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Please don't interpret anything you read here as medical, legal, or otherwise expert advice. Don't disregard any expert's advice or take any action as a result of what you read here.

We're friends, not doctors, financial or legal professionals, and we're not "grief experts." But we are here, and we've been "there."

I remember talking with a friend who lost her father suddenly, about how devastating it was for her.  I remember her talking about how she never got the chance to say goodbye.  I remember her asking which would be worse, watching the person you love the most slowly slip away, or losing them suddenly?  This question stuck with me for a long time.  Well into my wife's long battle with cancer.  I lost mine slowly.  I lost mine painfully.

This question came up with my counselor a year or so before my wife passed.  My counselor asked if I would believe that people who had lost theirs suddenly ask the same question.  This very thought surprised me.  It also stuck with me.  I find it hard to understand a pain that I haven't experienced.  I think a lot of us do.

For a long time I couldn't answer this question.  I spent more time thinking about it than it deserved.

My wife breathed her last on February 17th of this year.  She battled cancer twice in her life.  Endometrial in 2009, and Rectal in 2013.  At 47 it was all way too soon. Both were traumatic.  Both shook us to the core.  Both also allowed us to realize what was important in life.  Our Children.  Our Families.  Traveling.  Music.  Sports. 

These are the things we focused on.  We made a bucket list.  There were the kids sports (3 boys  ages 17,18 and 23).  There were the concerts.  There were the Bruins games.  The trips to lighthouses in Maine.  We even made a quick trip to Disney for one night, then rented a Camaro and drove up the coast.  Stopping at Cape Hatteras (she was a lighthouse fanatic).  These trips required wheelchairs, medical supplies and careful planning.

But all this was possible through her willpower.  She never gave up.  She never complained.  She would do anything for her family.

Years of surgeries.  Years of chemo and radiation.  So many trips to the ER.  So many nights trying to find some sleep in a plastic chair in the ER.  I find it hard to remember how we got through it.

She lost energy.  She lost organs (more than I can count).  She lost the ability to walk, even the bathroom became very complicated. 

Slowly and painfully.

Every person will have their own answer to the question.  After all I've been through there is no longer any hesitation for me. 

For me,  I'm thankful for the time we had.  Helping her through the most difficult and painful time was worth everything for me.

I never left her side for a second.  And she'll never leave mine.

