Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not A Quitter

I had one of those conversations with a stranger. You know, the one that starts with "so how long have you been divorced?" This one ended up lasting a bit longer than usual, despite my lob of the usually effective conversation stopper: "I'm not divorced, I'm a widow, my husband died 5 years ago." Instead, this person wanted the details - she was giving me a spa treatment, so we had some time to fill. We had a chat about cancer, the length of his illness and she even wanted to know about the end (thrill seeker, I suppose).

I gave her a brief timeline of how it happened over the 20ish months of his illness - 1st diagnosis - radiation, 1st re-occurrence - surgery, 2nd re-occurrence - chemo, and then a sudden and very unexpected death after a week of chemo. I could tell from the comments she made and the questions she asked that she thought he'd heard his final diagnosis and given up. He died suddenly in her mind because the news scared him to death - he gave up. There was a sympathy and implied judgment in her nodding head.

I wanted to rip her nodding head off. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but I really did feel tempted to call her on the judgment she'd made and defend his honor. Who the hell did she think she was? She didn't know him. I resisted the temptation, what did it matter really? She'd already made up her mind. He quit. It was too hard.

I walked away from the exchange completely annoyed. Why did I care what a stranger thought of Daniel 5 years after he was gone? I have no clue. But I do know that he was no quitter. It did get hard, and it continued to get harder and harder. He fought until the horrible awful end. I've never been prouder of a person's strength in the face of adversity.

So there. Up yours spa lady.


  1. The keeper of the truth. Not easy. My husband was a private person with illness. Always. And a fighter to the end. Even today when people ask about his death and illness, often the first emotion felt after sadness is a violation of privacy. Not my privacy, but his. Macabre--some of the questions--the insensitivity of others can still amaze me. If I can manage to get it together and say "It's just too painful to speak about" I find that helps.
    Knowing the details so intimately about my brave spouse isn't anyone's business.
    Moving on isn't easy.
    Getting a spa treatment should be pleasurable! Maybe move to another spa?

  2. Thank you for this entry! My husband had a brain tumour - I dare say I wouldn't want to tell you the insensitive comments such as "Did he use his cell phone a lot?" really saying - he must have done something to give himself cancer. I get so tired of the "war analogy" with cancer. Our beloved spouses got sick - the same way hundreds of thousands of people get sick everyday. The courage and grace and astounding will it takes to face a terminal illness each day is beyond most peoples understanding. Unless you have seen it first hand you can't know. My husband lost so much to his illness but one thing he never lost was his courage and his great love of life. He never gave up, ever! Thank you for the perfect line " it is just too painful to speak about" . . . because we all know there are things that no words can explain.
    Thank you for sharing this moment.

  3. I don't like the war analogies with cancer, either. It's like, people don't lose the battle with cancer. They simply die, something that will happen to all of us. People just don't want to face that reality.

  4. People are ignorant. There is no way you can understand what is like to lose a spouse to cancer is unless you've been there. I was sharing with a group about the aloneness, and they all tried to fix me. You don't get it unless you've been there. Thank God that we have this place where we are heard.

  5. Michelle, you are the strong one honey. My husband had a heart attack and died suddenly, but you...you had to watch. My heart just did a gut wrenching twist. God bless you.
    I just recently had the situation of sitting by my mother's bedside as she lay dying. I just stroked her face and told her to "go to the light". Many prayers were said too...it was all I could do to choke them out. But, I am glad that I (and my brother) were with her in that horrible end. Just another "Steel Magnolia" as I like to call my widowed friends.

  6. Oh yeah...the comments that really drive me nuts. "Well...at least he didn't suffer". How do they know he didn't suffer, were they with me for those long 8 days that he lay in the hospital ICU with irreparable brain damage? Did they see him with his eyes open, but not focusing (or were they? I'll never know). Were they by his bedside when they did unspeakable things to his body to "help" him or when we had to make the decision to "pull the plug". Nobody knows if he suffered or not and the gall to say it just about sends me over the edge. We all suffered and to hear someone say "at least he didn't suffer" just causes me rage.

    You did good to walk away, but I'll joy you - up yours spa lady!

  7. Why does it matter whether they fought valiantly to the end, decided to stop treatments or died suddenly and unexpectedly? It is a loss. It is significant. We are all widows - and it hurts. Why do we need labels even in death?

    My husband didn't receive any special awards for his horrible 4+ year dance with cancer. His docs didn't decorate his door with stars and balloons when he survived crisis after crisis that they said he wouldn't. Nor did we find a bag of coal outside the hospital door when we made the decision to go to hospice.

    Wish I had the nerve to say these things in person when someone decides they know what this is like and makes those ridiculous comments.

  8. Fuck her....clueless bitch// Bad day today!

  9. My husband never gave up or lost hope either, but that did not stop him from dying! Hope isn't the only thing that keeps them alive, My daughter unfortunately had to sit through an English class in High where the teacher went on a long tirade about how hope can keep you alive, about a year after her father died. She told me how she wanted to get up and scream that is not true, when dad could not be more hopeful, but he still died. People are idiots until it happens to them!

  10. I love all of the honesty in these posts. I've heard my share of idiotic remarks and I'm glad people can't read the bubble over my head. How nice it would be to say exactly what I'm thinking. Love the "up yours spa lady." What joy it would be to say it aloud!!

  11. The only explanation I can think of regarding people making inappropriate statements is that they are trying to control their own environment and sense of safety. People seek to find a concrete reason for death (cell phone use, risky behavior, genetics) so they can scan their own risk and therefore feel safe (which is an illusion). We who have suffered loss in reality are the unfortunate recipients of individuals who are hoping to control their fate. My opinion. God bless.