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It's been just over a year since my husband Richard died. He'd been suffering from lung fibrosis for almost two years, but oddly enough, the doctors never mentioned this was a fatal disease. When malignant cells showed up in a routine analysis of lung fluid, we were told this indicated stage 4 cancer (terminal), but even then, no prognosis of life expectancy was made; if the patient doesn't want to hear it, the doctors won't say it.

Though I completely understand not wanting to know (I don't think I could live with a clock ticking away above my head), this made the last months very difficult. R had half-convinced himself it could be 5 or 10 years; I had a bad feeling it would be very much shorter. But there's a big difference between 10 years and 5, and between 5 years and 2, 2 years and 1, and less than a year - and if the doctors won't say anything, what do you tell the kids? Your own best guess, based on things you've looked up on the internet?

So while I was half-preparing for the worst case scenario within a year, we couldn't talk about it at all, as he didn't want to consider that possibility. Then the pulmonologist finally said (3 months after finding the malignant cells) that she was expecting "things would go wrong" in somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months, which was even shorter than I'd guessed.

During the shock of the first week after that prognosis, I cancelled a trip and most of my work for the next 3 months. At the end of the week I called a lawyer to ask if there was anything we needed to do. R didn't want to talk about it. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he was hospitalized. Even then, he held on to the idea of going home again. Several days later, the doctors told us they were afraid he wouldn't make it. He was suffering so badly (suffocating, despite the highest amounts of oxygen possible), that he finally asked to be sedated and died 20 minutes later. It was exactly 2 weeks after the doctor's warning.

Even though we were able to say goodbye, we never had a chance to talk about so many things - not important things, like how he felt about dying and leaving us, or practical things, like did his will need any changes, or even stupid things, like where he left a key I ended up needing. I guess in the end, the time is always too short, and there are always things left unsaid...

As is probably the case for a lot of people, the worst time was waking up every morning. Every day would start in a flood of sadness: sadness that he's gone forever, sadness that he suffered so badly the last months, sadness with every memory of things we shared that will never happen again. Then I'd get up, the day would start, with all the business of kids and work, and miraculously it would be evening again.

I thought that after a year the sadness would have become less, but somehow, it doesn't really seem to. The worst mornings are ones after dreaming about R. In some of the dreams, I feel terrible because he's suddenly back, but I've remodeled his studio (he was an artist) and given away all of his paints. But even in the ones where he's just sitting in his chair, or doing the dishes, after my first joy at seeing him, I'm overwhelmed with sadness, thinking that he'll just have to die all over again. It's just as sad now as it was a year ago - the physical suffering, the feelings he couldn't talk about, the emptiness he left behind.

Maybe after two years it gets better?

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I'm so sorry you lost your husband, but I'm glad you found this place, it's a healing place to be, one where we travel this road together.

Many people have said they felt the second year was harder in that reality set in. I've heard it said the six month mark was the toughest. I personally don't see how anything could be harder than the beginning when you first get the shock of them being gone, the pain felt unbearable! The shock protects us from much of it, and it can last quite a while as we continue through the "fog". Many people say they can't remember a lot about the early time when they were in the fog...I remember bits and pieces, mostly feelings...feeling alone, feeling scared, panicked, anxiety, wondering how I could live the next 40 years without him, how could I survive?! Little by little I began to learn to take a day at a time and try not to worry about "the rest of my life" and just take care of "now", for it had enough.

No one can say exactly "when" it will get "better" because it's individual for each person, but I felt it gets as good as it gets at about three years, what you have left to live with at that point is what you have to live with. BUT, I HAVE continued to adjust and process and do better even way beyond that point, especially this last year following my retirement...that brought up a whole new ball game, as I had to learn to "retire without George". That was not part of the plan! The first year I hibernated, which was maybe necessary, but not good to stay there. This year I've been getting out and involving myself more, engaging in life, and that's been good for me. I've also learned to put my health ahead of any other priorities, and that has been good for me. Anyone who has been a caregiver, or even raised chldren, knows how easy it is to lose ourselves in the taking care of others, to the detriment of our own self-care, but when you've gone through loss such as this, it's important to learn self-care, esp. since there is no longer someone else to do it for you. My George was great at attending to my needs, just as I was to his. I'm now just "me" with no one to leave the garage light on when I come home, no one to whip up something to eat when I get caught having to work late, no one to pick up that Rx in town...there is just "me". I've had to learn to put me first. And that has been a necessary lesson, but it took me some time to learn it. So we are ever evolving and learning through this journey, it doesn't stop at some point.

But ultimately I would have to say that the intensity of the pain does lessen and we get better at learning to cope with these changes. It's not easy, but it's doable, we are proof of that. It's been ten years for me come June.

One thing I've learned, that might be of encouragement to you, is that when George died, the mere thought of him pained me tremendously, it was as if a weight was crushing in on my heart, but in time, that changed...to the thought of him, most of the time, bringing a smile to me at the mere memory of him. I've put his pictures up, taken them down, put them up, etc. according to what I could handle, but in time, they stayed up, and I look up on the wall often and bask in the presence of his gentle face. I still have his bathrobe hanging on our closet door. I still have his hat hanging on the wall. These things bring me comfort. It is up to each of us to work out what brings us comfort, encouragement, a smile, whatever works for us, it takes time to learn that and incorporate it into our lives.

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Hi KayC, thanks for your response. I guess a lot of things take much more time, and some things are probably permanent. I have a few friends whose husbands died young, but they seem to have "moved on" much faster. I guess not having any expectations is probably best....

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I am so sorry that you are having to go through this. I recently lost my husband as well and your words really ring for me. Like you, for me the mornings are the worst. In that first waking fog, I often forget that he is gone and reach out for him. Then I remember and it is like losing him all over again.

I don't have a lot of wisdom to share but I will say that it has been helpful for me to give myself permission to experience my own grief in my own way and try not to compare it to others.

Richard was yours and you have to allow yourself to say goodbye in your own way and live without him on your own healthy terms. I will also say that we never really know what someone else is really going through. Those friends who seem to have moved on much faster may have been broken inside and going through the motions for longer than can be seen looking in.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dear Dew's Girl,

Sorry to hear about your loss. Mornings are definitely the worst. One positive thing I've had: whereas I used to sleep for about 4 hours, then wake up, have it all flood over me, and not be able to fall asleep again, I now often sleep 6 hours. Don't know if you've also had a lot of trouble sleeping, but that does seem to improve with time.

I realized that my two friends who started another relationship after about a year, both lost their husbands in accidents. I wonder if it might take longer to even feel like thinking about that if there was a long and awful period of illness?

I wish you much courage the next while - hopefully you have a lot to keep you busy, that helps too....

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Hi Marty,

Thanks for your reading recommendations. I've read many f the articles. I guess part of it is also the disappointment of realizing that the sadness doesn't go away - I guess I somehow expected it to, to some degree. Oh well, I guess I'm fortunate to have a lot to keep me busy...

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