The one-year anniversary of my 46-year-old husband’s passing is approaching in six short weeks. The idea of having an annual memorial event crossed my mind fairly soon after his passing. In fact, the concept was clear from the start. It’s never changed, never wavered. But months slipped away and I honestly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when I realized that the one-year anniversary was approaching and this was my ONE chance to start a memorial event or add it to my list of great ideas that never materialized. For better and for worse, I picked up the vision I had months ago and decided to go for it.
Before we dive into the back story and details, I want you to know that I dream big. I also dream deep. My visions are bigger than my britches, most often holding deep meaning for both me and those impacted by implementation of the vision. I confess. This dream is big. But even mores0, it’s deep. In order for this memorial event to work, you might have to dig deep. You’ll likely have to get at least a LITTLE more courageous than you normally would. You’re going to have to do things you would do if you were living your last days of life.
Why am I doing this, you might ask? What compels me to do such a thing?
My husband of 21 years and father of our three children battled eye cancer, then eye cancer that metastasized to his liver, abdomen, rib bones, spine, and lymph nodes for a grand total of five years two months. We HAD TIME and MADE TIME for a proper diagnosis and the very best treatment and trials we could find. We prayed, garnered support, and did everything, absolutely EVERYTHING in our human power to give him the very best chance at life. A much LONGER life is what we wanted, of course. But we got five years two months from the time of diagnosis to the time of his passing.
Shortly after we found out my husband’s eye cancer had metastasized, I began reading heavy duty research articles. I’m talking HEAVY. One after another, every step of the way, I’d read everything I could find that applied to his incredibly rare form of cancer – the treatment we were receiving, the likelihood that any given treatment or trial might work, the ins, outs, probabilities and prognoses of pretty much everything we went through. As a result, I spent almost two years preparing myself for what the inevitable result would likely be. The downside of this is that I bore a heavy mental, emotional, and spiritual burden. The upside is that I had lots of opportunity to grieve and be prepared.
My husband approached our eye cancer journey with an optimistic spirit, as he did everything in life. He was determined to continue living life well and not let cancer interfere with the ups, downs, and monotony of everyday life. His greatest desire was for life to be as normal as possible. So we went to treatment, traveled extensively for trials, had all the required routine and non-routine scans, and took ALL the bloodwork and then some. But after each of those cancer events, my husband wanted to turn cancer OFF and not think about it until the next treatment, the next trial, the next scan, the next time he had to go in for bloodwork. He successfully compartmentalized cancer from the rest of his life for a very long time. In fact, for HIM, the reality of his cancer getting worse didn’t truly kick in until LESS THAN THREE MONTHS before he passed away and things were looking pretty dire. We got word that the cancer had spread to his rib bones and abdomen lining on December 20, he stopped working on January 13, we were told the cancer had spread further to his spine and lymph nodes and that he had “weeks” to live on January 22, it was time for hospice on February 14, he entered hospice on February 21, and passed away March 10, 2020. The downside of all this is that my husband didn’t have as much time left as he thought he did. The end TRULY crept up on him; I know for a FACT that he did NOT finish some things he intended to finish. The upside is that he lived the last two years of his life fully, without concern, with a spirit of optimism only he could pull off. And that is to be commended.
For quite a while, I’d been thinking that I wanted ONE last dance with my husband. I couldn’t remember the last time we slow danced together, I loved memories of dancing with him, I wanted to feel close and intimate that way one last time, and I wanted to know when our last dance was so I could soak it all in. But to be completely honest, I was seriously reluctant to share this desire with him. I know it sounds crazy given the fact that we were together for almost 25 years and married for almost 22. But he wasn’t a super sappy, overly romantic kind of guy, and given the fact that our children were only 8, 14 and 17 at the time, we’d agreed that he’d place all of his extra last-days energy into the kids. But the thought of a last dance kept coming to mind. It was a deep desire of mine. So much so that I had the song picked out. Sometime between January 22 when we found out he had weeks to live and February 21 when he went on hospice, I shared my wish with him. I told him I wanted one last dance. But it was too late. He was too weak. Cancer had taken too much from him. He didn’t have the mental or physical wherewithal for anything other than surviving each day. He barely made it through three last one-on-one dates with each of our children. He could barely get himself upright enough to eat the dinner my friends brought over for our last date night in bed. We never had that last dance.
