I realize that Wynne’s death was a surprise and a shock for many who knew her. And even for those who knew her and knew what was going on, the timing of it still caught many by surprise.
I’ve realized, however, that for Wynne and me it has been a process of gradual mourning.
I think the hardest part was in March 2006 when she was first diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I was terrified and was essentially out of commission for about two to three weeks. “Strong” is not a word I would use to describe myself at that time. Wynne was also hit hard. But she had been it before and knew the drill, knew what was coming next, knew where to go, what resources were available, and was relatively matter of fact about it.
I had no idea how you cope with living in the shadow of death for an unknown but very limited period of time. But I was told and soon learned that we would get used to a “new normal.” And we did. It made us realize that whether you have one year or 50 years, you’re still going to die so you may as well treat the two situations the same and do everything you want to do and appreciate every moment.
In terms of shock and drama and depression, that beginning time was far worse than what I’m experiencing now. Additionally, every time Wynne realized a treatment was no longer working, every time we started a new chemo, every time she touched the lump on her neck at night and asked me if I thought it was bigger, anxiety would race through my body. After each of those times, however, we would eventually get started on the next treatment which, for a while anyway, would work. And then we would resume our lives with adjustments for side effects and the new treatment/doctor appointment schedule.
Each time, however, we also knew that we were one step closer to the end. And I think without always realizing it, we were both mourning the loss of another piece of her life and of our life together.
By January of this year we realized that things were getting worse. And there were ups along with the downs, we gradually developed a sense that these bumps in the road would continue to appear with more frequency. And they did, and they began to snowball. Each day in the hospital and then at home she seemed to lose another little piece of something. The inability to talk as much, to accept hugs and kisses, to tolerate people in the room, to listen to well wishes I would read to her, to use the bathroom on her own, to feed herself, to stay awake.
I think recognizing all of that and being aware of it along the way has been helpful in coping with Wynne’s death.
That said, while a number of people have told me I’m strong, I wonder if “strength” is just a front for a self-preserving disconnection that will manifest itself in the coming weeks and months as I feel her absence in so many ways and continue to mourn her loss.