I’ve been widowed twice, first in January 1999, losing my wife Jean of 18 years and 9 months to congestive heart failure after a 10 year battle with an autoimmune disease, Stiles. The second time, I lost my wife Carolyn of 14 years and 2.5 months to cancer (melanoma) on October 7, 2014 after first being diagnosed in February 2007.
I feel as though I’ve “won” the lottery from hell twice. After my first loss, I was the single parent to our 3 children ages 17, 15, and 12. I felt their loss as well as my own. I felt as though I was living in a nightmare and if I could only wake up, life would return to normal. It was like I was in a dark deep hole. I was able to get the three kids into therapy and saw a therapist for a while myself and joined a spiritually based support group. In time, I began to see a little light amongst the darkness and began to think life could be good again.
After 14 months, I began to date. The first few women that I went out with were divorces. It wasn’t a good experience, I remember one women being very angry and another wondering if she had ever really loved her husband. Being a widower, you never stop loving your wife. I couldn’t relate to their previous marriage experiences and I couldn’t relate to theirs.
I joined an on-line group Singles with Scruples which was where I first made contact with Carolyn in December 1999. It was good just to have to talk to who had shared my experience of losing a spouse and was still young. We met in person at a Young Widowers Group (YWOW) in Virginia Beach VA in February of 2000. Carolyn and I began dating in April 2000, it was so nice dating someone who understood me so well because she had my same sad walk through grief. We fell in love and were married on July 29, 2000. She brought two kids into their marriage and I brought my three. We almost had the Brady bunch minus another daughter. Life was sweet again, we experienced so many things; two of our kids marriages, birth of 4 grandchildren, many wonderful trips to many beautiful places. I had her support when my parents passed away. We were there for each other in the good and bad times of life. We understood that even in the happiest of occasions, we still were a little sad because our first spouse’s weren’t there to experience the joy.
When I married a second time, I thought I had to have an immunity badge against losing another spouse any time before I was eighty, certainly not at the age of 57. Certainly God wouldn’t take another wife from me. Well, I was real wrong. She was first diagnosed in February 2007. She actually had 6.5 years where the cancer was now where to be seen only to re-appear in July 2013 in her groin lymph nodes and later found to be in her stomach. She was hospitalized a number of time, each time progressively worse. It was particularly hard to see her lose her memory. She was never home again after August 11th, 2014. She was hospitalized, went into a nursing home, back into the hospital (ICU), into a rehab center, back into the hospital at the end of September where I was told she had 2 weeks to live. We tried to get her into hospice at home, but the pain was too difficult to manage at home, so she spent her last week in the Hospital Hospice, losing consciousness her last week because of the pain medication she had to take.
So once again, I am facing the despair of losing someone I can’t imagine living without. It’s true you never get over losing a spouse, after I lost Carolyn I had often relived in my thoughts and dreams losing Jean. I felt as though the very thick scab I had over the wound I had from losing Jean was ripped off and I was bleeding all over again from my first loss. It’ s as though after losing one spouse I was treading water in the grief pool with one brick and now I’m trying to tread water with two. I’ve outlived two women who were both a far better person that I can ever hope to be, Jean had been a NICU nurse and Lamaze instructor before she got sick and Carolyn had been a high school chemistry teacher who had such a positive impact on so many kids lives. I suffer from survivors guilt, why am I still here? I have to take yet another splinter out of my heart. I am now the only surviving parent to 5 kids. The youngest, 18 year freshman came home one weekend from college in tears after her mother because she had to fill out a form that said she was now considered to be an orphan since both her birth Dad and Mom had passed.
I know from having gone through this before that I have to make some new friends. We were very blessed to have a great group of friend’s support us through Carolyn’s fight with cancer and I still seem them from time to time. But the relationships we had have changed. I am not the same person, I am still trying to put the broken pieces together and find some new pieces that now fit who I am. I am sure my friends cannot truly understand what I am going and I hope that they never do.
Being experienced in some things in life is great, but being experienced as a widower is not one of them.