Surviving Their Death

Angel with the broken heartI’ve lived through some pretty stressful times in my life but none compare to standing beside my husband Jack in the cancer journey that ended in his death 18 months ago.  It was 5 years of a roller coaster from hell because just as we felt good about the progress something else happened that plunged us back into the black hole of despair.  While those years were mostly stressful at least we were together, holding hands, fighting the good fight and supporting each other.  When he passed though the roller coaster became a downward spiral that sometimes I did care if I survived.  But I have and so does everyone else whose love has died.

Survival is relative though when you wish all life would have stopped when your loved one died.  Life however doesn’t work that way.  There is a reason I’m still here, why you are still here, alone.   The reality of our life after their death is perhaps the hardest part of the cancer journey…  the one we have to travel alone.

You can surround yourself with friends and family but not one of them is living your pain.  It was your husband, wife or partner.  Your life is the one that has been irrevocably changed and you are never going to believe there is a purpose to their death and your survival, even though there is.  The “one door closes another opens” philosophy feels like a hollow platitude and one that just makes you angry.  It’s like being told by a relative “he died, get over it.”  (Yes, I was told that.)  It’s also anger you don’t need on top of all you’ve lost.

Moments after Jack passed I heard him say to me, “Everything is OK now.”   For months every time I heard his words I’d yell back, “You may be OK but I am not!” and I wasn’t.  It wasn’t anger so much as frustration.  I couldn’t save him and now I didn’t know how to save me from the pain… and the panic of being without him.

In the end we are alone with our loss. We have to feel the depth of this despair and allow the tears, the heartbreak, the gut-wrenching pain to flow or we will never heal.  As exhausting as curling up in a ball in the corner and sobbing uncontrollably is… it is also a necessary release of the built up emotions that we can no longer hold back.  In my worst moments I forced myself to remember there was a reason I needed to feel this pain so I allowed myself to be consumed by it.  At first this went for days at a time, then hours and now… moments.

As the months have gone on the hurt has changed.  Some of it is a result of the callous built up by the pain.  We get use to it so it doesn’t have the same effect as it did in the beginning.   The waves may still crash over my head but they don’t seem to knock me down as hard.  Most of all I’ve learned that it’s OK now for me to distract myself from the pain.  I turn off the sad songs that I know will bring the tears.  I get up and walk out the door when the walls close in on me.  I go somewhere or do something that Jack & I didn’t do together so I don’t miss what we did do together.  Those “tricks” enable me to enjoy my life just a little bit more as time has gone on.

There have been times that I have felt guilt for laughing or having fun since Jack died.  We feel that we are being disrespectful of our marriage, of our love.  Reminding ourselves that those who have passed wouldn’t want us to live out our lives in misery is a good thing to do but it takes time to believe it.

Life after their death is our journey.  We may not know what is coming but then did we ever?  It’s scary to walk alone when we’ve always been a couple.  As the weeks and months and years pass we realize the strength it took for us to survive.  And in that moment there is a different flash of perspective where we realize we made it through hell.  We have survived the worst life has to offer and so there is hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And it is.

We learn to take each day, each moment, as it comes for what it is… an opportunity to turn our survival into testament for the love we were blessed to have.  We make the choice to honor that love by living each day with the same strength and grace they showed us in their dying.  And our life again has purpose.  Remember in the beginning of your journey alone you didn’t think your life could ever go on let alone have meaning?  Look how far you’ve come.  Acknowledge your journey to this place.  It’s not over.  It may never be over… but you’re not done living yet.  Be grateful for your progress and celebrate, yes celebrate, your resilience!

With love, Cheryl


8 thoughts on “Surviving Their Death

  1. My husband passed away Five months ago. Life becomes so different. It seems as if I see life through a haze and seems that I go through the days as if holding my breath . I have four children a 30 year old, 22 year old, 16 year old, and a 10 year. Whether I am strong or not I have to be for them. Although I struggle with the pain of losing my husband, the pain I feel when I see my children struggle with the loss is more unbearable. I believe God gives me the strength a moment at a time. I appreciate every moment I spend with my kids because I can feel my husband through them.

    1. Diana, I am very sorry for the loss of your husband and for the loss your children feel at such a young age. Help you children tune into the signs that their dad is still with them and allow yourself too. I know when Jack is with me though I wish we could have a two way conversation. There is peace though knowing he close. I hope you will also take time for yourself. It’s easy to say, hard to do, but you’ve lost the love of your life. Caring for your children is your top priority and will be for many years. Their needs distract you from your own mourning. I have found many distractions to take my mind of my loss and also given myself time to be alone with it so it doesn’t dam up inside of me and then come out at a time I wish it wouldn’t. (Though there will always be those times.)
      Much love and healing energy to you and your family.

    1. Cheryl, Since our spouses died we here people say that if they died suddenly it is a blessing that they didn’t suffer and if they lingered at this this was the ability to say goodbye. Neither however is any less painful. Wishing you peace. Cheryl

  2. Nearly 6 years now that my beloved husband passed away after battling with illness for a few years, still miss him so much but as you say life goes on but it is a different life, one you have to adjust to, definitely not easy.

    1. Sandra, Easy just doesn’t fit in the vocabulary once they pass… We just have to keep our journey simple because I don’t know about you… but the complexities of life and the drama just don’t matter any more. I appreciate your writing… I may be a few years behind your healing but am grateful to see your strength. Much love, Cheryl

  3. Hi Cheryl, my husband passed away 4 weeks ago. Fights stage 4 cancer and defeat it and then die when body went into shock after infection. We don’t have kids and been married for 32 years. All of a sudden I need to find myself without the love of my life. He meant the world to me. But everything you say is so true. Thank you for understanding. Especially after I took care of him and tend to his stoma and clean wounds. All of a sudden nothing to do. May you find peace in your memories because that and God is the only thing that keep me standing.

    1. Riekie, I am so sorry for your loss. We do what we need to and being there to tend to the love of life is a privilege… no matter how hard it is. You are so right though that once they pass there is a void in our life that we are at a loss. I find that the memories are what we hold onto and the believe that our loves never leave us…

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