I often talk about how, after a tragedy, certain things are burned into your memory. The day my husband was diagnosed, I remember very little from before we got to the hospital and very little after we left. But, what I do remember is being in the ER room and having the doctor telling me he had a tumor on his pancreas. He was out of the room getting more tests. She purposely didn’t have me go with him so that she could tell me. Then, she told me they were doing more tests to confirm, and it was up to me if I wanted to tell him or not.
I even confirmed what she said. “You want me to tell him?”
She kinda shrugged her shoulders and said she could do it if I wanted her to, but she was going to wait 45 minutes until the results of the other test came back.
You want to leave me in a room for 45 minutes alone with him and my options are to tell him, or wait for you to get back? Are you nuts? I mean, I appreciate her giving me the choice to be the one that tells him, I guess. But, at that point, I didn’t even know what was happening. I brought him to the ER because he was jaundiced. I thought he had maybe contracted hepatitis through his work, or maybe he had a liver issue, but now you want me to tell him he pretty much has a terminal disease that I don’t even understand? Won’t he have questions? Shouldn’t the doctor be there to answer them? What if I don’t tell him? Then what? I sit there for 45 minutes and lie to him and tell him that everything is going to be ok? Like he won’t know I’m lying? I’m barely holding it together as it is and somehow, I am supposed to sit with him and lie and pretend like I don’t know he’s dying?
I remember the look on her face. It’s frozen in my mind. I will never forget what she looked like. I will never forget how her head cocked to the side, and her lips were pursed together, or the weird sound she made before she told him. Yes, she told him. There was no way I was letting her leave. Nope. I would have tackled her in the hallway if I had to. She was not leaving, and she was going to do her job because in that moment, there was no way I could find the words. I remember his reaction. Exactly what I expected.
He nodded, and said, “okay.”
Pure grit, that man. Pure grit.
I saw him processing it in his head, and I saw him trying to make sense of it. It was quiet for a moment and I don’t think anybody knew what to say. She basically handed him a death sentence. We sat in that silence, as questions raced in my head. So, now what? Where do we go? He can have surgery, right? We will just fix this, right? It will all be ok, right? I don’t know what he was thinking but I am guessing it was along those same lines.
Out of nowhere, the doctor decided to break the silence. “Do you have kids?,” she asked him.
I shot a look at her. Really? That’s what you’re going to ask him right now? If he has kids?
He cleared his throat to answer her. “Yes, four.” It only took seconds for the tears to come. From him. It was the only time I would see him cry during his 18-month ordeal, and it is something I will never, ever forget. And I will never forget the feeling I had of wanting to smack that doctor right then and there.
Over the next year and a half, there would be more of those moments. More memories I carry with me and so many of them are difficult to remember, but they cannot be forgotten.
I thought I was cursed with only the bad memories and for a long time, I was. I knew how lucky my family and I were to have the kind of support we did, but the sting of the nightmare never really went away. And then, one night, it happened.
I decided to take my daughter and her friend to dinner downtown and after we ate, we took a walk that led us to a park by the Capitol Building in Boise. It’s not a big park, there is no fanfare but it’s a quiet place in the middle of a bustling area. Surrounded by trees and small park benches, the first thing I noticed were the group of men playing some kind of game at tables in the corner. Chess, probably. I don’t know. I was more focused on the girls playing “Pokémon Go” while the sun was going down.
There was this moment where I was watching them, intoxicated by the giggling because it was a sound I had not heard for so long. The air was warm, but not too warm, and there was a slight breeze that picked up which made sitting on that bench alone on a warm summer night not just bearable, but pleasurable. The scent from the bushes and flowers placed in and around the park cascaded through the air, and I remember closing my eyes and breathing it in, holding my breath to memorize it. I wanted to hold onto it. I wanted to identify it. I wanted to know what that feeling was because whatever it was had eluded me for a very long time.
It was the feeling of peace. Of pure peace.
I was afraid to lose the feeling or forget the memory, so I consciously looked around and made mental notes about everything. About every tree. Every flower. Every movement. Every smell. I memorized every breath I took, every sound I heard, and took mental snapshots of everything I was seeing. To this day, I can tell you what the grass felt like under my feet and describe to you the roughness of the bark on the tree I was placed next to.
I replaced the nightmare with something else. I inserted a good memory into the bad. I consciously wrote over the sad moments with a happy one, and when I looked up, I saw my daughter and her friend doing this. A perfect union of two innocent souls. Exactly what I needed to see.
Life hasn’t been easy since then. It’s hard. Trust me, it’s so hard. I’m doing a lot of this on my own now. My husband is gone. My life partner isn’t here anymore. He is off exploring some wonderous universe and probably fishing in streams laced with gold. And, I am here trying to figure it all out and how this all is going to work. I don’t want to do that without him. My daughter doesn’t want to graduate high school without him. She doesn’t want to get married without him. She doesn’t want to have kids without him here. She doesn’t want to grow old without her daddy. I don’t want to grow old without him. I don’t want to do any of this without him. But we’re doing it. He expected it of us, and we’re doing it.
And when life gets to be too much, we’re going to keep going back to that park because that’s the place where we found peace. That’s the place we have burned in our memories now where we found our joy again.
She’s two years older now. She was 13 when he died and she’s 15 now. She doesn’t play “Pokémon Go” anymore. But, she’s never too old to play a good old-fashioned round of “Duck, Duck, Goose” with her mom and her friends.
Because it’s her place. It’s her park. It’s her escape. It’s our peace.
I hope you find yours.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. She is in the process of writing of a book about her larger journey with grief after her husband’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:
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