In contrast, we said ALL the last words we needed to say to each other. Our first round of last words started with our last date night, which was in bed, fully hosted by four of my friends. One friend created a list of discussion questions that covered the span of 25 years we’d spent together. It was something we could do in bed. And thankfully, he was still fully coherent at that point, so we covered every question and he didn’t miss a beat. It was during that conversation that he shared the biggest single impact I had on him in our 25 years together, and it was BIG, something he’d never shared with me before, and honestly I was taken aback because it was the greatest compliment he could give me knowing all I knew about him. He said I made him a more Godly man. There were lots of last “I love yous.” In the final days, that’s all you really need to say. Just one more time. One last time. In case it’s the last time. There’s nothing more to say, really, when the end is near except “I love you.” Then came what could have been his last words, on day 11 of being bed bound, less than 18 hours before he passed away. He had been in and out of coherency for six days (mostly incoherent to be honest), so when he said one last 8-word sentence of mutually edifying gratitude that brought us all the way back to the first six weeks of our relationship in the spring of 1995, it was the truest, most meaningful thing he could say to bring things full circle for us. I honestly thought those were his last words to me. But they weren’t. Six hours later, he woke up and his eyes were glazed in a way I’d never seen before. I knew things weren’t good. I knew this might be his last day. It was in that early morning hour that he MIRACULOUSLY mustered up his true last words to me. Two sentences. One 11-word sentence telling me how he’ll be with us. And one LAST three-word sentence. “You’re the best.”
He passed away 12 hours 45 minutes later.
I feel like I should end this now. I want to. I really want to.
But this is not our end.
We are still alive.
We have a chance, my friends. To have that last dance. To say those last words to someone special.
We. Are Still. Here.
If you think you’ll have time at the end of life to do all the things you want to do and need to do, I promise you might be wrong. Only God knows the number of our days. So better to live now, friends.
Let’s do two of the things that mattered most to us – one we WEREN’T able to do and one we WERE able to do – in my husband’s last days on earth. Enjoy one last slow dance with your spouse, fiancee, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, partner, lover, flame, forever, your person, whatever you call them. Share last words with a loved one.
Last Words. Last Dance. Choose one. Choose both. It’s up to you. Follow your heart. It’ll guide the way.
On the one-year anniversary of my husband’s passing, March 10, 2021, choose a special slow song, turn off the lights, light a candle, and dance with your love. Soak in the moment. Enjoy it. Be fully present. Just dance. Or maybe you feel called to share words with someone special. Maybe you need to call someone and forgive them. Maybe you’ve been holding back and simply need to say “I love you.” Perhaps you need to text and tell someone why you’re proud of them or how they’ve had a positive impact on your life. Maybe you need to send flowers and include the deepest, most meaningful words you could ever tell someone on a tiny 2 x 3 card. I don’t know what it is you need to say. But you know what it is, you know who you are, and you know who that special someone is. After we’ve danced and shared words of importance, we’ll gather together in a private online space – a private Facebook group – where we can share our experiences with these “last” words, this “last” dance. Maybe you’ll share a lot with the group. Maybe you’ll share a little. Maybe you’ll share a video of you dancing. Maybe you’ll share a photo. Maybe you’ll summarize in one quick sentence. Maybe you’ll write the story out so we can hear the whole thing. I don’t have any expectations other than I want to be a part of creating something holy out of my husband’s passing, and I hope you’ll participate and share SOMETHING in the private Facebook group so we can all learn and grow from one another’s stories.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s easy and yet SO vulnerable. I ask you to consider taking part because this will ONLY work if people participate. If it goes well, I’d like to host this memorial event every year on March 10, the anniversary of my husband’s passing. I believe there’s potential here for holy, life-changing moments. So let’s make it happen. Let’s live. NOW. Let’s do this. Let’s live March 10th as if it’s our LAST with last words, a last dance, or both. Please and thank you. Let us love and live.
If you have ANY interest in participating in this memorial event now or in the future, please click here to join the private Facebook group I’ve named Last Words. Last Dance. Between now and March 10, I’ll be sharing updates, reminders and helpful hints. And on March 10, the one-year anniversary of my husband’s passing, we’ll join together to make this thing happen.