Twenty two years ago today, December 10, 1994, was the day that my wife, Barb, died after a long struggle with breast cancer. The weather that year had been mild, much like this year, and we had not yet had snow. That evening big fluffy snowflakes fell gently and silently as Barb drew her last breaths. Our family room had been turned into a hospital room full of equipment and medical supplies. We had a wonderful home care nurse who looked after her physical needs while we sat beside her, waiting for the inevitable. Her death was very peaceful and, in many ways, a relief. By the time of her death, she had been reduced to a shell of her former self. Death is a very final marker but we had lost her true essence weeks before.
I remember thinking as she wasted away that I hoped that my remembrances of her would not be those final weeks and months but the 25 years that precede them. Thank goodness that is the case. Barb still appears in my dreams from time to time. Usually she doesn’t say anything, she is just there, maybe sitting beside me in the car or chatting with someone at a party. And she is healthy and robust and … just there. She was outgoing and friendly and always had a little glint in her eye.
I can conjure up horrible images of those last few weeks and the many challenges of the eight years of intermittent treatments prior to that but, thankfully, that takes some concentration and I have to work at it.
My life, and that of our family, took a turn in a different direction after that day. I have empathy for my kids, having lost their mother when they were teenagers. I know that they feel the loss, still. Dad’s are OK but Mom’s provide some nurturing that is special.
It took a while not to think I should be home for dinner but eventually that led to a pretty flexible lifestyle where I could work internationally and be away for scattered and prolonged absences. I ended up having enriching experiences working and making friends in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then in East Africa. I now lead a somewhat unconventional life but it has been rewarding and fulfilling in many ways that I would not have imagined or wished for 25 years ago. And Christmas? Well the Christmas season has never been the same.
I know the whole family will stop and reflect and grieve a bit today. I don’t really believe in life after death but I certainly think one’s spirit can continue both in the minds of others who remember them and in the genes that she passed on to the five grandchildren she never got to meet.
P.S. December 21. I was initially surprised by the interest in this post both on Facebook and in my blog. But then I realized that it is something that everyone relates to. Every family, every individual, has times of disruption and challenge and even tragedy. All of us. No exceptions. The test is whether we can work through the crisis and move on. Of course it takes time. But living in self pity is not productive. Doors close and others open. That’s life. The only way to survive and be happy is to accept that reality. Still, it is always comforting to fondly remember those who have had positive influence on our lives but are no longer here.