My husband and I dated three years before we said, “I do.” He is as opposite from me, as I am from him. He is as quiet, as I am loud and talkative. He is as shy, as I am outgoing. Opposites certainly did attract, when God created this man for me.
Joe and I have always had an “easy” relationship–easy, as easy gets. We still had things we didn’t agree on, but we rarely ever had an argument. We just talked. About everything. Even weird things, or things that were uncomfortable to talk about, we just did. I never really thought much about that fact–until sometime after he won his battle with cancer, and gained his wings to Heaven. Somewhere after that, it hit me hard, that we never talked about that one topic. The one that is inevitable for everyone to talk about. That thing that will happen to each of us. Death. Dying. Taking our last breath. Expiring. Not being here on Earth. We never spoke a word about it. Ever.
In the midst of the whirlwind that happened in our life: being seven-months pregnant, being diagnosed with Stage III, then Stage IV colon cancer, celebrating our wedding anniversary in the hospital, and then delivering our son into our mess, that topic just never seemed to come up. Or it intentionally was never brought up. We avoided it entirely, even when there was opportune times to talk about it–when the doctor told us our prognosis, when respite care was called, hospice, or even some terrifying moments of the loss of health. Here’s my perspective:
During our first round of chemotherapy with our son at a week old, the doctor told us that any treatment from here on out would only prolong life. I vividly remember the comment not even phasing me, while I nursed our son sitting on the hospital bed with Joe. It did not phase me at all. Bold face, wide eyed, I looked at him and replied, “Well, I guess you are going to see a miracle.” He sheepishly looked down, and weakly smiled. I wasn’t being naive, but I knew we were going to defy odds. We always won at difficult circumstances, and prevailed to the top.
Chemotherapy was hell on Earth. It is Hell on Earth. Anyone going through treatment will, and does, agree without hesitation. The mental warfare it does on those going through it, is a side effect society, and doctors, rarely talk about. This held true for Joe. Tears, emotions, fear, anger, and lots of why’s consumed us both. But never, ever death. Not even when he hadn’t eaten in days, passed out, hit his head and had a seizure in the bathroom floor unresponsive to me. Not even when the chemotherapy stopped working, and we tried multiple different options. Not even when we went for a second opinion, but didn’t get randomized for a clinical trial of chemo. Not even when the doctor told us there was nothing further we could do. Not even when he wasn’t strong enough to pick up our year old son to give him a kiss. Not even when he heard me softly crying on my side of the bed in the middle of the night, and asked if I was still awake. I stifled the tears, choked back the lump in my throat, and pretended I was asleep.
Not even when he went most of the day without waking up, and rarely eating anything. Never. Ever. We did not talk about him dying. I simply couldn’t. I believed, for a very long time we would get our miracle of healing. I boldly prayed for it. I never had a mindset we would not. God would prevail, He showed up in impossible situations to prove His greatness. He would show up when we least expected it.
The week Joe passed away, he came up behind me, as I was sitting at the island feeding our sweet baby in his dark, mahogany-wood high chair we picked out together. He softly picked up my flowing hair over my shoulders, and whipped it back into his frail, bony hands. As he played with it, he calmly said, “I’m going to miss this. So, so much.” He stopped due to the crack in his voice, but lingered running his fingers through my hair, and softly leaned in and kissed my neck. I knew he wasn’t talking about days off from work together. He wasn’t talking about late morning breakfasts, just the three of us. I knew he was talking about “it,” but we didn’t talk about that. I didn’t, because I didn’t want him to think I had given up on our miracle. He knew. I knew. We just couldn’t.
But today. Today–April 21, 2017–five days shy of being two and a half years since I kissed his face for the last time, not talking about “it” has proved harder, than just talking about the inevitable for all of us. I wish I knew what he wanted for my life, our life, now that he is gone. I wish I heard his voice tell me that it was okay to find love again. I wish I heard him tell me how to raise our son into a man. I wish he told me he wasn’t angry that he got cheated at life, at being a dad, at being my husband, at being a son to his parents. I wish he told me not to be angry for him. I wish he just told me something, anything, about dying. Not having instructions after death is so much harder.
Talking about death isn’t the easy answer. It would have been hard, probably the hardest conversation we ever had. Although I “think” I know what he would have told me, I still need to “KNOW.” I wish we would have talked about what Heaven would have been like. I wish I told him to go say, “Hi” to my grandpa. I wish he told me he would watch over us. We didn’t though. We never talked about death.
There are many things that are uncomfortable to talk about. They make us wince, push it off until later, delay it a little longer. Later is always too late though, isn’t it? I’ve had a lot of tough conversations since then. Conversations that are possible situations I hope never happen in this lifetime. But I never want doubt, fear of the unknown from the past to haunt the future of today and tomorrow. Death is going to happen to all of us. We better just prepare and talk about it now.
Struggling with the thoughts of what tomorrow is supposed to look like-
Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”
You can purchase your personal copy of Smith’s memoir here.