I always meant to continue writing the blog. When Andrew was sick it was so helpful and therapeutic for me to document the process, as if writing would grant me some control over the uncontrollable. For an entire year, I wrote. Many of you - friends and loved ones read along faithfully and sent beautiful, loving messages of encouragement. I wrote and wrote until the end – until that day in the hallway of Sloan Kettering when they told Charles and me that it was over – that they had tried every possible therapy, but that the cancer was too strong, and was now unstoppable. “How long?” we asked, numbly. “Weeks” was the answer. And that was it. I had to go into that hospital room and tell the dearest person in my life that his year-long herculean effort was for nothing. That the doctors had said we could go home and there was no reason to come back. I was terrified to tell him – he had struggled so hard and endured so much to stay with us. But he knew already that it was done. “It’s got its claws in me, babe” was all he said. He could feel it physically, in every cell of his body. After that day, I couldn’t write anymore. What was left to say?
When we returned home that last time, we climbed into bed and I tried to make Andrew as comfortable as possible - at this point he had constant, widespread pain. I cried and Andrew, ever stoic, said, “Well, we did it, my love.” By which, he meant that we had created a beautiful, amazing life together - that we had loved each other as well and as thoroughly as was possible. He was congratulating us for getting it right. I will never forget that moment. We had to finally face that after nearly twenty years together our time was at an end –- that we would have to say our last goodbyes.
The next two weeks were a terrifying and excruciatingly sad haze of morphine and inadequate hospice care. Someday I will write that story if it ever becomes less painful and less rage inducing to think about. I carry tremendous guilt (and probably always will) for not being able to provide a better death for my husband. To helplessly watch a loved one suffer so unbearably and so needlessly has a profound, altering effect on the psyche. I will always regret that I did not have the courage nor the shrewdness to deliver the fatal dose of morphine that would have put a compassionate end to his agony. He certainly would have demanded it from me, had he been able.
After Andrew’s death, I wrote a few more blog posts. I wanted so badly to keep him present, to talk about him, to remind everyone what it meant to lose such an incredible person from this earth! I wanted to write down all of my memories of him, and to leave a record for the boys before time made me forget the details. But I found that it was too painful to think, let alone write. All I wanted to do was to go with him – my life seemed to suddenly stretch out very long ahead of me. My grief was a black hole, swallowing me up completely. I stopped enjoying my boys, my friends, my work. I put on a brave face so no one would worry overmuch or hassle me about going to grief therapy. I was indignant - what could a therapist possibly tell me about illness, death and loss that I didn’t already know? How could a stranger possibly understand how special our life together had been, how rare and incredible Andrew was? I knew I just had to go through it on my own.
I did my work and paid my bills. I somehow sold my house and moved us to a new town. I listened to Andrew’s voice in my head, guiding me through all of my responsibilities each day, but as soon as I put the children to bed at night, I would fall on the floor and drown myself in wine and bitter tears. I cried for a year straight, until I simply hadn’t any tears left.
And then with time the darkness began to fade. I was finally able to think about Andrew with happiness as well as sadness. I was starting to create new memories with my boys and our friends, and life seemed like it might be ok again.
And then suddenly, by chance, an old friend re-appeared into my life. He was also suffering a loss of a different kind, and in our mutual vulnerable states we stumbled into something beautiful and real and overpowering. It was intoxicating to be so happy again after so many days and months and years of sadness. I felt a real spark for life again – I wanted to have adventures and laugh and bathe in the love this person was offering. And so I did -- and have enjoyed every moment. And I’ve decided to leap, head-first into a new life with this man, who is so very kind and sweet, and it’s terrifying and thrilling, and hard and easy all at once.
I recently revisited some old Facebook posts from the weeks after Andrew died. Friends left so many beautiful comments and wishes, most of which I was too numb to properly appreciate at the time. Someone said that Andrew would be around me always, and that he would send laughter and light back into my life. And I think that’s been true, but sadly not everyone is happy about my new relationship. Certain friends and family have sent clear messages through their words and through their silence. I’m not sure if it’s because they feel that I’m being disloyal to Andrew, or worry that it’s too soon, or think I’m too happy and they liked it better when I was sad…It’s strange to encounter those kinds of reactions and I’m always slightly jarred when it happens. Some days it can fill me with irritation – do they really think that Andrew and I didn’t have multiple, private conversations about what the future should hold for the boys and me after he was gone? My God -- any one who understood Andrew even slightly would know that he’d be furious if he thought the boys and I were still crying and moping around all day two years later. He’d tell me to get my shit together and for us to live our lives. He was not a martyr, by any stretch, and wouldn’t bear for me to be one. But I get it too – change can be upsetting to people, and what they perhaps don’t understand is how the boys and I never stop remembering Andrew. How we talk and reminisce, and share funny stories, and visit favorite places. He is a constant presence in our lives. I want the boys to know that they can always talk about their dad.
And thankfully, there are others – those friends and family who have been so generous in their words and thoughts – so happy to see the boys and me happy again. I feel their warmth and I embrace it. Life is so fleeting – we’re only here for the briefest speck of time. We have to grab joy when it comes, recognize our good fortune and enjoy the hell out of it. Andrew taught me all of this, of course, by how he lived and how he died.
This will probably be the last post on this blog. The blog is so explicitly tied to Andrew’s illness, and I don’t want that to be the defining feature by which we remember him. He lived 50 beautiful years -- he was only a cancer patient for one. So thank you all for reading and remembering, and celebrating Andrew’s life, and hopefully celebrating the new life that the boys and I are forging. We are ever grateful!
This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it's over
Just hear this and then i'll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you'll ever know
From "Last Goodbye" by Jeff Buckley