‘Galen, babe. We probably need to get moving.’ He didn’t respond. I thought he was just in a deep sleep.’: Woman loses husband to heart attack after 6-year battle with cancer

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of self-harm.

“It was the end of our getaway weekend. Galen, my best friend of almost 17 years, and I started dating in high school, even going to prom together a few times. Once we were engaged, and I was a junior in college, we started saying the phrase ‘Someday. Someday we will be married. Forty-two days till someday!’ It was an expression we still frequently used with each other saying, ‘I’m so grateful today is someday.’ And on this wintery, cold weekend, it was one of those times we sighed in the silence and saying, ‘Grateful today is someday.’

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler
Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

It was about 8:25 a.m. and I had woken up, checked my phone, and after a few minutes, finally decided to put my feet to the floor. I placed my phone on the nightstand. It read 8:31 a.m., a time now forever imprinted in my memory. It was probably time for us to pack up and think about heading back home to our little tribe of four kiddos. ‘Galen,’ I called, ‘Hey babe, we probably need to get moving.’ He didn’t respond. He had a rough night of heartburn and I thought he was just deep in sleep. ‘Galen, Galen.’ I set my hand upon his chest and then I touched his arm. He was cold as if I had just pulled out a piece of pork loin from the refrigerator. The love of my life, the man I had been married to for 13 years, a wonderful co-parent, the man who was my favorite human, was not breathing. Nor did I feel his heartbeat. And at that very moment, I screamed with a pain I had never felt, something like a rocket plummeted me at an exponential rate from this Earth down right into what I thought must be hell itself.

Nobody can imagine this kind of ache unless you have gone through it yourself. I tell people most of us can begin to visualize that loss or begin to approach that type of pain, but we stop short because it’s possible for most people to stop there. But that moment when the EMT is tasked with the awful realization that they tried everything, it’s been over 20 minutes, his skin never changed from the blue color it was, and no sign of life had existed, a missile is tied to your ankles and you dive hard and fast into the deepest levels of agony you didn’t know were conceivable. That’s the difference between imagining and experiencing the loss of your husband. And by 9:11 a.m. your husband, the man who was your person, is pronounced dead.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

After the coroner and police officer graciously helped me let go of my dead husband’s body after 20 minutes of lying in his unresponsive arms, I reached for my momma, who cradled me in her arms. This was the body that once held me close, hugged me, spoke to me, listened to me, and did life with me. As I let go, I continued screaming in horrific pain as I watched them put the love of my life in a black body bag. They brought his lifeless 190-pound body to the gurney, where they unzipped the top and kindly let me touch his face and kiss his cold lips one last time. The man I made a life with didn’t kiss me back. I looked in his eyes, but this time he didn’t see me. He was dead and part of me died that day, too.

How was it over? Jesus, Jesus, how did I only get 13 years, 1 month, and 10 days with this man? How did this happen?

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

I would find out later that week, the EMTs had originally gone to the wrong location because I had trouble remembering where we were and they ended up a block away. But they were able to find me because they could hear my shrieking or what I believe was the sound of my shattered heart reverberating through the air. I stood there in shock at the fact my once living husband was being taken away in a body bag.

The police officer who had been so kind remained behind, hugged me. Tears were streaming down my face. I was choking on my snot. I shouted to the officer, ‘Do you know Jesus?!’ ‘Yes, I do,’ he humbly replied. ‘Are you actively pursuing a relationship with him? Who are you telling about Jesus and the hope He alone offers?! What are you doing to show others He is everything?!’ I began to share my testimony in that moment. I don’t know how I was able to do that. It certainly wasn’t on my mind to evangelize to anyone, but as I stood there vulnerable and horribly wounded, watching my world be demolished in a slow fade, I knew the only thing of worth was Jesus. My husband’s death made that very clear. It was going to be only by His grace that I would make it to the next moment, let alone anything further beyond that was yet to come. All I had left of me was Jesus, and somehow, even in my pain, I knew that only He would sustain me.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

As they rolled Galen out of the place we were staying, fresh bouts of physical and emotional pain started to overcome me. It’s in that hell I described to you earlier, where the kind of pain that feels like electrifying knives attempting to escape your body cutting through every artery, vessel, and organ, but somehow is trapped by the confines of our own skin and turns back inward on you, tearing up once more the remnants of your body. And it consumes your body, getting angrier at and more vicious because it cannot find a way out of you.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

That night and for weeks later, I thought about cutting my arms. For some reason, the pain was most intense there for me. That thought had never been an issue for me before, but as a young widow of four, I found myself begging God to get the pain out of me. If I could just cut my arms, I could finally see some of the agony that was causing my bones to erode. I would have visible evidence finally and you could see the terror of death that was rotting in my raw wounds. If I could just lacerate my arms, maybe the hurt could finally escape. Maybe for a moment, the intense pain wouldn’t be my companion.

Psalms 23 has always been a powerful chapter for me to meditate on and it became even more so in the weeks that followed Galen’s death. As the pain would surge through my body, my mind would go to that chapter. Verse 4 says, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ Sometimes that relief from God came when I was too exhausted to stand at my husband’s visitation and I just laid on the floor in a heap and a close friend just cuddled next to me rubbing my back.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler
Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

Sometimes, it came in the form of my 8, 6, 4 and 1 ½-year-old children, wrapping their arms around me, stroking my hair, wiping away my tears, telling me, ‘It’s okay to cry, Momma.’ Reminding me they love me and saying they, ‘Miss Daddy, too.’

