Two years ago today Jennifer passed after facing breast cancer for less than 4 years. Jen was diagnosed 5 months after our wedding. I still remember the sound of Jen’s voice coming through the phone as she told me she had cancer. I was numb, a feeling that has been constant ever since that moment.
Since Jen’s death I have been piecing myself back together and I’m learning that now the pieces are all different. Everything I thought I knew has been challenged and I spend a lot of time questioning myself and my actions. What is important? What matters?
Lately these questions have led me back to Jennifer’s last days. On December 12th we came home from the hospital after being told that Jen’s liver was failing. The word from the doctors was 3 to 7 days. I remember saying, “It’s time to call Hospice.” Thinking about that moment still stops me in my tracks.
A hospital bed was delivered to our apartment and we placed it next to the couch so Jen and I could still sleep together. For the next 12 days family and friends came to our apartment to see us. Jen was tired and fading but that didn’t stop her from smiling and laughing, or from showing us through her actions that every minute is precious.
There were moments of total peace and happiness. I remember thinking, “ I got to spend 5 1/2 years of my life with Jennifer. I loved and was loved in a way I never believed would happen." I would drift back to the day we met or to this one day when we were dating long distance and I came to Manhattan for a visit. It was summer and it was hot. Jen wasn’t a fan of the heat and some times her sassy side, which earned her the nickname Suzie, would come out…this was one of those moments when Suzie was in full effect. We were at Riverside Park and I kept teasing Jen until she finally started laughing. Laying on the couch next to Jen, I could hear her laughter, smell her perfume and I could feel her skin.
All I ever wanted was to make Jen happy.
Then reality would hit me. Jen was dying and there was nothing I could do to help her. Disbelief. There is no way this is happening. Crash.
So many emotions.
But day after day family and friends streamed through our home. I remember one day when our oncologist, her nurse, and our social worker stopped by…Jen lit up when they walked into the room.
Jen’s nails were done, fingers and toes. Katie, Jen’s oldest friend, came from DC to tell us she was naming her soon to be born daughter “Jennifer Hope.” People sent food and flowers. There was love like I have never witnessed.
We held each other close.
I watched Jen as she gave a final “I Love You,” and said farewell to family and friends. How could she be so strong? How could she laugh and smile? How could she still be giving to all of us?
One night after everyone had gone home, except for the Hospice Nurse, I asked Jen how she touched so many people. Without missing a beat Jen said, “Because they all touched me."
I think of this every day. “Because they all touched me.”
Jen’s death has pushed me to accept that one day I will die. It is inevitable. I am not saying that I am not afraid of death, but by accepting my own mortality I have embraced that I am alive. I am healthy. I have a roof over my head. I am loved and able to love.
I don’t mean to sound idealistic and I know that life is not always great. I watched the woman of my dreams take her last breath. It was on me. There are definitely dayswhen I want to stay under the covers.
But I am still alive. I want to embrace every moment and search with all of my heart for something in every day that makes me smile. This may be something as simple as the sound of my cats purring or the smell of a spring breeze. I will not take life for granted.
Before going to sleep Jen and I used to ask each other what the best and worst part of the day was. On our first night at home with Hospice Care after finding out that Jen’s liver was failing we spent the evening with family and friends. Before we went to sleep that night I asked Jen what she loved the most about the day. Jen thought for a moment then looked deeper into my eyes than ever before. Jen said, "I loved it all.”
Even in the darkest of times Jen saw light.