“I met Jason #1 in the middle of my sophomore year in college at UW Stevens Point — I was 19, and it was 1991. We had our first date at the campus cafeteria right before winter break. During break, we talked on the phone daily, and once we returned to school in January, we were an instant couple. We were like two peas in a pod: we both loved the outdoors, we were both studying in the Natural Resources field, and we were both from Illinois. We fell in love hard and fast and had many adventures together. Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains, a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters, and countless camping trips. We stayed together through separations, internships, graduations, and many moves, then finally married in 1998, after 7 years together. Our wedding was at a historic village museum complete with a tiny little community church…and we danced our first dance to Sinatra’s ‘The Best is Yet to Come.’
We welcomed a daughter in 2002, and she became the light of our lives. Watching Jason be a Dad is something I’ll cherish forever. He was the doting, loving Dad I never had. The kind who rocked her to sleep, took her to the park, always patient, always loving, even during the most sleepless of nights. He used to love shopping for her and would even buy her clothes (often with no regard to price — which sometimes made me cringe). He even surprised me one year, and for her birthday, he took her to get her ears pierced. I am so grateful she has these memories to look back on.
Jason was supportive, loving, and kind. He was the kind of person everyone loved. He taught 4th grade and was adored by all his students. He left a lasting legacy with many kids, some of whom still reach out to me today to tell me how fondly they remember him and how much they miss him.
Our life wasn’t perfect. Like any marriage, we had our ups and downs but we were us. We were Jason and Cory. We were a team, facing life’s challenges and celebrations together…always. We thought we had forever. We assumed we’d grow old together. We had so many dreams.
In the fall of 2012, I began to notice some changes in Jason. He was often depressed, tired all the time, and just generally not himself. I thought maybe he was going through a midlife crisis. But on January 11th, 2013, Jason ended up in the ER with a headache that would not go away. That day was a blur to me, but I remember being terrified. Within hours, we would learn he had a brain tumor, and less than 24 hours later, he was having a biopic craniotomy. That is the day my world fell apart.
They wheeled him away for surgery, and I broke down in sobs. I was living a nightmare. In the coming hours, we would learn the tumor was fingered throughout the brain, with several smaller areas focused on the side of the brain that holds the speech center as well as the area of comprehension. I remember the night before Jason went into surgery he asked me to return in the morning with a family picture, so I did. One of the nurses commented that we had a beautiful family, and I remember responding, ‘Thank you, I hope it stays that way.’ The possibility of losing Jason was incomprehensible to me. I simply wouldn’t allow my brain to believe it could happen.
We waited 10 long days for a formal diagnosis: Grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma…a rare and malignant brain cancer. But I had hope! This type of brain cancer was not ‘the worst’ and had a survival time of 5-7 years…or so I thought.
The months that followed were a blur of doctor visits, radiation, chemo, hospital visits, and just plain surviving as best as we could. At the time, I was working 12 hour rotating shifts, trying to keep my family afloat while I watched my husband fade away before my eyes. He lost his memory, his personality changed, he struggled with expressing himself and comprehension. Simple tasks, like creating a shopping list, became nearly impossible for him. It was the most heart wrenching and painful thing to witness.
One thing that kept me sane was journaling on Caringbridge. It was through that process we amassed a huge network of supporters, including friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and more. We had an army of people behind us, especially the school at which he taught. His students loved him so much they created a painting with the help of the art teacher. That painting, with the hanging beads each student created, has a prominent place in our home above our fireplace. To this day, some of my fondest memories are of the people who were in our lives during our crisis. I am forever grateful to them.
Just 14 months and 11 days after his initial ER visit, Jason passed away in our home surrounded by the people he loved the most. It’s hard to put into words the grief of losing a best friend. Worse is watching your child grieve the loss of their father. I became almost lost; life was a daze of just surviving. People would tell me I was strong, but honestly, I felt like I was drowning in grief and depression so deep I would never escape. Six months after his death, at the recommendation of my counselor, my daughter and I attended Camp Hope, a grief camp for kids and adults who are surviving a loss.
