The Long Goodbye

by Joanne H
(BC, Canada)

It feels like a long, long time ago somehow. I look at his picture and think, did I really touch that face? Were you here, really? My husband died October 18 2012.

I dreamed about him last night. I was reclined on the sofa babbling away, as I usually did, about New years and he was patiently listening to me, sitting in the kitchen facing me. He always loved listening to me. Even after 22 years together he told me he found me fascinating to listen to.
Suddenly I stopped talking and said to him I can't believe you're really here and I got up to hug him. As I stood over him I bent down to kiss his head and could smell the wonderful fragrance of him. At that moment I woke up to find myself taking in a breath like I had never experienced before. The term "sharp intake of breath" comes to mind. Ah, the emotions. So strong and painful. Tears again. Let them flow don't hold back. Feel your feelings. I sure do love you and sure do miss you.

People do say the strangest things. "Oh well he was sick you knew it was coming" (yeah Ok, I have no grief or pain since I knew it was coming...please shut up), "You HAVE to go back to work" (No, actually I don't...mind your own business). "You need structure now in your life" (I need to do what I want right now...if I want to sleep the afternoon away I will).

He was sick for about 3 years with cancer. I cared for him physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually during that time.
Near the end when he couldn't breathe very well, he wanted to stay at home. No hospitals. Hated hospitals. I wanted him home too. He didn't want anyone around him but me and that was fine with me too.

I knew it would be tough without support but I could never have imagined the toll it would take on me, then and now.
I'm not complaining, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. What I am saying is that you have a double whammy after being a caregiver to a spouse who is sick and then dies...
The total exhaustion from care that you need to recover from.
I slept in bits and pieces on the floor next to him so I could hear him if he needed anything or wouldn't fall if he got up. Pills on the hour every hour 24 hours. Time was irrelevant. Day was night, night was day...Monday? Friday? Who knew...who cared.
The trauma of watching the suffering and not being able to do anything about pills every week and nothing working...the frustration and helplessness. Quiet tears in the bathroom away from him.

And then the grief after death. Broken-hearted.

Family, friends, co-workers...they all have something to say about how you should be living your life and what you SHOULD be doing. Listen to your body. Give it rest. Watch yourself. Be sure you are not falling too deep into depression. Get help if you think you are.

Don't do too much of anything...too much eating...too much not eating...too much drinking...too much smoking...too much thinking...whatever..try to keep a's hard but you don't want to be sick.

Care for yourself as if you were a helpless baby.
Tenderly, lovingly, gently...Cry...and like a baby who gradually grows...take baby steps, as you feel able to, into a new way of living.

Trust God in everything.

This is my experience. Thank you for allowing me to share.
God bless you all.

Comments for The Long Goodbye

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Apr 02, 2013
The Long Goodbye
by: Maggie in Ont., Canada

Hi Joanne,
Your post has touched my heart. I hope that you will find a way to heal yourself. I too have lost my husband in 2011 after a three year battle with cancer. He was 57 and we were married 33 years. I took care of him at home, did my best to make sure he did not contract infections, cared for my children and kept our businesses going. He never wanted the daily nurses to attend to his personal care. They could take care of his IV etc but nothing else. I did everything for him even when he was bedridden. He suddenly went into a coma the day after receiving his chemo and was taken to hospital where he passed away. Since his death, I cannot get myself together. The businesses have gone to the dogs and I am left in a somewhat lethargic state. I know that I am still inside of me but I cannot figure out how to come back. My children have found ways to carry on and I am really happy about that since I could not bear to watch their pain. I know that in time things will get better. It just has to.

