One month ago today my husband died. Died. And I am overwhelmed with grief.
I never thought it would be like this for me. My husband would always tell me he was going to die first because I was the stronger of the two of us. He was wrong because I’ve discovered I’m not strong at all.
Over the past ten days I was in Florida. I had to go there to pick up my husband’s van that we left there when I left suddenly to come home to be with him. John had flown home early to have a CT Scan done on his kidneys and to get a head start on tax season. My son-in-law and grandson was with me in Florida and we were all going to leave at the same time. After my husband was gone for just a couple of days I felt I had to come home to be with him. He wasn’t complaining of being ill or anything, I just wanted to be with him so I flew home and left his van in Florida.
Laura, my granddaughter Emily and her friend Cassie accompanied me on this trip. Laura worked hard at trying to make me have fun. We went out for dinner at places that my husband and I went to to make new memories. People would see the photos and comment how good I looked. But inside I felt numb, forcing myself to smile. I was afraid (and still am) for people to touch me. I don’t want anyone to touch me anymore because the pain is so close to the surface that I’m afraid if they touch me I’ll break down. I alternate between feeling totally numb to crying and then feeling panic building inside of me. I can’t believe I still have tears left inside of me.
I actually felt good walking into the condo that John and I owned. We decorated it together and we loved it there. It felt good to be there and I felt close to John. I felt I would be ok there because there are several people there that have lost their spouse (the joy of being in an over 55 community). When I went to the pool the three people that I thought would give me words of wisdom and comfort surprised me with what they said to me. The two ladies told me that the pain never goes away and I’ll hold it until the day I die. I had expected them to tell me it would lessen over time and I’d be able to go on. I went to see a good friend that lives downstrairs from me and I told her what they said and how surprised I was at their answer. She looked at me (she’s 76 and lost the love of her life many years ago and remarried 25 years ago) and she said, “honey, they are the first people that are being honest with you.”
I now understand why some long term couples die days apart. My heart actually hurts at times. I think of John and the pain in my chest is intense. I can’t breathe. I feel like I have to go somewhere but I can’t figure out where to go. I realize that I want to be where John is and that is not possible. My focus right now is to get everything in order for my kids for when I die. I want everything laid out for them so they know where to go and what to do when it is my time to die. It will take some time I believe John left this for me to do so it would give me some purpose to go on.
Month one over .. Verdict … I barely survived. I don’t know how I will go on without John. I’m not sure how to live with my heart gone.
After receiving the devastating diagnosis while at Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto we headed home. I cried all the way home from Toronto and my husband just kept holding my hand reassuring me that I’d be ok. That I’d be okay … Not him. He was so calm, so loving and so supportive. I asked him .. What do you want to do? Is there anything we can do now that you have always wished to do? He just smiled that lopsided smile of his at me and said we have always done whatever we wanted to do … He was quite happy just to spend time with me.
We got home and the family doctor called saying he received the orders from Princess Margaret that a stent needed to be inserted as soon as possible. He told us the specialist would contact us the next day and it would likely be done on the Friday. We waited.
On Friday morning I contact the specialist’s office since we had not heard from them. The nurse said the specialist was aware of the orders but wanted to see us the following Wednesday and he would decide when the stent would be insterted. I called Princess Margaret and they told us to go to the hospital’s emergency ward and tell them to call Princess Margaret directly for orders. We went in at 10:30 and sat there until 5 pm. At that time a doctor came in and told us he was unable to get the operating room to do the procedure due to budget cuts. We had to return on Monday at 6 am but he’d do it then.
We went back on Monday and sat there. At 11 am the Doctor came out and told us he had been bumped by that specialist and that we were to return the next day. At this point John was turning yellow.
Please remember the clock is counting down and these were our “quality of life” days.
We returned at 6 am on Tuesday morning and the specialist himself announced he’d be doing the procedure. He failed. He told us that they would try again in the afternoon going in through John’s back. That failed. Apparently the tumour had grown and was squeezing the gall bladder making it difficult to insert the stent.
They had to admit John that day into the hospital. Neither of us were happy about this as it was taking time away from us being together. Plus it was tax season. John desperately wanted to have one last tax season. He loved his clients and wanted to be able to see all of them during this time.
