Leukemia. The diagnosis was shattering.
Within a week my husband was hospitalized, undergoing treatment that required him to spend a month in an isolation room, removed from contact with anyone except medical staff. I could speak with him on a telephone or wave at him through a window. I was getting my first introduction to life alone. But I didn’t let myself believe it would happen. Hope lit our way: enrollment in a clinical trial in the top cancer hospital in the country, a stem cell transplant from a sister whose blood was a perfect match.
Hope was transitory; it disappeared like vapor in the sun. Ten months after his diagnosis, leukemia cells reappeared in his blood. His options were limited, infinitesimal. A year, almost to the day after he began treatment, he was gone.
The first morning after he died, I woke up with a sense of unreality. I couldn’t imagine he was gone, and I was a widow. The word sounds somehow old-fashioned: a gray-haired woman clothed in black from head to toe, her face shuttered with grief. I didn’t want to be that woman, but I didn’t know how to be someone else.
Time has passed and I have learned. The most important lesson is how fragile life is. I have learned to appreciate every moment: the sound of rain, a sunset, an evening with my children, my cat’s soft fur, flowers, a movie that makes me laugh. And yes, I have learned to laugh. And to enjoy. I’d rather share the fun and laughter with him, but I can’t. Would he want me to spend the rest of my life being miserable? Missing him, yes; miserable, no.
I’ve learned to cherish friends and family. Not that I didn’t before, but I do even more now. I stay connected, in the virtual world and the real world, too. If a widow has a choice, the real world is best, but on-line friends bring joy as well.
I’ve learned to be kind to myself. I’ve learned to rest when I’m tired, eat a healthy diet but give in and eat coffee ice cream when I’m stressed, and say no if I want to. And I’ve learned that time is precious so I don’t waste it with people who annoy or upset me.
There are some things I just can’t do. Ralph would double over laughing if he saw me trying to change a tire. I wouldn’t even think of it. I can change a light bulb but a tire? Not possible. I’ve figured out who to call when I need help—I make a lot of calls.
I think I’ve learned a lot. I’m a pretty good survivor. That’s not to say I don’t wake up some mornings and wonder why the other side of the bed is empty, why I often visit Ralph in dreams and why I still hate the word widow and always will.