Jan 18, 2013
the long good bye
by: silver

Joanne,I just loved your letter.It said so many of the things I have felt since my husband of 33 yrs died on May 29,2011.He was in ICU on a breathing machine.Later(many months)I was glad he had been unconscious and not realized he was in the hospital.He had emphysema and got pneumonia.When I took him to the E.R. he was only breathing at 68%(as you may know it's supposed to be 90% or better)When they couldn't get it better the intubated him and put him on a machine.I feel for you.I have told my children that even if he had been able to come home he would probably have died very shortly after.The hospital found a tumor in one of his lungs.Surgery and radiation were out because he only had 40% use of his lungs.He only weighed 108 pounds when he went into the hospital. He would have been on chemo and oxygen.He was so weak.I admire your courage and strength.I also would have been afraid to sleep.Hang in there.It doesn't go away but it does get better eventually.Don't allow anyone to dictate to you how to grieve or how long to grieve.I spent about 2months in my nightgown sleeping much of the time.I only got dressed when I had to.I'm finally beginning to feel like going out.When you have been with someone that long it's normal to feel lost,lonely,unsure of life or many other things.I miss my husband's presence more than anything.GOD send you continued courage and peace.I send you prayers of love.

Jan 12, 2013
Erin thank you for sharing / Photo's/ Loved ones belongings.
by: Doreen U.K.

Erin just like you I found it hard to get rid of my husband's clothes and other personal belongings. I used to love ironing his shirts and miss doing this. After 3 months I detached myself from who the clothes belonged to. I put them in black bags and put them in the spare room. They lay there for another 3 months, and then I managed to take them to the Salvation Army centre for other people to benefit from them. All the other personal belongings are in the spare room in the wardrobes. Can't touch this yet. I then have a full garage of tools and Steve's work boots sitting on the shelf. This is painful to see when I go in the garage. My son-in-law will take most of the tools and he will help sort out things so this is a good help and support for me. I will know when the time is right to do this work. It is one of the worst jobs one has to do in life. Touching and disposing of personal belongings is HARD. Steve's 12 string guitar is sitting on top of the wardrobe in the spare room. Can't touch this yet. I put the photo's away. Can't put them up yet. It is too painful. My brother-in-law was glad about me putting Steve's photo away as this was the first thing he saw when he entered the lounge. It took me 9 years to put my mother's picture on the wall. One does what they have to and we generally know within ourselves when we will be able to tackle the job of removing our loved one's belongings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as it does help others pondering the same problem. Because people really do worry about this after losing their loved one.

Jan 10, 2013
by: Erin

It is so reassuring to know that the feelings I have are shared by others. It has been five months since I lost my husband of 36 years. I am lost but still perform daily chores and work full time. A few days ago I felt very sad and was having short panic attacks but have managed to calm down. It just goes to show that everyday will be different from now on. I have felt the need to change the house around and make it more my own although I can't get rid of his stuff just put it away first. Photos everywhere makes it hard but I don't want to hurt the kids as they want them left in place. I can see this journey lasting for the rest of my life I just hope I can smile again as I really want to make the best of my life without the hust I feel right now.

Jan 08, 2013
The Long Goodbye.
by: Doreen U.K.

