‘None of this would be happening if my dad didn’t die.’: Widow feels guilt that teenage daughter is ‘absolutely right,’ learns to ‘forgive herself’ for not ‘saving’ husband from terminal cancer

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“Today, I am struggling. I really am. Today, I feel alone. Today, it’s just really hard.

I have kids. Four of them. And even though I constantly make fun of them, they’re really amazing. Two of them are in the military, one is finishing up college on a full scholarship at a very prestigious university, and one teenager is at home. Even though my late husband Chad and I dated in high school, by the time we reconnected and were married, we blended our families. He brought a son, I brought a son and a daughter, and then together, we had a daughter, who is now 16. She was 11 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 13 when he died. I do not have the words to adequately explain to you how much I hate that. I can’t even write the sentence without feeling that lump in my throat. I can’t even think about it without my eyes burning. I can’t even say it without weight on my chest. Oh, my God, you just have no idea how much I hate it.

Courtesy of Diana Register

When I married Chad, I had been divorced for about three years. My daughter was six, and my son four. They were just little kids. Their dad was absent, and I was a struggling single mom, working pretty much for the health insurance because after I paid childcare, there was usually not very much money left. My mom helped me as much as she could, but she worked too and had recently lost her husband and was in her own stage of grief. Either way, life was far from easy, and when Chad came back into my life, it just all fit. I had always loved him. He had always loved me. I wanted nothing more than just to be with him all the time. He wanted to be with me. My kids adored him. He loved them back. It-just-all-worked. And, for the next 15 years, we did it. We made a family. We honored our vows. We walked through life together. He became a father to my children, while respecting the fact that they had a biological dad. Chad somehow naturally knew how to make it all work. He was never just their ‘step-dad.’ He was their bonus. And man, what an amazing bonus he was.

Courtesy of Diana Register

When my little family came to him, we were broken. We were struggling. We were stressed. We were cranky and tired and overwhelmed. And then he came along, and for lack of a better description – he made it better. Because, that’s just what he did. He always made everything better. He introduced us to lazy Sunday mornings, late night barbeques, laughter, unity, sweet gestures, ping pong, poker, board games and science projects. He taught us what loyalty was. What trust meant. What purity of heart was all about. He showed us what compassion was, the meaning of generosity, the importance of friendship and how to be calm in every storm. He taught us what beautiful normalcy was. He loved me, there is no doubt about that, but he cherished, absolutely cherished, his children.

We all know how teenagers can be. If you don’t have them, I’m guessing you were one. You know how moody and angsty adolescents are, and how girls and their mothers can pretty much stop talking to each other between the ages of 14 and 40. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but you know what I mean. I was worried about my older daughter. She didn’t have the best relationship with her bio-dad, and because she was so reserved at times, I wasn’t sure how her relationship with Chad would go as she made her way through those tough years. I will never forget waking up one Saturday morning at 2 a.m. to find my bed empty. I casually strolled down the hall to look for him, and when I found him, he was cozied up on the recliner while my daughter sat on the couch. Both saying nothing, just watching TV. The next day, I asked him why she was up so late. His response floored me. He very simply told me that it’ ‘what they do.’ I prodded further. I asked him what they talked about. ‘Everything and nothing. We just watch Saturday Night Live, and if she wants to talk to me, she does, and if she doesn’t, she doesn’t.’ It was as simple as that. He was forming a bond with her over a comedic television show, popcorn and Kit-Kats. He totally knew what he was doing. Just like he knew what he was doing when he let my son follow him around, and when he learned all the words to our little one’s favorite Hannah Montana song. He just knew how to do it, and he knew how to do it right.

And, so, here we are today. He’s not here anymore, and I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how not to be overwhelmed. I don’t know how to be calm all the time. I don’t know how to sit in silence and watch TV. I don’t know how to have a lazy morning, or how to do science projects. I don’t know how to BBQ. I don’t know how to just let things be. Pancreatic cancer took him, and with it, took all of those amazing things. I don’t know how to be him. And now that he’s gone, sometimes, I don’t know how to be me.

A few days ago, I had an argument with my teenage daughter. I don’t even remember what it was about – that’s not really important. What’s important is, that through her tears, she said the one thing to me that 20 years ago I never thought I would hear. She said the one thing I have been dreading. I guess I knew it was coming, but when she said it, it still took me to my knees.

None of this would be happening if my dad didn’t die.

Courtesy of Diana Register

I was speechless, even though I had quietly prepared myself for this for the past three years. I thought I knew what I would say. I thought I would immediately tell her she was wrong. That if he were still here, she would still be in trouble for whatever it was she did that day. I thought I would stand strong and hold my conviction that we have done everything we can to keep living in spite of him dying. And, that we kept living the same.

But you know what? She’s right. She is absolutely right. It’s not the same. We are not carefree and spontaneous and dancing in the kitchen anymore. We are not planning our next trip, or making up recipes, or watching movies under blanket forts anymore. We aren’t having friends over on warm summer nights and sitting outside under the stars while kids run around the neighborhood and dodge sprinklers anymore. We aren’t living the way we did before. Because when he died, everything changed. And when he died, our whole life became one big bowl of, ‘this wouldn’t be happening if he didn’t die.’ Because you know what? It wouldn’t be.

Courtesy of Diana Register

And that is where I am struggling. Our life is broken into two. Before Chad died, and after Chad died. And to be perfectly honest, I am really pretty pissed we have to deal with the second part.

Ever since she said that, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to get our life back. Maybe I should have friends over. Maybe I should learn how to turn on the smoker. Maybe I should play more board games. Maybe I should learn all the words to all the songs. Maybe I should sleep less and spend more time baking cupcakes. Or maybe, just maybe, I should give myself some grace.

Maybe I should learn to forgive myself for not being able to save him. Maybe I should forgive myself for not being able to keep our life going the same way it was before. Maybe I should forgive myself for not being able to do it all. To see it all. To hear it all. Maybe I should forgive myself for not always saying the right things, or doing the right things. Maybe I should be proud of the woman I am becoming without him and the mother I am trying so desperately to be, while doing it all on my own. Maybe I should embrace the new life we have, even though it’s not the life we planned. And maybe I should stop feeling so guilty that we’re doing ok, even if we’re not doing ok some days. Maybe I should let go of the ‘would-of’s, could-of’s, should-of’s’ and work on being more present. Maybe I should accept the fact that if he were still alive, that yes, things would be different, but things, and life, can still be beautiful now.

Yes, maybe I should. And, maybe, just maybe, you should, too. I’m willing to give it a try. I am willing to be happy again, and I hope you are, too. Because, it’s time, friends. It really is. Let’s do it. Together.”

Courtesy of Diana Register

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. You can check out her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.

Read more powerful stories from Diana:

‘I looked to the corner of my room and saw him sitting there. ‘No,’ I thought to myself. ‘No, I will not do this.’ I looked back to the bed. Still empty. And then it happened. I fell to my knees.’

‘I told him I wanted his ring. He must’ve had enough, because he handed it to me. Oh, hell no. I did what every non-reasonable, pregnant, insane woman would do.’

‘Suddenly, everything changed. He became irritated with me. He snapped at me. Then he said something I never thought I would hear: ‘I want you to leave.’

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