible. We went away on our weekend getaways as we always did, we swam in our pool, we enjoyed our kids, we spent time with family and friends and most importantly, we laughed and enjoyed each other as much as possible.
Unfortunately, 2018 ended up being the worst year of my life. In March, Jim’s sister lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. On September 1st, I said good-bye to my soul-mate, my best friend, my husband of 38 years. A week later my sister died of liver cancer. I remember being so angry that Jim was not there for me when my sister died. Over the previous 10 years I had experienced the death of several family members and friends and it was Jim that was always there to hold me up. This anger was not at Jim, it was at whoever took him from me.
After that I was numb. The grief from losing my sister and sister-in-law was pushed aside. All I could think of was how a part of me died with Jim and I would never be happy again. I was on autopilot doing what needed to be done and crying any time I was alone. I was so lonely, even when in a room full of people. I just wanted Jim and our life back. I hated going to bed every night not only because he was no longer in our bed but also because I had nightmares every night. Then I hated getting up every morning knowing I was alone and didn’t want to face a life without my husband. I was trapped and knew I had to somehow try to get off this wheel I was on if I was going to continue to live.
I was fortunate to have our sons and their families there for me whenever I needed them. We were all struggling in our own grief and trying to be there for each other. I was also fortunate to have a few close family and friends that were there for me and would just listen to me tell my story over and over. I did many things I said I would never do such as talk one on one with a therapist, go to grief groups, went to mediums and even turned to reading books about grief and spirit as I previously was definitely not a reader. I was searching for anything that would help me.
A friend suggested I look at going to Camp Widow in Toronto. In the fall of 2019, I decided to attend because it was now over a year since my husband died and I was not able to find whatever it was I needed to help me get through my grief. It was there where I met other widows/widowers. I found it was the first time that I could honestly open up and say how I truly felt. It helped me to realize I was not crazy and the emotions and thoughts I had were very similar to most people I spoke with. Even though there were differences in all of our situations such as men and women, ages ranging from 20-80, the cause of their loved ones deaths and some only being widowed 5 weeks and some 10 years, we all had something in common, we were all trying to figure out how to live after losing our partner.
I realized that people need people around them that truly understand the grief and pain. Just as I could not imagine the pain of losing a child, I feel that unless someone has lost their partner they are not able to understand what widows/widowers go through.
I saw an ad in the paper for Julien’s House needing companions to be there to listen to people that are reaching out for someone that understands. Since that was something I couldn’t find, I knew I wanted to be a companion to help others. Once I started talking to guests I realized they were helping me as well and made me realize how far I have come.
It has been 3 ½ years of trying to learn how to be “ME” instead of “WE”. I still shed a tear or so and get angry every day. There are even times where the pain is unbearable and I know I have to accept it as I realize after all of the years I shared with Jim and we were a “WE”, he will never be erased from my mind and there will always be times I will miss him. However, the good memories are starting to replace the sad ones and I’m now more grateful for the time and life I was able to share with my husband instead of being obsessed with anger because he was taken from me. It was very tough and sad watching Jim go through the emotional pain of trying to stay alive and not wanting to leave his family along with the physical pain for almost two years. However, I am grateful we had that time to enjoy family trips, see a grandchild born and walk our son down the aisle.
Will I ever forget Jim? Absolutely not, he will always be a part of me! Will I ever get over Jim? Absolutely not, he will always be in my heart and there will always be a part of me missing!
Will I ever be able to get through this grief and come out on the other side to enjoy life again? With our sons and their families there for me along with some close family and friends by my side, I’m now hopeful that it may be a possibility.