Learning to Live with Grief as a Mesothelioma Caregiver
January 7, 2020
Grief was something I never really understood until the day I found out that my husband Brian had pleural mesothelioma and was expected to die of the disease within three to nine months.
The grief that crashed into my life on that sad day was my constant companion over the two years of Brian’s survival and beyond.
Almost 18 years have passed since Brian passed away. Over this time, I have come to understand that grief is not something you get over, but something you learn to live with.
My journey of grief involved three separate stages.
Stage 1: Grieving for Brian
One of the hardest things I dealt with after Brian was diagnosed was his prognosis of three to nine months, especially after three months had passed.
I saw every new symptom as a sign of the end.
Helpless to do anything to change his fate, I became overwhelmed with feelings of anger, fear and sorrow.
Though I didn’t know it then, I was suffering from anticipatory grief. In other words, I was grieving in expectation of Brian’s death.
Despite his grim prognosis, Brian survived for two years. Over this time, I grieved for everything he had lost: His strength and vitality, his enjoyment of life, the realization of his dreams, the chance to walk our other daughter down the aisle, and the wonder of welcoming more grandchildren and great-grandchildren into the world.
Stage 2: Grieving for Me
Though I constantly braced myself for the moment Brian’s battle with mesothelioma would come to an end, I was not prepared for the avalanche of emotions I experienced when he took his last breath.
Along with my sorrow, there was anger, helplessness and fear — the exact same symptoms I had experienced when Brian was alive. Only this time, I was grieving for me. Mesothelioma had not only robbed Brian of his life. It robbed me of my reason for living.
Alone in a house that no longer felt like a home, I mourned for everything I had lost: A loving relationship of 37 years, the lifestyle I had known and loved and my hopes and dreams for the future.
I also mourned for the carefree woman I used to be before mesothelioma taught me about heartache and loss. No longer living in fear of Brian’s death, I began to fear how I would live without him.
As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I did not venture far from home. It felt strange to be one in a world made for two. Around me everyone seemed to have a partner, someone to go home to at the end of the day.
Whenever I heard someone say, “my husband,” I would think, I don’t have a husband, I am not a wife, I am a widow.
Acknowledging this made me angry. I never thought I would be a widow at age 51.
Stage 3: Healing
I missed Brian terribly and spent hours of every day looking at photos taken of the two of us over the years, all the while knowing that this would make me cry.
On one such occasion, I came to realize that deliberately evoking memories to make me sad was causing me unnecessary pain. Over time, memories would come naturally and so would the tears.
It was time to give myself permission to heal.
Learning to pick up the pieces of my life and move on after losing Brian was not easy. I was not used to being on my own and my days were long and meaningless.
Needing something to occupy my time, I enrolled in an advanced computer course that was to significantly change the way I felt about myself and my chances of getting back into the workforce.
I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new and the pleasure of getting to know my fellow students. It was so good to focus on something other than sadness.
Not long after finishing the course, I took up employment with a cancer support center in one of the major hospitals in the city. As I helped this wonderful organization to heal the emotional turmoil of men and women on a cancer journey, I continued to heal myself and took baby steps into my new life.
Over the following years my journey of grief and healing has been ongoing. Time has eased the pain of my loss, but the memory of Brian and everything he meant to me remains strong.
As I move on as another wonderful man’s wife, I am so grateful to once again have hope and happiness in my life.
There is a part of me that still longs for the beautiful man I shared my life with for so long. I love Brian still — and always will.