‘We waited more than 20 years to get married and didn’t even see our first anniversary.’: Widow navigates grief during second wedding anniversary

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January 18, 2020. For most people, this was a routine day much like many others. However, on a beautiful porch in Texas, overlooking a tranquil pond, surrounded by those we loved most, this day became something extraordinary for my husband and me. It was the day we had our official wedding. I say official because we had been together for more than 20 years (we didn’t want to rush into marriage). This was a day full of hope, devotion, and much, much love.

couple celebrates wedding ceremony at at deck after being together for 20 years and husband's cancer diagnosis
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

Many asked why we decided to get married after so much time. The answer is simple. It was finally the right time for us. My husband and I were not young lovers looking at the world ahead of us with rose-colored glasses. I was 50. He was 60. We had experienced a lot of life. Together, we raised our children, traveled extensively, advanced in our careers, lost parents, made it through my cancer battles, and had a very realistic outlook on life. Ours was a mature love built on a genuine fondness for each other, mutual respect, friendship, and abiding love.

Most brides spend months or years planning their big day. I am here to tell you it can be done in about 72 hours. Thanks to some dear friends, our deck was turned into a wedding wonderland. Thanks to Mother Nature, the January weather cooperated and provided a stunning day. Thanks to working in the airline industry, our family was able to travel with hardly any notice. It was perfect, and just what we wanted.

There was just one small thing: A mere 21 days before our wedding, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma. This should answer the question, ‘why now?’ It was suddenly time.

As we prepared for our nuptials, my non-emotional husband surprised me by agreeing to write our own vows. Neither of us wanted the, ‘In sickness or in health,’ nor did we want, ‘Until death do us part.’ Once we started discussing what we didn’t want, it became obvious we needed to share our own words. Words directly from our hearts. He worked on his, and I worked on mine. They were heartfelt, meaningful, and exactly what we needed to say to one another.

60 year old groom reading his wedding vows and putting the wedding ring on the bride's finger with the guests smiling in the back
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

January 18th was a day full of so much hope. My husband had come through brain surgery with flying colors and was getting ready to start treatments we hoped would keep the melanoma at bay. We were so incredibly happy. You could feel the love this day. It enveloped us. It was a really good day, and one of those you want to revisit over and over. My husband looked dashing and felt good. Our children stood with us and made the day complete. My beloved even got teary-eyed during the ceremony, something I was definitely not expecting.

One of my favorite pictures of this day was a non-posed, candid shot when we were cutting the cake. He was laughing and had a huge grin on his face. You could see the true happiness. This was not a day to think of cancer or treatment plans, but rather a day to celebrate our love. Shortly after our magical wedding, we started the fight for my husband’s life. He did really well for a while (or was good at hiding things from me, not exactly sure which). Tragically, the cancer was too much and my amazing, strong, brave husband passed away after 10 months.

Newlyweds cut their wedding cake at their wedding reception
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

During those months, when things got tough, he would often tell me this is not what I signed up for. I corrected him and told him this was exactly what I signed up for…to honor him and be his person no matter what life threw at us. We waited more than 20 years to get married and didn’t even see our first anniversary. Instead, on January 18, 2021, we again gathered on our deck overlooking the tranquil pond, with everyone who loved us, to say goodbye to my dear husband. The beautiful decorations, tulle, and cake were replaced by pictures of the love of my life and mementos from his 60 years. Instead of standing next to me with his hand in mine, he was in an urn on a nearby table.

Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt then and still now. Ironically, this deck which had seen the happiest and saddest of times was the same place we met all those years ago. Our life together had come full circle. Before his diagnosis, we thought we had all the time in the world. We had no idea our forever was counting down so quickly. As our anniversary comes around again, the second is no easier than the first. I don’t think I realized the deep significance of celebrating this day.

We had always said Happy Anniversary to each other to recognize our first date, but we didn’t make a huge deal out of it. I never truly felt the meaning of those words until I had no one to say them to. Two little words that represent so much. Admittedly, we took those words for granted, and I would give anything to have my husband here to celebrate our day. He would tell me not to make a fuss, but I would anyway.

There are times I cannot believe he is truly gone. When I try to make sense of last year, the feelings will literally bring me to my knees. We did everything right. We followed the rules and were good people. My husband, especially, was one of the good guys. Why did this happen to him? Why was his life cut short and the man I dearly loved taken away? Those answers will never come no matter how many times I ask. 

So, here I am on our second anniversary. I will once again go to our special place on our deck and relive our magical day. Happy Anniversary, my love. How I wish you were here with your hand in mine.”

newly married couple kiss for the first time after the wedding ceremony
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by E. Christiansen. Submit your own story  hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from E. Christiansen here:

‘Instead of saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ just do something.’: Widow offers advice to those supporting a loved one through grief

‘I asked him if he could see me. ‘You’re perfect.’ We never admitted the truth, but I think he knew.’: Widow recounts last months before losing husband to Melanoma

‘There is something on the scan.’ If I was a betting woman, I’d have put everything on my strong, determined husband beating this illness.’: Widow shares grief journey after losing husband to melanoma

‘My dear husband, you made me a wife, but cancer made me a widow. I now understand the true meaning of a strong bond of love.’: Widow shares grief journey 1 year after husband’s death

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