Shortly before my 50th birthday, Brian, my husband of more than 30 years, visited his doctor to find out why he had suddenly begun to experience shortness of breath.
When the answer came, it could not have been more devastating.
When I learned the disease would kill Brian in three to nine months, the bottom fell out of my world. Everything I once thought important faded into insignificance, including the small retail clothing business I had proudly built from the ground up.
Not wanting to waste a single precious moment Brian and I had left together, I put the business up for sale. Fortunately, it sold quickly.
For a short time following his diagnosis, Brian didn’t look sick or feel ill. He continued living life as usual, working five days a week and fishing at every opportunity. In those early days, it was hard to believe he was terminally ill.
Dealing with a Countdown to Death
As the first two months sped by, Brian’s prognosis played heavily on my mind.
The cruel three- to nine-month life expectancy left me feeling as if he could die at any moment. As each month drew to an end, I feared he would not make it to the next. Anxiety overwhelmed me.
After the eight month, I dreaded the start of the ninth month and what it would bring. I felt as if Brian was on a countdown toward death.
Although I tried to appear strong for Brian and our three grown children, my nerves were at breaking point. I was determined to care for him at home, but I constantly worried about my ability to provide the level of care he might need. An even bigger fear was that I would not be emotionally strong to allow him to die at home as I had promised.
The ninth month came and went, and Brian was still alive. Doctors placed no further time frame on his survival, and I was able to focus on improving his quality of life rather than thinking about his death.
Making Brian’s Life More Comfortable
More than anything, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t suffer unnecessary pain.
Using information I found online, I devised a pain management routine that was successful in keeping his pain to a minimum. This allowed for him to remain active and able to live his life as normally as possible.
My ability to do this for him removed the helplessness I had experienced after learning of his diagnosis. However, it didn’t eliminate the ongoing anguish of the thought of losing him. Most nights I cried myself to sleep and awoke with the thought of his impending death on my mind.
Throughout the day, I would look at him and think, “What will my life be like without you?” On my darkest days, I believed I would rather die with him than live the rest of my life without him.
I began a personal diary as a way of managing my grief. Writing my feelings down each day, often as poetry, alleviated some of my anxiety, but it was something else entirely that ultimately helped me remain strong.
Connecting with My Spirituality
There were countless times during Brian’s illness that I would find a quiet place, close my eyes and ask for the strength to carry on.
Without exception, this always promoted a sense of calm and renewal of energy I needed to cope with the day. I don’t consider myself a religious person and am not in the habit of praying, but I did accept the fact something or someone was answering my pleas.
On some level, I came to understand I had become spiritual, but I had no idea what spirituality actually meant.
When I turned to the Web for clarification, I found many sites offering people’s interpretations of spirituality. The following come closest to how I would interpret my spiritual experience:
- Spirituality is the search for the meaning of life.
- Spirituality is an individual’s conscious recognition of a soul that lives within their mortal body.
- Spirituality is a search for a connection with a power in the universe that is greater than their personal existence.
- Spirituality sets you free to follow your heart and be the best person you can be.
No matter what the explanation, I have no doubt that spirituality gave me the strength to meet the challenge of caring for Brian for the two years of his illness, and the ability to fulfill my promise that he would die at home.
Caregivers and Cancer Patients Benefit from Spirituality
After Brian died, I started working at a cancer support center. I found I was not alone when it came to caregiving and spirituality. My work put me in touch with many caregivers who, much like me, had found strength when it was needed.
I also had the opportunity to meet with a number of cancer patients who told me that tapping into their spiritual side had improved their lives in a number of ways, including:
- Improved control of nausea associated with chemotherapy treatments
- Better pain control
- Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
- Reduced feelings of anger
- Increased optimism and hope
- Improved quality of life
Spirituality Helped Me Move on with My Life
Almost 14 years have passed since Brian died.
Time has eased the pain of my loss and helped me to move on with my life, but there are many times when I think of him and yearn for what used to be.
My spiritual awareness helps me through these times and allows me to hope that someday, far beyond this world, we will be together again.