I sat with friends the other night and one of the topics of conversation was their impending 40th birthdays. They sat around and complained about getting older and feeling older. The weight gain that they can’t get off as easily anymore. The increasing responsibilities at work and home. More wrinkles and more gray hairs. I sat and listened and nodded not having much to add. Inside my stomach was churning.
I wake up each morning and look at myself and like everyone else I overanalyze and recognize the need for self-improvement. I know I look tired. I am gaining more wrinkles around my eyes. I furrow my brows so often the deep forehead lines are really becoming evident as well. Instead of staring in the mirror and feeling bad about myself, instead of giving in to unrealistic societal standards I look at myself and think “I’m happy I got up today”. I’m happy I was given today. I celebrate those wrinkles as markers that show I am living and breathing. I celebrate my faults. I am happy to be here. I am happy to have been given another day.
As your own number turns this year, celebrate having another year. My husband didn't make it to 34.
Excerpt from “The Unexpected Widow:”
The sucker punch came on Monday morning, Jan. 26th, 2015.
I sat in that room by myself for what felt like hours. My mind raced. Did they tell me I’d be taken to a private room after surgery? Would the doctor meet me here? Is this normal? Should I be worried?
I tried to imagine the worst-case scenario. But what was the worst-case scenario, really? People don’t die during routine hernia surgery, do they?
“The news is not good,” the surgeon said. He sat on the couch opposite to me. I could tell by his tone and the empathy in his eyes this was serious.
“Your husband’s hernia is, in fact, fixed,” he said. “But we ran into some problems when we went in.”
“He had several masses in his stomach,” he stated. The surgeon didn’t know what to make of them but an initial report from the pathologist on call sounded deadly.
My head spun. The room started to go dark and I had to steady myself in the chair.
I’d heard of mesothelioma. On TV, in those horrible 1-800-ASBESTOS commercials.
“Has your husband ever been exposed to asbestos?” the surgeon asked, matter-of-factly.
“I’m not sure,” I whispered.
How does someone get exposed to asbestos? What IS asbestos? What are we talking here? Is it cancer? What is it?
“I’m so sorry,” the surgeon said.
I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t find my voice. I wanted to shriek, to scream, to grab him by the throat and ask, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Instead, I whispered, “Thank you.”
“Do you have any questions?” the surgeon asked, wrapping up.
Do I have any questions? I scream in my head. Of course I have questions! A million of them, in fact, but I can’t think of a single one right now.
I sat there a minute trying to regroup before I quickly began googling mesothelioma on my phone. Every website said the same thing: No prognosis. No cure. No treatment.
The rest of that morning was a blur, frankly. It’s like the world stopped, took a break and then started to turn again in a different reality. This wasn’t really happening. It wasn’t real. There’d been a mistake.
My life is now measured in two parts: ‘Before my husband died’ and ‘After my husband died.’ It is difficult to realize that people entering my life now only know me as the widow. They are unable to meet the amazing man who provided love and growth and also rightfully put me in my place. Those that did not meet me before are not meeting the same woman today. My experience has changed my thoughts and visions, my perceptions, my level of empathy, my level of patience, my own level of ignorance, my level of tolerance of others, my desires and my needs.
As time continues to tick by people are becoming bolder with the questions they ask me. I have said before the fog has lifted and indeed it mostly has. Do not however be confused in assuming there has been clarity. I still walk around this house in search of the one person I cannot have. I cannot remove the tears. I cannot alleviate my own pain. I cannot catch my breath. My strength wavers daily.
We are all searching for the same answers, the whys and the hows? Therefore I fully understand the desire to ask your questions. “Did you know he was going to die? How did he contract Mesothelioma? Have you contacted as many resources as you can? What would you do differently? When did you know he was sick? What did it look like?"
For the longest time my answer to the last question was that he still looked good. You might not have known he was sick if you didn’t know him I would say. I felt at the time that the change seemed gradual or maybe because I was his wife I just told myself that because it was easier.
Our last family photos we had taken were phenomenal. They are enlarged and spread around our home. I have proudly displayed them since the day I received them. However I am once again reminded that the fog is lifting. I stare at these huge photos that once brought peace and happiness because they were taken less than two weeks before we lost Daniel. Now, what I see when I look at them is death. They are screaming from the walls. They remind me of his last breath. The shapes and hard ridges. The swelling. The shortness of breath. The inability to get around.
What does death look like? It is staring me in the face every day.
Meet the Author (me)
Driven by a need to help others. I have known from a young age that this is what I wanted to do. This is my very real, somewhat sarcastic, look into my newfound widowhood. I hope this site will help you as much as it helps me.