My 46-year-old husband was on hospice for 20 days. He was bed bound the final 12 days, and confused and disoriented 60-90% of the time in his final eight days. Metastatic uveal melanoma stole his life the evening of March 10, 2020. What started as a single tumor in his eye the first month of 2015, ended the third month of 2020 with countless tumors consuming his liver, abdomen, rib bones, lymph nodes and spine. At 43 years of age, I am now a widow with three children under 18 years of age.
This is not the fairy tale I imagined my marriage to be.
We were married for 21 years 8 months. I wanted to be the old married couple with heads of gray hair, holding wrinkled hands, taking lazy naps together in the afternoon. I wanted to be the couple that was married 50 years, maybe 60 if we were among the lucky. It was possible. It should’ve been possible. I wanted to be an example for our children and our grandchildren that love endures all things, believes all things, hopes through all things. I wanted to greet our grandbabies in the hospital, bring our children and grandchildren on a cruise, retire near Florida and visit Walt Disney World as often as we wished, just as we’d planned. I wanted us to die old together. I wanted the great love story.
We planned and assumed all kinds of things for these middle life years. The promotion to Director he’d worked hard for for way too long. Family vacations to Colorado, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Europe, Washington D.C., Australia, Tahiti, Africa (and Disney). Homecomings. Proms. Three kids’ high school graduations. Three kids’ college visits. Three kids’ college graduations. Kids’ engagements, bridal showers, weddings and daddy/daughter dances, moving kids in and out of dorms, apartments, townhomes and first homes. Him seeing my dreams to be published come to life. Me seeing his backyard gardens come to life. Us painting the living room, getting curtains, making this house and others our home. Experiencing our prime years together, forever. I wanted all of that for both of us. I planned it would be so.
There were things I wanted to do in the final months and weeks that we never got to do. Take an intimate non-work trip, just the two of us, to a relaxing, warm-weather destination (likely a cruise since that was our favorite). Take the family to Leavenworth, a Bavarian mountain town in Washington for a weekend getaway. A date night to Chihuly Gardens downtown Seattle, a place he’d never been but I thought was beautiful. An intimate dance in our bedroom that he was way too weak for by the time I got up courage to tell him it was one thing I’d still like to do if we could find a way to make it work. I wanted those things for both of us, for all of us. I hoped they would be so.
This is not the fairy tale I imagined my marriage to be.
But as we faced those final days together, it became clear that we DID get our fairy tale. We met and fell in love when we were 18 and 21. Three years later, we were college sweethearts surrounded by 211 loved ones on our wedding day. Not once, but twice, we moved away, far from home, and made a way all our own. We lived in apartments and townhomes and owned three homes together. We made three beautiful children, a boy and two girls. Who could ask for more? I supported his career, and he supported my career, my call to transition careers, and my constant quest to balance family and career. We made beautiful gardens, beautiful homes, and took amazing vacations. We had good friends, good churches, and good neighbors. We loved each others’ families and supported each other through thick and thin. We made it to our 20th wedding anniversary PLUS a year and eight months more. And by the end of next month, we would’ve been together 25 years. The years were getting up there, if I do say so myself.
Times weren’t always easy, but that’s what makes a good fairy tale. There were years upon years of significant family of origin stressors. He always worked too much. I never found my sweet spot between work and motherhood. He would’ve preferred I work full-time, always. I knew I couldn’t manage full-time work with him working all the time AND be the mom and wife I wanted to be. We experienced a cancer diagnosis, followed by a a 9 1/2 month layoff, followed by a cross-country move with three kids, followed by a metastatic cancer diagnosis. There were secrets revealed, a problem or two we never truly addressed, and in the last five years of marriage, we discovered the core difference between us that we would’ve never, ever been able to change. We fought about how much space to put between plants and trees, and it took us forever to agree on pretty much everything we bought for our home. Yeah, we put our two first-born tendencies to the test those 21 years and 8 months!
But every good fairy tale has a resolution, a happy ending of sorts, even if it’s sad.
I saw him through health, but I saw also him through sickness. We fulfilled our marriage vows, till death do us part. In those final weeks and final days, I was there when one doctor told us it “might be a matter of months,” then another told us it might be “weeks,” and another agreed it was time to transition to hospice. We did everything, absolutely everything we could do fight the beast. Everything, I’m telling you. Everything, I’m telling myself. I asked and double asked, checked and double checked, advocated and researched and followed every trail across the nation so my handsome prince could live longer. But it was not to be.
He planned and I planted trees in his honor. I requested and he wrote legacy letters to all three children. He bought me a ring to wear with my wedding ring on my right ring finger. We had all the support we needed in those final days, and I had all the alone time I needed with him. We had a beautiful last date in bed, thanks to four beloved friends who made great lengths to make it so. I took opportunities to lie next to him, hold his hand extra long, and kiss him until he couldn’t kiss anymore. I said all the things I needed to say. I gave our children every chance to come in and say good bye to daddy one last time. I heard his beautiful last words to me not once, but twice. Once, the night before he passed, and again the morning he passed. I served him with all my heart those last days. I wasn’t a perfect wife, but I was his wife. And when he passed, I was there. It wasn’t easy, but I walked him home.
You see, I got my fairy tale.
It just ended sooner than I wanted it to.
With all my love,