Wednesday the specialist tried again and failed. He reassured me it would be done the next day because he had “slashed” at the tumour loosening its grip on the organs. John was getting yellower by the moment (I told him he started to look like a Simpson’s character) and he was tired.
On Thursday the doctor we saw in emergency originally successfully inserted the stent. If only he had been allowed to do the procedure a week earlier!
The specialist released John from the hospital on the Friday morning saying everything was good.
John was feeling good and talked to several clients on the Friday. His only complaint was he felt a tightness across his belly. Other than that he was his old self.
The next day we worked in our basement office together on tax returns. In the afternoon the Blue Jays were playing so he went upstairs to watch the game while I continued to work. About an hour later I heard a thud. I thought he was trying to get my attention so that I’d come upstairs to see a particular play between the teams. When I got upstairs he was on the floor, feverish and unconscious. I yelled for my son and called 911.
The ambulance came and within minutes the paramedic announced John was in septic shock. They rushed him to the hospital and his temperature was over 105 degrees. When we got there they put us in a little room and left us there. They gave me a cloth and a bucket of water to keep him cool with (there was an ice machine just outside the room) and then basically ignored us for 24 hours while they grew the culture from his blood.
John was so ill. He was burning to touch and his sugar levels were out of control. I had to go out every four hours to ask them to check his blood. I didn’t want to leave him for a minute since I was afraid he’d fall or something. My son would come to relieve me so I could get some food for us or just to let me stretch my legs. I was exhausted but refused to leave John.
At one point John opened his eyes and looked at me and asked why I was there. I replied because he was ill. He said, “go home, there are tax returns to do.” I said no because I wanted to be with him. He became quite stern, looking at me and saying, “honey, this is what we do … Now go do it … We serve our clients”. So I packed up, went over to the hospital cafeteria and got a tea and came back. When I walked back in the room I told him I’d just returned from working on the tax returns and was finished. He believed me.
Finally a doctor came in and gave us the results. Apparently … Big announcement here … John was in SEPTIC SHOCK. Really? Everyone knew that by the point. Then the doctor starts mumbling and was quite uneasy as he asked questions like, well .. “If we found you on the floor .. What would you like us to do?”, “if your heart stops, what should we do?” We were so confused and said this is just an infection, please treat it and he ran out saying he’d get another doctor to talk to us. He kept mumbling asking us for our yellow file. We had no idea what the yellow file was all about.
The doctor he sent in was from the infectious control unit. He first apologized for the infection saying we should never have been sent home without antibiotics. He stated the hospital tries to stay clean but it is a hotbed of germs and disease and they can’t stay on top of it. He told us over and over again that John should never have been sent home after gut surgery without antibiotics. He explained to us that for the rest of John’s expected life he would need to be hooked up to an IV with antibiotics in it. So much for quality of life.
At this point it was Sunday night and they admitted John to the cancer wing until they could get the infection under control. He got settled into the room and they were bombarding him with antibiotics so I went home to work on tax returns.
For the next four days John fought the infection. The ass-monkey of a specialist had the nerve to come to the room on Monday and tell John that he was fine and was to be released Tuesday. I flipped out when I heard this as John was not well and I knew I couldn’t handle him at home yet. He was confused and weak. I went to see John’s nurse and he explained to me that specialist had no standing on that floor (since it was dedicated to cancer patients only) and that John would not be released for several days.
By this time the word was out about John’s illness. There was a constant stream of visitors during the daytime and phone calls at the house inquiring about him. Clients showed up at the house sobbing, telling me how John saved them in one way or another. John was a quiet man, his clients would talk and talk and he would just listen and then at the end he would offer some sage advice. John would find a way out of the mess for the client and all would end up ok.
I was exhausted. I was at the hospital as much as possible and then working on the tax returns during the rest of the time. In the evening I would go to the hospital and say “shove a bum chum” and John would move over and hold me while I cried or napped. He would just look at me and tell me everything would be ok. He said I was strong, said I’d be alright and said he would always be with me.
John was not a religious man. He believed in a higher place but not in organized religion. We were both raised Roman Catholics but the church didn’t accept us as we were both married previously. As a result churches were not part of our lives. But he did believe there was something after death. He accepted his death. He felt no anger towards the doctors who misdiagnosed him, felt no anger towards the hospital and never once had the “why me” time. He just accepted the illness like he did everything else in his life.