Joanna I am sorry for your loss of your husband to Cancer. I lost my husband to MESOTHELIOMA lung cancer caused by working with ASBESTOS. Incurable, Inoperable, Aggressive.) The day of diagnosis was the worst day of my life. March 28th 2009. Just hearing this left my life flashing before me. All it said is. "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE." Very clinically. WE will start Chemo April 26th. 2009. Then Steve had Radiotherapy in 2010. Another lot of Chemo in 2011 and then October 2011. Sent home to die. Steve was very ill throughout the cancer. He lost all quality of life. I nursed him for 3yrs. 39days. An Honour to Care for him. It was a tough battle as you know. Ill with Chemo. Not eating. Losing weight. Put on steroids for appetite. Back and forth to the hospital for appointments. The nurse saying she would come in 2 weeks which became 2 months. Steve felt abandoned. I had to look into the face of the man I loved and He looked at me as if pleading. "I DON'T WANT TO DIE." "I WANT TO LIVE." "I WONDER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO DIE." "DOES IT HURT." The last Chemo Steve developed a blood clot. Back to the hospital. Daily injections for 3 months. Then put on Warfarin. Lying down on the settee for 3yrs. Then Steve got Shingles in the eye. Because the Oncologist was seeing patients with this. STeve got Shingles in the eye. One of the worst places to get it. His eye was swollen, closed up and bruised. Then Steve fell down in the garden and was lying on the ground for 45mins, before the ambulance came. Steve then went back into the hospital for tests. He had pneumonia. Then back into the hospital. He had a heart attack. Then into the Hospice. Steve said he wanted to go home. Steve wanted to die at home and I made sure He got his wish but I had to fight with the nursing Staff to let Steve have his wish. Steve said if I left him in the hospice he would not talk to me. Times I was screaming down the phone for a doctor to come and give Steve an injection for the pain. The nurses came out 3hours later when clinic finished. Steve's Pain medication was up to the Primary Care Trust who pays for this. Here was a man MY HUSBAND denied good pain management because of lack of FUNDING. I nursed Steve with all the love a wife could. HE WAS MY HEARTBEAT. All I have is the memories of the cancer journey. It is now 8 months of being ALONE. I Trusted God to Heal Steve. Steve was anointed for Healing the day he died. He died 8 hours later. I was devastated. We were married 44yrs. Steve was 65yrs. and missed out on his retirement he was looking forward to. He will also miss seeing his 2 grandchildren grow up. 4yrs. and 2yrs. Our grandson said on the night Steve died. "Grandpa gone up into the sky." He did not know anything about the death. We each can understand where we are at in our grief. But still alone on our own journey.

Jan 07, 2013
To Judith & June
by: Joanne H

Thank you Judith & June,

Yes, those losses along the way make it so very hard. It's a long, long grieving.

Only another caretaker can truly understand what it's like and I share both of your grief.

The one thing I am very thankful for is that my husband and I got to say what we needed to say to each other in the 3 years of his illness through to the end. As difficult as the whole cancer ordeal was, I do think that if he had been taken suddenly I would probably be living with a lot more guilt and regrets for things left unsaid.

Not everyone could do what we did for our husbands. We did it.

Jan 07, 2013
The Long Goodbye
by: Judith in California

Joanne, It's so rough on those of us who were caregivers to our spouses as we watch them go form vibrant to defensless and waning away. Watching their bodies dwindle down to almost a skeleton. We go through so much loss before they actually pass away. Every day we are faced with the loss of our lives together as husband and wife. We must face we are no longer that couple anymore or will be again. zI used to get in the car and drive to someplace and cry for each loss. the Loss of lovemaking, the loss of walking hand in hand the loss of dancing with him, the loss of US . Then I cried for his loss of being able to feed himself, to bathe and dress himself and the loss of being able to walk on his own and then the loss of speech. So much loss before the actual loss of life. And it doesn't make it easier for us left behind. I think it makes it harder because we gave so much to them mentally and physically in caring for them. It does not make the heart break less. All of that loss before does not prepare you for the horrible heartbreak of their passing.

I too wanted to yell at the people who said the most idiotic things as you mentioned. And to some ,I did. We don't have to listen to it. My comment to those would be "what do you know? Have you experienced the same loss to say that to me? It normally shuts them up.

It's been two years for me and I miss him everyday.

Talk with God and I pray you find peace.

Jan 07, 2013
It is so hard!
by: June

Dear Joanne
So very sorry about your husband,I really do know how you feel. My husband, Mike, passed away in March, 2012. He also was in a lot of pain, my son took his Dad out of palliative care as Mike wanted to be at home. It was a good decision, he was happy being at home. The care was exhausting but I would do it again. I miss Mike so much, it is so hard. As time goes by it is getting worse for me. The saying "you don't know what you have until it's gone" is so true. I hope that we will be together again (as the song Together Again by Paul Brandt says!)
I have supportive family and friends and they don't judge me or make comments, so I'm lucky in that way. I feel so alone and sometimes just don't want to be here.
I wish you all the best, this site has helped me a lot.
I see you are from BC, we are too.

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