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler
Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

Sometimes that comfort came as I stormed into the wilderness screaming out explicative in fury all my hurts, my heartaches, my disappointments, and my accusations towards God. Yet, in the process of my pain overwhelming me till my face fell flat into the hard Earth and my lips turning downwards as I screamed, ‘Why did he die? Why aren’t you taking away the pain? Do you even love me?’ In those times, I would begin feeling His arms wrap around me whispering softly, ‘I know you hurt, Kelli. I am with you. I grieve with you. I see your brokenness. I know this is unbearable, trust me, Kelli. Believe that I will carry you through this valley. Follow me, hold on to me. I am worth trusting. I will sustain you.’ It taught me at my deepest, angriest points of grief as I brought out allegations like knives against God, I didn’t find Him waiting to smite me, I found a God who embraced me as I was in excruciating pain, who showed me nothing but abounding grace, love, and compassion.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

I learned so much the days following my husband’s death. I saw goodness and compassion at so many turns. See, my 34-year-old carpenter husband, who was fit and ate fairly clean, had chronic cancer for the previous 6 years. But he had died of a heart attack due to unknown heart disease. He had checkups every 3 months and his numbers ran between .2 and .5. The year prior, we had a scare and his numbers jumped to 5.5, which prompted a visit to his chronic myelogenous leukemia specialist, another bone marrow biopsy, and mutation testing. Before we knew the results of that, his specialist said we needed to start thinking about a transplant. Not now, but probably before he turned 40. We’d find out after the tests, his cancer wasn’t aggressive, there were no mutations and we could put the idea of a transplant on the backburner.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

He was supposed to have his oncology appointment the day after he passed away, so 10 weeks after he died, I called for the results simply because I was curious. His last number in October was 1. So, his numbers for January? 107. My jaw dropped and my head began to spin, I called an individual who worked with CML and this individual told me frankly, ‘Kelli, Galen died of a heart attack and his autopsy says that exact thing. However, take away the heart disease and you had gone to that appointment? You would’ve been sent up to Chicago that week, had another biopsy, put on another chemotherapy pill, and talked about getting a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible. This medical report shows his cancer was aggressive and it was now a crisis. I believe he could’ve survived but he would have the fight of his life ahead of him every day for the next three years. And I am not sure of the quality of life had he survived it.’

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler
Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

I wept at the news. God was so merciful. He had allowed Galen and I to be refined, prepared, and put our priorities in line because of cancer, but God, in His kindness, didn’t permit my husband’s body to be ravaged by the ugliness of what cancer can do. Instead of a frail man in the hospital, my kid’s final memories of him would be our last family night together on a Friday, where he wrestled with our boys, combed out the hair of our sweet girl, and tucked them all in for the night. How was that not a gift? How was that not extreme mercy by God?

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

We had tried to do things right financially. We put God first with our money. We paid off my $67,000 college loans after the first 5 years of our marriage on a carpenter’s hourly wage of $11 – $13 and a teacher’s entry-level salary. We didn’t go into debt, we bought cars with cash. We were in the process of getting us both life insurance when my husband was diagnosed at the age of 28 with CML. He was declined and no matter how hard we tried, searched, asked for help, sent in doctors’ letters, we were never able to get him coverage. Last summer, we had a scare with his cancer that caused us to talk more seriously about the ‘what if’s.’ We did frequently because of his CML, but the thought of a transplant made us talk details. I remember the place in our bedroom we were when Galen angrily said, ‘I just don’t know what will happen to you guys if I die? How will you be provided for?’ Weeping myself at the thought of him not being in my life, I replied, ‘Galen, I believe God specifically put this hurdle of us not being able to get you life insurance so that we would have no other option but Him. If you die, you won’t be here for any of this to work through, and for me, well, I’ll just have to hold on to the promises God gives us. So why don’t we pray about it now?’

We prayed, sometimes having to pause because our emotions ran too high to even speak. And for that summer, we begged God on countless occasions that if something did happen, He would provide as we had no other means to do so ourselves. When Galen died, I knew I had his company’s small life insurance policy that would cover his funeral and 6 months of emergency cash we had worked hard at saving. We had also sacrificed and put an extra $6,000 on our house every year so if something happened, maybe I’d have some equity in our home. A benefit was set up on the Wednesday after he died, and by the time I finished giving a eulogy for his celebration of life on Friday, there was $105,000 in the account. This amount was raised by our church, and when I say church, I mean the body of believers in Jesus Christ.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

Our community stepped up in what I thought was an unbelievable and impossible way. I wept the day I paid off the mortgage. It was a direct provision and answered prayer from the previous year. Surely, in spite of living my worst nightmare, I was seeing goodness and mercy following me along in this grief journey.

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler
Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

Though I am still walking through a dark and trying season, I often found a reprieve in the outdoors of our country home. Something I did as we dealt with Galen’s cancer journey for the previous six years. Many times, God would meet me outside in our yard, as I walked amongst our gardens full of lovely flowers, long after the kids were in bed, and I was left wrestling out life at sunset. Being a novice gardener, I recently learned, however, tulips, one of my favorites, need a very cold and hard winter to be able to emerge the next spring.

A few days ago, I went out to meander in our yard and I wrote this thought in my journal: ‘How long would her cold winter last, Lord? How long before she’d be able to break through the soil like her tulips, without the sting of grief? The widow of her beloved carpenter husband, the momma to their four sweet children, wondered as tears formed in the corners of her eyes. But the lovely shaded flowers reminded her winters do end, dancing does replace mourning, beauty will come, redemption does win, even if not today, it would be someday again.’

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

And so, I say, ‘Someday, Galen…. I don’t know when or how long God will have me on a mission here, but I am thankful there is a someday where I’ll get to see you again, sharing eternity with the God we love together.'”

Courtesy of Kelli Rasler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelli Rasler from Goshen, Indiana. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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