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Comment by Steve on June 10, 2017 at 6:45am
Hi everyone, what beautiful thoughts and posts here. As i was reading over these posts again this morning, i was reminded of a really bittersweet, painful, yet beautiful memory i have with Mike, in his last weeks of life, i will cherish forever. Its actually been so painful for me too, to come to peace with, but, im getting there. Mike and i fell in love in 1978, and at that time, marriage between same sex couples was not recognized by our government. Back then, we didnt have 2 pennies to rub together, but many times we would talk of getting married and hoped it would become legal in our lifetime. In 1993, there was a huge event titled "March on Washington for gay equality" amd Mike and i attended the entire week in Washington DC, my best friend was nearing his passing at home, the Aids quilt was on display, and it was a beautiful time surrounded by so much love and support from every walk of life. When we marched through the streets, there were heterosexual couples marching with us, pushing their strollers, men and women of the cloth, police, fire, all walking with us. Come to find out, there was a Mock wedding on the steps of one of the federal buildings planned, i didnt know this, but at dinner the night before, Mike surprised me in this restaurant in front of all our friends, got down on one knee and proposed to me, he had roses and a beautiful set of wedding rings for us preplaned with our friends. We got "married" on the steps of this federal building the next morning, with 1500 other couples, with 50,000 people looking on in the streets. It was not recognized legally at all. But it felt so good, to acknowlege our love publicly.
In 2008, there was a huge battle in california, over same sex marriage. There was a vote, and it passed by a small margin, so a bunch of same sex couples ran to the government offices to get married, only to discover the opposing political party, would find a way to stay the ruling, and get it overturned, negating all the marriages that had taken place in the window, of it being legal. In January of 2009, was the time when, mikes cancer had progressed past the point of no return, doctors stopped treatment, we had hospice come into our home, and we were told weeks, not months, before Mike would pass. Mike was very weak, at this point. He couldnt stand up too fast or he would faint, he had to hold onto me or something to walk any distance, he was 6'6 and had always weighed between 265-300 lbs our entire relationship, he now weighed 165 lbs. the political furver had been raging on tv for over a week, another vote took place and marriage became legal once again in our state. I wasnt impressed at this point, didnt give it much creedance it wouldnt be overturned, again, but i walked into our bedroom to lie down with Mike and he said, "i want us to get married, now, legally, before i die"! I thought how do you think that is going to happen"? He sat up in bed and asked me to get him dressed. I argued, he couldnt even walk 5 feet without fainting, it was a very sweet gesture, but i didnt think it safe, was afraid he would die on the car ride there. He was determined, and he started to get himself up to reach for a shirt. I thought, well, ok, if this is what he wants, and he dies on the way, so be it. We got him dressed and with great effort got him into car. We drove downtown to government offices, i parked in front of building. The building had about 25 stairs leading up to entrance, then very long walk to doors, huge building. When i was getting him up out of car, he fainted, lost conscienceness, i had to gently get him down on to ground, making sure he didnt get injured. I knew as soon as his head was level with heart he would come back. I hoped. When i was getting him down onto sidewalk, a stranger lady, who was walking by, ran over to help me. It was very windy downtown, amongst the tall buildings and as this lady was helping me get him up, her skirt blew over her head, exposing all her under garments, her purse and things on the ground, helping me lift him slowly back up, so he didnt faint again. She looked at me quisically, i said, "he wants us to get married before he dies"! She said, "ill help you get him into office". As we climbed the stairs to the building, this lovely older black woman asked her friend to take her stuff, mike had one arm around her, the other around me, one step at a time. Slowly. The lady worked here somewhere, as she saw people she knew, she would yell at them, "mavis, please come over here", when they came over, "these gentleman want to get married before he dies" and that person, jouned us getting Mike into building. By the time we made it half way up the steps, we had 10 complete strangers, giving up there lunch hours, a part of their days, to help us get in the building, i was crying uncontrolably, so touched, felt so loved by these people, helping us get into building,to get married. It was black people, hispanic people, asian people, caucasian people, they may have not even agreed with our marriage, but put their beliefs aside to help us get into building. During this very long, slow journey into building, mike would start to loose conscienceness, we would all gently lower him towards to ground, he would come back, and off we would go again, towards the building. We all got up stairs into the office, up to the window, 15 strangers in there with us, mike told the clerk, "i want to marry my partner please" we filled out some papers, both held up our hands, answered the questions the clerk asked us, and she announced we were married. The strangers cheered for us and clapped. We got our certificate, and mike and i kissed, and these strangers helped us back down to our car. Once mike was safely in the car, i walked around to hug the strangers, thank them, i saw tears in the eyes of some of them, they were all going to disappear into their lives, probably would never see them again, but we shared such a moment together, that i will never forget, maybe they wont either. Mike passed a few weeks later.
Comment by Athena53 on June 10, 2017 at 4:09am

What beautiful posts.  My husband and I also had plenty of notice (diagnosed with polycythemia, a precursor disease, 10 years ago, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last July, died in November.  It's never easy, bit I think an unexpected death can compound grief.  DH had visits from his son and his stepdaughter from a previous marriage- both were really good visits.  When my mother died in October (also expected) we made the road trip from KC to Myrtle Beach together- wore each of us out in different ways but I'm SO glad we did it. My side of the family also got to see my husband one last time.  I'd been thinking of hiring someone to stay with him while I went but he really wanted us to to make the trip together.  Bless him, he was right- he was a wise man.

I still treasure the memories of our last days together, including the drive he wanted to take 3 days before he died.  I had to struggle to get him down a couple of steps in his wheel chair and into the car, but I think he wanted to see the world one last time. 

So yes, I count myself fortunate that his death wasn't sudden.

