Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Now?

I have spent the last 8 1/2 years of my life with this man. 
I loved him a full year before that.  
Can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to do now?

There are so many conflicting thoughts and emotions running through my head.  Let me attempt to explain.

There is one thing that I do know for certain.  I fulfilled my marriage vows to Jim to the fullest, in a way that pleased God, me, and my husband.   Before cancer came into the picture, Jim and I were unnaturally happy.  We had exactly two fights our entire marriage.  Yes, we squabbled and snipped just like everyone, but there were only two times that one of us had to walk away, take a drive, cool off.  A lot of that was due to his incredible patience and his extremely laid-back nature.  But much of it had to do with our mutual decision to stick it out, easy or hard, and work through things that needed to be taken care of in a kind, fair, and loving manner. 

Another thing I know for certain is that cancer robbed us of the complete fullness of the last years of our marriage.  When I was about 3 1/2 months pregnant, we'd noticed the first lump on Jim's collarbone.  By six months into the pregnancy, he'd had surgery and began the first of countless (nearly 100 in total) rounds of radiation.  At that point, we were both in denial, I think.  I told God that I wasn't going to lose my husband.  Then it spread to his liver.  And I told God that I didn't want to lose my husband, but if He was going to allow me to become a widow, He was going to have to prepare my heart.  Gradually over the next two years, that's exactly what He did.  Prepare my heart.  And my mind.  

The last six months of Jim's life were some of the most difficult we'd ever been through as a couple.  I'd had to help him out with remembering medications, giving him shots, and personal care off and on over three years, depending on how sick or well he was.  But those last six months were so difficult.  He began having seizures and his pain became uncontrollable.  My role as wife took a back burner as his need for me to be his caretaker moved to the forefront.  It seemed that I was constantly on the phone with someone at U of M.  It got so that the girls at the message service knew my voice and I knew them by name.  

During this time we both came to grips with the fact that unless God chose to intervene in a dramatic way, Jim was going to die.  Soon.  We both went through independent cycles of anger, sadness, resignation, despair.  You name it, we did it.  Sometimes our cycles overlapped.  Often they didn't.  We talked about it sometimes.  Not too often.  We didn't need to.  It was staring us in the face every day.  We had to work together to keep track of how many of each kind of pill he was taking so that everything stayed in balance.  I struggled to figure out what to make for him to eat so that he wouldn't get sick, or if he did, at least it wouldn't hurt coming back up. 

The cancer continued to march on, ravaging his liver, consuming his entire spine- skull to tailbone, into his pelvis and the side of his collarbone that hadn't been removed.  Then he began having seizures.  I cannot tell you how terrible it is to see your once strong and mighty husband come crashing to the floor, rigid, eyes looking at you, but not seeing you, as his body is racked by a force out of his control.  Sometimes I could see it coming and catch him and break his fall, but many times I  was too late.  All I could do was cradle his head in my lap and stroke his sweaty brow as he snapped to and try to help him reorient himself.  Or rush home from work on my lunch break because he hadn't answered the phone when I'd called to check on him.  Once the cancer had spread and broken his rib and then began to collapse his lung, the pain really began to set in.  He became so short of breath that walking from one room to another became difficult.  It was hard for him to lie down, so he'd sleep in the recliner downstairs.  I began spontaneously waking up several times at night and  going down to check on him.  More than once his breathing was so shallow that I had to stand there for what seemed an eternity just to make sure he was breathing at all.  To this day I cannot sleep an entire night without waking up.  

But it was the pain that tore my heart out.  I could help him with a lot of things.  But I couldn't help with the pain.  Oral medication couldn't help with the pain.  NOTHING helped the pain. 

It was during that last year that I began to mourn the loss of my husband. I knew I was going to lose him.  I knew Marley wasn't going to have her Daddy for much longer.  I had plenty of wonderful memories with him, but I really wanted Marley to have an opportunity to have even more.   I began looking for ways for them to spend time together that didn't take too much effort from him.  They spent a lot of time snuggled up reading books or watching cartoons.  I'd already lost my lover, and in many respects I felt like I'd lost my friend.  He was in so much pain that the last thing he wanted was for either Marley or me to touch him, even gently.  So many days I was so exhausted from working full time and taking care of the house and being a mom, that all I felt like was a caretaker.  It seemed like all I did was take care of everyone and everything.  He needed so much from me that I felt like our partnership was gone.  
But every once and a while, I would catch just a glimmer, when he was well enough to grab me in a hug and say, 
"I love you, Megan Ann.  I'm so glad I married you.  It'll be OK".  

About a week before he died, I took a leave of absence from work.  We'd been told he had about three to six months.  Obviously, that was not to be.  We'd gone to the hospital because he was out of oral pain medication options and he just couldn't take it anymore.  He was getting some good relief from the IV medication they were giving him, and his mood had improved dramatically.  I spent those last five days by his side, and  Marley was with friends and my mom.  For once the burden of care had been mostly lifted from my shoulders, and I was able to just BE with my husband.  Even though those days were spent in the hospital, I wouldn't trade them for the world.  We shared meals together.  We watched TV together.  We prayed together.  We slept in the same room.  He held my hand and he asked me to come along to every single procedure he was sent to.  We were closer in those last few days than we'd been in a while.  And then he was gone.  Just like that. 
But I was there, and there's no other place I should have been. 
Because that's what I promised. 
For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  
Till death do us part.

So, back to my original question- "What Now?".  Many of you have reached out with loving arms and asked how Marley and I are doing.  We are OK.   But can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to do now?  I get the feeling from some that I'm supposed to walk with my head down, sad and gloomy.  That I'm not supposed to be OK.  Is life a bed of roses?  Of course not.  But does it go on?  It sure does.  There are days that I wake up and I feel like a million dollars.  I am happy and content and good to go.  There are some days that I wake up and the loss hits me like a ton of bricks and I feel like I can't breathe. 

 Here's how I cope with grief, friends.  
I pray.
I cry, usually alone, usually at night, sometimes at the cemetery in Jim's big blue Dodge pickup.  
I write and share some of it with you. 
I laugh. 
I tickle my daughter.  
I seek comfort in the arms of my family. 
I seek comfort in the company of my friends. 
Sometimes I have a beer.  
I pray some more.  
I sing and worship at church, because that's the way I feel closest to God, through singing.  
I take medication and see a therapist on a regular basis.  
If it seems like I'm not sitting still and working through my grief, all I can say is-
you're not around when I can't sleep at night.  
And please remember, I've been working on this for a good year or so now.  I'm just in a different part of the reality of it all.

I love this man.  
Regardless of where life leads me and my daughter, there will NEVER be another Jim for me, and there will never be another Marley's Daddy.


  1. Wow, Meg! You have such talent for writing! This post really got me good!

  2. Here's the thing. People of God don't go around sad all the time. We were made to be emotional. We will have moments when emotions will have free reign over us. The great thing about our relationship with God is that we know where to find joy and peace. We know where the strength is. As a plaque in my house reads "God didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but he did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way."
    Megan and Marley, I love you so much!

  3. You have no idea how well you just described what it is like to love and care for someone who you know you have a short time with. You wrote this beautifully - thank you for sharing your heart.


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