The weekend at camp changed my life. I met many other women and men just like me, who fully understood my feelings and depth of loss. It was there I met a man who would be the catalyst to my starting to date again. Meeting him made me realize that attraction and love were possible again. While I was talking with him, I received a sign from Jason. I happened to look at my phone at 11:11 p.m. 1111 was a number Jason and I would notice every so often, and after his death, I started to see 1111 everywhere and at significant times — like right after I spread his ashes. So, when I saw 1111 while I was enjoying the company of a new friend, I took it as a sign to go ahead and live my life, explore new things, and be open to the idea of dating.
So, after camp, I joined a few online dating sites and for a short time, I enjoyed the attention and thrill of dating…something I never really got to experience as a result of meeting Jason at such a young age. I ended up dating a few men, none of them seriously, and quickly realized online dating was not for me.
Meanwhile, I was living and coping by taking on new activities including yoga and working on fixing my weedy and desperately needy yard, which had been neglected for years. Much of the support system that stood by us during our cancer crisis had gone back to living their own lives, and I often found myself alone as my daughter entered the social teenage years. I had a few steady friends who often reached out, and one of them was Jason #2.
Jason was a coworker of mine who had become a friend even before my husband’s illness. After my husband’s death, we went for walks, he helped me with my yard, even took me to an appointment when I had a health scare. He made me laugh. I adored him. One day we decided to make our health a priority and started working out together with a personal trainer. It was over those coming months where our relationship changed, and I started to see him as more than just a friend. We shared our first kiss on my couch, and it was magical!
We kept our relationship secret for a while, at my request. I was nervous about whether my in-laws and friends would accept my new relationship. I knew my family would be on board as they could see how happy I was. But with everyone else, I was worried they would feel like I was betraying Jason #1. Regardless of my fears, a few months later, to the surprise of nearly everyone we knew, we ‘came out of the closet’ with our relationship. I finally decided I could no longer hide my happiness. Though it was difficult for me to admit to the world that another man shares my heart with my first Jason, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what other people think. I am honoring Jason #1 by happily living my life — I know he would want that for me.
So, Jason #2 and I now live together. He has 2 children from a previous marriage, and I have my daughter. We are very much in love, but I will tell you The Brady Bunch had it all wrong. Blended families are hard! For Jason, loving a widow is sometimes very hard. I still miss Jason #1. I still miss the life I was ‘supposed to have.’ For Jason #2, I think he often feels like he’s living in the shadow of Jason #1.
The two men couldn’t be more different, and yet both share so many qualities — kindness, a good sense of humor, and they both love me. How honored I am to have 2 incredible men in my life — both of whom happened to be named Jason. I’ve learned love is not mutually exclusive, and a new love does not replace an old love. I can love both Jasons. I can love and miss what was, and still love my life today. I am a widow to Jason #1, and a girlfriend to Jason #2. And that is OK.
The relationship I have with Jason #2 is very different from the relationship I had with Jason #1. With Jason #1, I often took for granted what we had. I assumed I’d have it forever. I’ve since learned tomorrow is not promised. Everything you have can be gone in an instant. I am more grateful in life today than I was pre-loss. I appreciate the small things, the little joys I may have overlooked before.
As I reflect upon my journey of loss and grief, I am so proud of the person I have become. I am strong. I am resilient. I am courageous. But I am also human. I falter. I stumble. I make mistakes. I still grieve. I still have days when I can barely get out of bed. I share my story whenever I can because it is part of my healing process.
We may never know why some people face tragedy, and others seem to live a charmed life. All we can do is be grateful for the good and celebrate it every single day. I am grateful for the 22 years I got to spend with my husband. I am grateful for my daughter, who makes me proud and reminds me of my husband every day. I am grateful for my job, which supports me and my family. I am grateful for the love of both Jasons. Most of all, I am grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. If you are in good health you are wealthy beyond measure. Remember that and be grateful.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cory Washkevich of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Follow her journey on Instagram or her website here. 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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