August 21st. It has been 6 years since the death of my husband.
I fumble through day after day of waking up pretending I am okay living without him.
The truth is I lie every single day to myself with affirmations like “death is a part of life”or“he is in a better place”,and “he is no longer suffering.
You can rattle off all the inspirational quotes to me and my reaction is the same.
I will never be the same person I was before August 21, 2010. PERIOD.
How can I? The reminder he is gone is constant. There are days the emptiness inside of me is more of a background noise, and then there are the days where it leaves me feeling crippled, helpless, lost and really mad.
So very mad Joey has died.
I selfishly sulk, saying over and over in my head how “NOT FAIR” it is that he was taken so young. How our kids, who loved their dad, were robbed of his quirky, hilarious personality. He filled every room with smiles and a no-nonsense attitude.
Joey was the center of my universe. Everything he did so effortlessly,was because we were the center of his. We were in every sense of the word a dysfunctional family however, at the end of the day we knew we had each other. I knew no matter what that Joey would be there for me, and I would be there for him
Joey was exceptional at loving.
Lung cancer did not define him. He fought really hard those 10 months of his life trying to outlive the death sentence of being Stage 4.
This next part of my story is hard. It is hard for me to write, but harder for me to share because I can’t get past the pain I feel for experiencing all I did, and the guilt of feeling that I could have done more.
It was the week prior to August 21, 2010 when Joey was discharged from the hospital and we were set up by his doctors to have hospice care come in to make him comfortable. The doctors and Joey knew the end was coming. I was still not ready to accept reality.
The day before Joey came home from the hospital, we hired a cleaning service. We decorated and placed family momentos and pictures where he could see from his bed. We also had his favorite classic rock station set to play quietly periodically throughout the day.
This would be the bedroom/living room he would eventually spend his last days in. Joey’s face lit up when he rolled up in his wheelchair and he saw what we did.
When the hospice nurse arrived she gave very detailed instructions on what would evedentially help aide Joey’s body in dying.
Myself, our 9 year old son (at the time) and Joey’s mother had no idea we only had less than 72 hours with him once administering the drugs began. Thursday August 19 2010 Joey had said his last word to me which was a labored but faint “No” when I asked if he wanted a bite of frozen yogurt…strawberry was his favorite.
My M.I.L.and I tried to encourage each other to step away, to take a break. But I insisted how I wanted to be there, how I needed to be there with him during every moment. I set up some blankets on the floor next to his hospice bed but laid up in the bed next to him only to leave to use the restroom or get a quick bite of nutrition or to take a brief shower.
Here is the truth of it all, the night before Joey passed,I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to run away. I couldn’t give him another sip of water because his jaw was clenched tight; his death rattle was so profound that it echoes in my head to this day. We were scared. Scared because we couldn’t do anything. Scared because we knew the end was coming.
Seeing death first hand never leaves you, ever.
But knowing you are the one aiding death haunts you. Forever.
It was Saturday, August 21st, and I had not slept again. I decided to change the bedding and get him as comfortable as possible.
We all talked to him,knowing he could hear us, and we told him we were making him look handsome by cleaning him up.
As I had done everyday, I lay next to him,with his hand in mine and I was asking him what he wanted to listen to on TV. He started to make the familiar moans, where I knew he was in pain, so I turned to him and said “I know Joey,it hurts.”. I leaned in close to him, kissed his cheek, and then whispered in his ear “it is okay baby, you know we love you, but you can go with Makenzi (our daughter we lost Thanksgiving day ’97) and Poppy now. We will be okay.”
I didn’t mean it.
I knew I was not going to be okay. But I knew Joey was done fighting. Cancer had ripped him down to the bone. He needed to be free from the pain.
My son and I watched him gasp for air one last time as I held his hand. It was if he was going to get up and say something, but it was the last gasp of air he took,while a single tear crept from his right eye, rolled down his cheek followed with a simple, warm,peaceful smile. A half smile. The type of grin he was known for.I felt him be at peace.
I knew he was finally free of what Cancer did to him. And for a moment I felt such peace. It was a gift he gave me, because he knew I was there until the end with him,he knew I wanted to be there.
There is such purity in my heart for that last moment with him. It is what calms my demons when I get so mad that he is gone. .
It was as if his body went cold and hard within seconds. I put my head on his chest and held him. My son also was holding his hand, saying in a calm, quiet confident voice ” it’s okay mom, he’s with my sister and there is no more pain.” Such courage and bravery as he just watched his dad slip away.
No one knows the bleakness and despair I replay in my mind of those last days. It is not what I choose to replay. Those are not the memories that flash through my mind when I think of the amazing man my husband was. The images that haunt me are only in my nightmares.
The guilt I carry that I could have done more to help him strangles me at times. That I hurt him because I was the one that knew the medicine was going to shut his body down and kill him.
Life is life, and I understand our bodies are just a temporary place until we cross over. I cannot tell you the countless times I have heard “you knew this was coming, you can’t be shocked”. We knew at some point cancer would rip Joey from life. And I am in awe of people that handle death with grace and ease. They are stronger than I am.
There is no way to measure the toll Joey’s death has taken on me. I thought I would be able to slap a smile on my face and move on and hide my pain. That only made my depression get deeper. My guilt stronger. Hiding what I was going through crippled me and crippled my rational thinking. It changed me.
Yet no one saw it.
No one saw it because I kept those closest to me far, far away from me. I blocked them all from knowing how I was falling apart. I wedged bridges between lifelong friends because it was easier than dealing with who I was now.
I was an optimist that lost all hope.
I lost me when my Joey died. He was so much a part of my everyday life. I spoke to him and shared aspects of my every day with him. The loneliness and fear of not having that continues to cause my heart to ache.
Joey never stopped living, no matter how hard cancer tried to make him stop.
I didn’t know how to live without him and I had the easy part. I was only his cheerleader. I held his hand during chemo, or transfusions. I was not the one going through it. I was not strong. I was there for him, to make him laugh, to distract him from the cancer. And that part I did well, I never let him know how I cried, knowing how I saw him suffer. I never cried because I knew he was being strong for me, and the least I could do was be strong for him.
The reason why I chose to share my story is not for sympathy. Not for empathy. Not for the “time heals all wounds” encouragement. It is for others that think they are drowning in their own private sorrow after losing someone so close to them that they need to reach out to a friend or someone they love before it’s too late.
I don’t blame anyone but me.
I lost touch with so many friends because I shut down so hard on what was real in my life and hurt so many people along the way.
Almost six years later what have I learned?
That cancers sucks, but Joey fought until the end. His strength gave me the tools to constantly pick myself up, dust myself off and deal with life. No matter what.
And more importantly, I have learned that I miss my Joey so much.
I miss his sense of humor. I miss how exceptionally loved I always felt around him.
~~~ This letter of my love for a great man, husband, father, son, brother, uncle and FRIEND is dedicated to Joey, of course, but also to those that Joey loved: His children, Samantha and Trevor. His mother Mary, his 2 sisters Donna and Victoria and his nieces and nephews Crystal, Shelley, Joshua, Sarah and Rebekah. Joey loved you all so very very much!!!! ~~~