Comment by ShirleyB on June 9, 2017 at 8:12pm

My Ah-Ha post. I too was struck by the same question....I remember someone telling me- back towards the beginning of our cancer journey that I was lucky to have this time with John even with a terminal diagnosis. I mean, she told me that at least I had time- unlike someone she knew sho's husband had died suddenly in a car accident. I remember looking her and thinking WTH was she talking about.  My husband had a terminal cancer diagnosis and she was telling me how lucky I was..... But I look back on that now and I realize yes- we were blessed with time.  I do not know how I am going to keep going in this life without him- but we did get time.  We had time to use the boat for a whole extra Summer and enjoyed boating on the St. Croix. We made memories.  Lots of memories last Summer. It was an excellent boating Summer.  I remember the last outing too and wondering if there would be a next Summer or if I had to consume all of that moment and lock it into memory to hold on forever.  We went to Yellowstone last Summer with our kids and out best friends.  A trip I'm not sure we would have done without the cancer diagnosis.  A trip where we drove a big rig 12 passenger van for ten days and went to Montana, Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, Idaho, South Dakota....We made memories.  We had a fantastic time.  We did numerous trips to the North Shore, we went to Disney and enjoyed it like only our family could....we went to see the Cure at the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul, saw Def Leppard for the umpteenth time... John went out to Montana to go elk hunting forth first time in his life. He went deer hunting up North with his brother and his son.  He did a photography class and hiked through ice less than a month before he passed away.  We made so many memories.  We said I love you more times than I can count.  We hugged.  We cried.  We laughed.  We took pictures and videos.  Even in the end when he was too weak to even get out of bed we made memories.  We watched movies together.  We snuggled.  We held hands.  We loved each other and said I love you and I was able to tell him the kids and I would be ok.  And I know he heard me.  I know he knew.  I have no regrets.  I would nurse hum again in a heartbeat for that 21 months.  I would love him and make those memories all over again.  I am a Garth Brooks fan too....We went to see him when he was here 2 years ago.   Another memory we made. Another memory I have.  I will love John until the day I die.  I cannot wait to see him again.  But I know he is here with me and the kids.  I know he was at Nick's graduation last night and I can feel him here making sure we are all ok. Helping him through the most painful times and being there through this entire journey is something I will never forget. I was worth every minute.  He was my everything.  And he will always be that for me.  

