It was like someone slapped me. A simple post on Facebook, “I’m in a relationship, yes, I am dating again!” I shook my head, as if I could clear the words from my mind and re-read the post and it would make sense. Shaking my head like it was a Magic 8 Ball didn’t change anything. The post read the same, but now, was followed by happy tidings for the future.
Why was I so upset? Why was this so personal to me? The posters’ wife of many years had passed away due to Inflammatory Breast Cancer three months ago. Too soon to date? Not too soon to date? Not even casual dating, but a “relationship”. I was not judging, just stunned.
Just like cancer comes without rules, life post cancer is just as confusing. And everyone has an opinion, a suggestion and a horror story, sometimes all rolled into one. What is a surviving spouse to do? There are not clear cut answers, and it is common to hear after a long and happy marriage, the now alone after living “when two becomes one” find this new state of singleness as unnatural as the day is long.
I am living with a fatal cancer currently at bay. I have told my adult children that if the cancer returns and overcomes, to be supportive to their father if and when he chooses to date. After 32 years of marriage, he is used to living in the community that married life offers. I have explained to them that he will be ready before they are ready. Even though they would have lost me, and they would have experienced a deep sense of loss- prior to my death, he would have experienced something different, a sort of pre-death loss. When one is ill for a period of time, as rich as that time can be, the marriage does change. Mixed in the blessings are losses that only someone walking that path can relate too.
I tell myself, I am stunned, worried that my friend is moving too fast, and could be hurt. A little more time to process would be good. But if I was honest, I would have to say, I am being forced to mourn myself. As much as I would not wish my husband to be alone, I mourn the losses, that we have been forced to live with in my illness. Mourn the loss of us growing old together, after what is now 32 years of married. Mourning being with him, for his final days, as the sunsets on a long life.
I have also told my husband, that if and when he wants to date, to wait. Wait a little longer that he might feel ready; to give our children time to be ready too. Their loss, although significant, is different. They are not alone, and will not feel the same type of emptiness as him. Their lives will have different distractions, demands and responsibilities that will naturally remove their focus from loss. But for him, he would be living in that void. So a little time will make it easier for our family to heal. And time to grieve is important. To process loss is important, because pain post death seems to come out in layers or more like waves, like your heart can’t give it all out at once and not just be broken forever. Then as he moves forward, although I will always be with him, I can be a memory, and not a shadow.
What the future holds for us only Heaven knows, so give love today, as tomorrows are precious and fleeting.
Hope always, Terry
published in edited form on April 2012 MD Anderson Cancerwise