HAP Posted July 19, 2014 Report Share Posted July 19, 2014 Dear friends, I’m a very lucky man on very many levels. I was reminded of this last week when an old friend came to visit for a few days. Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s less than two years after they got married. By the time his cancer took him he hardly knew who she was. They had less than ten years together—and he was seriously ill for most of them. By contrast, including the time we were friends and going out together, Jane and I had nearly a quarter century—and were married for 21 years, four months and eight days of that time. She was brilliant, caring, strikingly beautiful—and my best friend—as I was hers. Very few people get the gift that we were given. We both loved teaching and learning. Together we drove back the walls of ignorance, both in our own lives and in the lives of others. Just as importantly, we became role models for students who too often lacked them. Ours was a marriage young people aspired to, as were the lives we led in the public square. Jane broke every stereotype for women there was. She worked in chemistry and biology and physics. She didn’t just tell her female students they could aspire to be anything they wanted to be—she showed them by being as good—or better—than any man in the sciences. She told them, “If I can be here and do this, so can you.” And then she showed them how. Our marriage broke all kinds of other stereotypes as well. We shared every chore. We both cooked, we both cleaned, we both did laundry, shoveled snow, mowed the lawn, and tended the garden. Everything we did, we did by consensus. Neither of us had the final say on anything. We had the best marriage two flawed human beings could have. We fought sometimes. We had significant, private, disagreements. But we loved each other too much to let those disagreements be more than shallow potholes in our lives to be filled as soon as we could manage. There were nights we went to bed angry, but we never woke up that way. We faced her cancer the same way we faced everything else in our lives: together. It would have surprised everyone who knew us if it had been otherwise. That I have continued that fight since her death should equally surprise no one. But it does. I can’t tell you how often people ask why I keep doing this—why I don’t just move on with my life. They point to other spouses who cared for their husbands and wives passionately, right up to the end. But once the coffin was lowered into the ground they walked away from the disease responsible as though it never existed. And there is some truth to what they say. But there is also much they do not understand. Mourning does not end with the funeral service. It does not end in a month or a year. We get better at dealing with the empty side of the bed and the empty seat in the car. We get better at presenting a painless face to the world. Sometimes, we can even laugh. But the pain of loss is a constant that follows us everywhere on every day. We never know when we will turn a corner and be forced to fight back tears from a flower that triggers a memory of another time and place when we were truly happy. And I understand too well the pain that sends people rushing away from the illness that took the one they loved. Every encounter I have with a NET cancer patient is loaded with emotional triggers. There is something about their eyes, something about the way they carry themselves, something about their faces and their conversations, that can take me back in an instant to Jane and her long struggle with a disease we could not name until four months before her death. There are days I wish I could walk away from the vow Jane and I took the day she was diagnosed to kill this disease. There are days I wish I could turn my back on those who still live with this disease—could somehow ignore their suffering so I could bury my own grief and move on with my own life. My contributions to the battle against carcinoid/NETs may not be much, but the scientists tell me they are making a difference. If I can save even one life from the death Jane confronted, it will also save a husband or a wife, it will save a son or a daughter or a parent or a brother or a sister from the throes of grief so many of us endure. In less than a month, I will observe the fourth anniversary of the day Jane and I first heard the words "carcinoid cancer." Less than three weeks later, I will observe what would have been the celebration of our 25th year of marriage. Both days will be somber and painful in ways only those who have similar losses will understand. Too often, lately, I feel the weight of those two dates approaching. I get up each morning with the best of intentions. But as the day winds down, I look at my list of things to do and discover too little done and too much left to do. I hear Jane’s voice in my head telling me it’s OK, but it isn’t. Not really. People are dying needlessly—suffering needlessly--and I’m not doing enough to help stop it. I am crippled by grief—but I am still a lucky man. I had 21 years, four months and eight days of the kind of marriage few people get to experience for even one day. There is a price to pay for such a marriage. And I pay it every day. Peace, Harry Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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