Comment by Steve on March 13, 2017 at 8:14am
I have pondered this question, many times in my life. I happen to have had several occassions to have faced this challemge, decision in life. When i was 11 yrs old, i met Glenn in School. He had just moved into our neighborhood, and he sat right next to me in the 5th grade. We became best friends very fast. We spent most days together, all through school, did everything together. He was naturally hysterically funny. When we were 15, we assisted each other in coming out of closet together. His parents, very loving, supportive, my parents, NOT! In 1982 when we were 20, his partner of 2 years got very sick, ended up in hospital, and passed very quickly. At that same time, the media was starting to talk about AIDS, and it turned out that is what his partner had passed from, we both went and got tested, he was positive, i was negative. There was a tremendous amount of fear and hate back then, doctors refusing to treat patients, nurses afraid to give shots, many, many medical facilities refused service. I became his steadfast caregiver and advocate. Glenn fought very hard, and lived his life to the fullest. We travelled together, sometime by ourselves, sometimes with my partner too. In 1993 glenn was tired, his body was tired and glenn told me he was ready to give up. He passed July 3rd, 1993 at 31 years of age. We had become so close, had fought this fight together, i was so angry and devestated when he passed, but i got thru it with the love and support of my wonderful long time partner Mike and Glenns family, who were such wonderful loving people. We were all together with him, that night he passed.
Mikes grandmother was a wonderful charactor. She lived such a wonderful hard life till she was 96 yrs old. She had flaming red hair piled high on her head, she was very irish, drank whisky every day of her life from 9 yrs old, always had a cigarette dangling from her mouth, cussed like a sailor, but nobody loved her family and everyone like she did. I loved her so much. When she turned 88 she became ill, physically, started to go down hill with demensia, the entire family all thought it best to put her in a facility, but, Mike and i refused and fought to have her live with us, and i would stay home to care for her. We would sit for hours together talking of her young life, she was born in 1909, had to quit school and work at 9 years old, to help feed her family. Mike and i would take her on trips, cruises, always making sure she had everything she needed, including her kesslers and pall malls! We cared for her up until the last 6 months, when she became completely mentally gone and i couldnt handle her anymore. She passed in 2005.
2 years later, in 2007 Mike, was diagnosed with colon cancer at 48 years old. I stayed by his side, 24-7 through this really tough journey. It was just horrible to watch how he suffered, thru chemo, and radiation. It was found early, at stage one, however his cancer was very aggressive, went to state 4 in 3 months, despite treatment, he passed in March of 2009, we were together, madly in love for almost 31 years. In late 2009, we discovered that my father had dimensia, and my mother has been an MS patient, since i was 12 yrs old. After a year or so of assisting my parents in their home, 100 miles away, mom and i made decision, we had to move them down closer to me. I have cared for my parents now, since 2010, my father just passed in Feb 16 , so my new partner and i now care for my mom, in our home. She has onset of slight demensia, is an MS patient, so it isnt easy, but once again, i couldnt leave her to a facility to be cared for, she is my mother. I am now turning 55 yrs old in April. I have cared for many terminally ill loves in my life.
For me, im so gratefull that these tremendous loves of my life, didnt pass suddenly. Even though the horrors i faced with each one at times, i treasure the love, compassion, time we spent, everyone, just us two, holding hands looking at the stars, or sitting by the pool with grandma, getting drunk on whiskey and laughing till i peed. Sharing the journey with them, as they faced there end, listening to their thoughts, as they came to terms, Being there to escort my loves to the other side, in their time, is so precious to me. My job is not done yet, i still have mom with me and will be here for her, loving her until it is her time to go. Sadly my mom and i were separated when i was 16, and werent in each others life till i was 47, when Mike passed, a bunch of years to miss, but im grateful for this time we have now to get to know each orher again, and i get to love her now, like i wanted to all those years i couldn't.
Comment by kellygreenstrat (Colin) on March 8, 2017 at 8:16am

Thanks for responding.  It gives me some peace to hear other peoples feeling about it.  There is no easy way to get through this, and I can't imagine what it would have been like if I lost her suddenly.  I am grateful for the time we had, and it wasn't all bad.  It was different, and it was exhausting for so long.  I've heard too many times that God only gives you what you can handle.  Bullshit.  You don't have a choice in this.  I've never heard someone go through this and say that.  I will admit that I cried when I read your "refuse certain treatment" line.  That may be the most painful moment for me, when she decided it was time.  I had been so torn about whether she would or should, it was always her decision and I never tried to sway her in either direction.  There is relief in that decision, but it is pure hell.  And you're right, it helps to focus on all you shared and not all you'll miss.

Comment by Callie2 on March 8, 2017 at 5:02am
I've wondered that same question myself. I lost my husband suddenly without the chance to say goodby. I definitely experienced shock, I could not function for months. I know grief was part of it but I was afraid I would never be able to think straight again. My brain was scrambled. I mean totally.

My neighbor lost his wife about a year ago after being ill for a year. He watched her slip away, much like you describe. I don't know how he survived that--what a tremendous amount of energy, no sleep and all the sadness. I'm sure that time was precious to them too. However, maybe I was fortunate in a way as I did not have to be a caretaker. I am also glad he didn't have prolonged suffering. You have to come to the conclusion that either way, the results are the same and losing your spouse is extremely painful whether or not they are sick and it is anticipated or if it is quite sudden. We come here without choice and leave the same way--in between we are able to make decisions and choices but we never know what that exit plan will be. Still, if I really had to answer your question, I would have to say the long goodby is more difficult physically and emotionally. Often there are times when a decision must be made to refuse certain treatment and that is one of the most difficult things ever!

I used to ask myself the same question but it kind of falls into the same category as the ifs, wouldas and shouldas. Better to just be thankful for the love you found and shared together as that was a true gift.

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