Nope, not the Hugh Grant comedy. Jill Smolowe’s book, Four Funerals and a Wedding, is pretty much anything but comedic. Her book chronicles not only her personal grief journey but how she coped and grew along the way. In one chapter she mentions how her therapist suggested that her grief began on the first day of her husband’s diagnosis. That struck me as pretty profound. Given that my husband’s diagnosis was levied 3 months before we were even married, I realized it would not be at all surprising that unconscious grief followed us through those years. Even as we lived and loved as fully as we possibly could, we grieved by inches.
How do you measure the knowledge, however much you stash it in the closet or ‘put on a happy face’, that many dreams just won’t come true? No, my mind never went in the direction of Charlie Brown’s Sally who said “She didn’t want to live and threw herself in front of a Zamboni”. It was just that gray leaden feeling, a sense that no matter what your plans, there would always be an expiration date that coexisted with the daily business of living. Where cancer lives, everything becomes more complicated and layered. All of life takes on a different hue.
In a long-term medical journey, life is colored as much by little crises as big events. And that in turn, takes your attention, thankfully, from worrying about the endpoints. More than a few times in our years together, we’d think, nah, this can’t be good but somehow there was always a ‘fix’ that patched him up for another day, another year. I know you must be thinking “hey, when you marry someone with cancer, that’s part of the deal – eventually you know you’ll lose them before their time – whatever that time is. It comes with the territory.” But truth be told, no matter when death comes calling, don’t we all think/hope there’ll be an eleventh hour save?
More often than not, it is what it is. You do the best you can with what you’ve been handed. And if that happens to be cancer, ‘sickness and health’ is as real as it gets. Death takes no prisoners. So maybe, like Jill, we started grieving the day we got his diagnosis, on the eve of my son’s wedding. Looking back, all I want to believe is that we gave those years together all we had. Like Carole King sang – ‘We had a moment, just one moment’. Despite all the challenges our ‘moment’ brought, I hope we kicked its ass.