There are changes that happen because of choices you make and there are forced changes, those that blindside you and dramatically alter your life. I was blindsided by life. I am a 54-year-old widow. Seven months ago, I lost my husband and partner of 19 years to colon cancer.
Grief is unexplainable; it is sometimes like being covered by a shroud of sadness that seems to be closing in on you, choking you with its grip. At other times it is like being struck by a car. I never know when the pain is going to hit me. One night I was teaching Pilates and the song You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman started to play, I felt a sob start to come up, I had to quickly change the song, catch my breath and refocus. I never know when or where something will remind me of Frank.
In the early days after his death, I would sleep with his picture, one that was taken just before his last Christmas. He looks fragile and his eyes show the pain he was in. It was one of the last pictures taken of him. Each night before falling asleep I would whisper "I love you Frank" into the darkness, hoping he could hear me.
Despite being a deeply spiritual person with a close family and many friends, I felt so very alone in those first few weeks. I miss sharing new things and good news with him. For example, this summer I was chosen to teach a yoga class at the Vegfest, a vegetarian food fair in Toronto. I wanted to share my excitement with him; he would have been thrilled for me – he was my greatest supporter. Frank was at the very first yoga class I ever taught, smiling and reassuring me that it was going okay. Other times, it's the little things that bring up the sadness, like going to Starbucks and reaching for my phone to see if he wants me to bring him a coffee.
It was months before I could walk into the local drug store without crying; the pharmacist and his team were amazing during Frank's battle with cancer. They became a reminder of my loss. Just picking up a prescription for myself has ended with me sobbing in my car.
I have never cried so much: I've sobbed on the floor, in bed, in my car, in the arms of a friend, on local hiking trails. I would cry until I felt so exhausted and I had no tears left, leaving me with dry heaves, and then I would just lie in my bed, my eyes red and raw, wondering how I would pull myself together, hide my bloated face and get on with my day. I've had to wipe off the tears, force myself up and go through the motions of my day. And in so doing, I have discovered that I am a lot tougher than I thought.
I'm forced to sell my home; I can no longer afford it as there was no insurance and his lengthy illness drained our finances. In preparation, I decided to clean out his closet. One shirt in particular conjured strong memories: his black, long-sleeved running shirt. It was his favourite shirt – he wore it to run in and also just to hang around in. I am not sure if it was wishful thinking or real but I thought I could still smell him on the shirt. I pressed his running shirt against my chest, wrapped the sleeves around my body, and for that brief moment it felt like he was still with me.
Lest you think this story is only about pain, I can report that gradually things are getting better. I still miss him and experience great waves of sadness but I am less raw, less likely to explode into tears. I no longer sleep with his picture but still have pictures of him around the house. I still cry at love songs, and not a day goes by that I don't think of him. But I am making new decisions, new friendships and slowly recreating my life. I am able to tell stories about my husband now and share fond memories of him. I have learned that life is short – so I am working more on being myself and being open to whatever next new thing comes my way.