One day while I was recovering in the hospital from the septic shock my daughter Amanda and I were sitting in his hospital room talking to him. He kept looking just past us and I asked him what he was looking at. He smiled at us and said “your dad is here” and he just kept talking to us. Amanda started to cry but John just kept talking like nothing was out of the ordinary. Then suddenly he said, “oh your dad is leaving for now .. He is going down that lane”. I knew then John was not afraid to die.
On Friday, April 22nd the hospital released John and we drove home. He was quiet in the car. I asked him what he was thinking and he said he knew it was the last time he’d be in the car. He wanted to take it all in. I squeezed his hand and through my tears drove the rest of the way home.
I haven’t written in three years. In those years I truly found my happiness. Over the past three years my husband John and I left a toxic business relationship (earlier I mentioned my husband sold his accounting practice to another chartered professional accountant but we remained to help her transition into the business) and we concentrated on ourselves and our family. My husband continued to work part time (because he truly loved what he did) and I took on other projects. John and I began to enjoy our “semi-retirement”. We travelled to Hawaii in October 2013 and were there when our daughter Amanda became engaged to her “sun and stars” Brandon. Over the next 10 months I planned a beach wedding in Florida for the happy couple. John and I started spending more time together at our condo in Florida, sprinkling in cruises, a trip to the Dominician Repulic and one to Cuba and just enjoying each other. Another daughter, Laura, was married September 2015. We were happier than we have ever been together. Then things changed.
In September my husband had surgery to remove his ascending colon. In a colonoscopy they discovered a flat polyp that the specialist felt should be removed. The kids always were amazed at my husband’s healing powers but this time was different. He didn’t bounce back quite as fast. We saw the surgeon late October and he suggested we go south and get some sunshine. We took a cruise to Grand Caymen and Cozumel but mostly sat on our balcony on the ship and enjoyed the sunshine. But John still wasn’t recovering.
We came back home and told the surgeon that John continued to lose weight and was passing blood in his stool. We were assured this is normal after bowel surgery.
We came home for Christmas but everyone could see John was still ill. He was cold all the time and tired. Not like him at all. We saw the doctor again who assured us John would be fine. We headed back down to Florida for more rest and relaxation hoping that John would get stronger.
By New Years John was weak and in pain. He had lost about 25 pounds since his surgery. On January 10 John had to fly back home. He was near death from loss of blood. The incision where his bowels had been rejoined was leaking at he had lost almost half the blood in his body. No wonder he was weak. They operated on January 11, 2016. We thought the worst was over.
John started to get stronger. The surgeon mentioned there was a “shadow” on the pancreas and felt John also suffered from pancreatitis. We asked .. “Is it cancer?” But we were assured it was just the leaking intestine and pancreatitis. After 6 weeks John and I went back to Florida with the surgeons blessing. We felt more sun and seafood would put the meat back on my hubby and he would get strong again.
John had to fly home again in March to work on some client files. I stayed behind because my grandson and his dad were visiting me in Florida. John was still complaining about pain in his belly but the doctors felt it was a combination of things but no one considered cancer.
John had to have a CT Scan done of his kidneys because he routinely passed kidney stones. While having the scan he asked the technician to go higher because his pain was across the top of his belly. She complied. A few days later our family doctor phoned us saying he had booked an enhanced CT Scan on March 16. I flew home to be with John for the test.
John was still passing blood so the surgeon had scheduled another colonoscopy on March 21. While John was having this procedure our family doctor called to tell me he believed John had pancreatic cancer.
On April 7 we went to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto only to be told John’s cancer was too far spread to do anything. All they could do is recommend palliative care. John had a couple of months at the most. They recommended a stent be inserted in John’s gallbladder to prevent jaundice and told us they were sorry but nothing else could be done. We came home devastated. OK .. I amend that. I was devastated. John was accepting. I will write more about that later.
It took a week to have the stent inserted. That is going to be another post that deals with his last months of life.
So I haven’t had the best start to my new life. I got up yesterday, ate a bowl of my healthy steel-cut oat breakfast (recipe will be posted later) and started to clean my basement. Why start in the basement? Well … just because it is winter time … my furnace decided to stop working. (side note … I really hate the three dots and I have no idea why I started using them … I really need to stop.)
I went into the basement and almost had a heart attack. Cat poop everywhere (we had a sickly cat that had bowel problems), I could barely get across the basement because of all the garbage bags down there (my daughter cleaned out her room before moving out and left it there along with most of her belongings) and a mess left by my son when he moved his games room upstairs.
Two trips to the dump later I was starting to feel under the weather. I’ve had a persistent pain in my right side since Sunday morning and it was getting worse. Now those who know me know I hate going to the doctor but I decided it was time to go. I called my doctor and was shocked when his nurse said I was to come right away.
My doctor examined me and told me to go to the hospital. He called ahead to the hospital to have them expect me. After he had examined me he said he believed it was my appendix.
The doctor at emergency also examined me, decided it was my appendix and ordered blood work, had me change into a gown and an IV was put in. I had to drink this foul-tasting orange liquid and wait for it to flow through my digestive track. Then off for a CT Scan. They inserted a die in my IV that made all my blood vessels tingle (makes you feel like you wet your pants but you don’t really).
Back into a little room I go (but at least they gave me a TV so I could watch NCIS while I waited). The doctor came back in and said it was not my appendix and they couldn’t find anything other than one large kidney stone and one small kidney stone. After waiting an hour to make sure I didn’t stroke out from the dye I was released with no answer to my pain. So off I go home (with a nice needle for pain) and I go to sleep in a freezing house.
So today I got up all enthusiastic to start again. Knock me down and I’ll pop right back up! Ate another bowl of steel-cut oats, finished cleaning the games room, cleaned a pathway to the furnace, made a healthy meat free dinner (fresh mushrooms, garlic and tomato sauce over pasta) and had a hot shower in a cold room. Furnace people are coming tomorrow. I’m still in pain but not nearly as bad as yesterday.
So everything in life is about how you handle Plan B. Yes, my dream is to have an “A” life. I want the “happy every after”. I want my husband to feel strong and well. I want our finances to ensure us to have a comfortable retirement. But that never happens for me. My husband has major back and body problems and the economy directly hit our retirement plan. But how do I handle this? Do I sink? Or do I swim? Do I wallow in self pity (like some people I know) or do I make the best of the situation? The choice is mine and I decide I always need to be ready for Plan B.
So I am looking at the past few days as a positive thing. Yes, I was in terrible pain yesterday but I got a state of the art CT Scan that checked me out and found nothing. No surgery, nothing came up on the scans other than one big and one small kidney stone. (I am having them blasted next month.)
My furnace went out. OK, positive thing is it forced me to work on the basement. I had planned to work on my room, but now I have the games room cleaned and available to use while renovating my house.
Nothing ever goes the way I plan. So I need to learn to rely on Plan B.
Two weeks into my happiness and project and it is time to self evaluate. Am I moving forward? Am I any happier? The answer is a resounding YES.
I have made small changes in my diet. Cutting down on my old nemesis french fries has made a big difference in me. I have decided if I am going to eat them they have to be awesome! Home made style … crispy and salty. Great thing for me is that is not the way they serve them in restaurants so it is easy to leave them on the plate.
I am failing on the exercise part but I did get up today and used the wii fit. I am only here another two weeks but I hope to swim most days. That will help me burn calories!
I did read a book to keep my brain active and blogged every day. I do want to add in doing my luminosity exercises every day. I forgot all about them once I stopped working at the office.
Now the more difficult area .. creativity. I did try to find something to make but so far have not completed anything. I will find something that I am good at again. I have decided to finally finish a Christmas stocking for my son over the next two weeks.
I do want to add some resolutions to my basic five now. My beginning five are:
1. Cook from scratch. Not just cook .. create meals. Create menus and feed my family good food.
2. Ignite my creative side.
3. Read more.
4. Exercise more.
5. Blog regularly.
New changes are as follows:
6. Eat 3 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day.
7. Create a daily schedule, weekly schedule and monthly schedule to help bring balance into my life.
8. Kiss or hug someone every day. Smile at strangers.