Saturday, April 6, 2013

Getting By

From the moment of my husband’s cancer diagnosis in July 2009 until a few weeks after his funeral six weeks later, events unfolded quickly. The disease was in control, and doctors were doing what they could to temporarily corral it. My role was to take care of my husband, do what I was told, answer any questions I was asked, and put one foot in front of the other as needed. In the days and weeks after Steve’s death, the doctors were replaced by life and health insurance representatives, his employer’s human resources personnel, and other assorted paper-pushers. I worked through insurance documents, financial and legal paperwork, and even headstone worksheets on autopilot. I didn’t think ahead; I couldn’t. In short, I operated almost totally in “reactive mode”.

A few weeks after the funeral, though, I switched from almost mechanically dealing with things as they arose to operating very little at all outside of work. For the next seven or eight weeks, I made only the most basic decisions and only when I had no other choice. Every few days I retrieved the mail from our mailbox and set aside anything that looked like a bill; unable to deal with anything else — unable even to cull the junk mail from the stack — I stuffed everything else into the bottom drawer of my desk (and letter the 2nd-from-the-bottom drawer). Once a week I forced myself to pay any bills that needed to be paid, and then I was done with decisions for six days.

Eventually, though, I dug all the mail out of the drawer and worked my way through all of it, listed our home and acreage, and began hunting for a full-time job. Over the next eighteen or so months, I functioned rather normally; for the most part, though, I was still only going through the motions. I had no interest in the future or in how I was going to live the rest of my life. What motivated me to get up, go to work, eat, and interact with others was my children. Nothing else really mattered.

It was not until more than two years after my husband’s death that I began to think ahead to the next year and even beyond. I didn’t feel any sense of anticipation yet, but I began to feel a stirring of interest in my life and what it could be. That was enough. I grabbed hold of that small sense of what I can’t even categorize as hope, and I ran with it. And I’m still running.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve suffered a devastating loss, one that completely changed the landscape of your life. I know that for me, my faith and the love of my children and my love for them kept me “hanging in there”. What  has helped you cope when things seemed the bleakest? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments section. 



  1. Very nice post. Thank you for sharing

  2. Angela,
    I'm so glad you stopped by and truly appreciate your kind words. I just started a book that is incredibly moving; the author expresses herself in ways that astonish me. The title is "The Truth About Butterflies", and the author's last name is Stephan. If you decide to read it, I'd love to hear what you thought of it.


  3. I want to note that Angela responded to the original post, not to the extensively-revised version found here.

  4. I found your blog through "Be More With Less" . .

    I am so sorry about your husband and your family's heartbreaking journey. My heart just aches for you.

    I have cancer. I have a very slow growing, almost indolent (but creeping towards treatment) kind of cancer (leukemia).

    I am 5 years post diagnosis (I'm in what they call "watch and wait") . . I have 3 kids (2 under the age of 11) and a wonderful husband.

    I struggle with living in the present and NOT thinking about the future . .but thinking about the future is mandatory for me as I sit here and think "how will they go on without me". Planning, planning and more planning - -not knowing what the future will bring.

    So, here I am, intrigued by your blog and find myself wondering daily, what will be next?

    Like you, what keeps me going are my kids . .but just living "in the now" is my primary focus. Meditation, yoga and spiritual well being have helped me immensly. Sometimes, even though I'm surrounded by my family, my co-workers and my friends, I find myself very alone. Sometimes that is ok-- sometimes . . . .not.

    I look forward to your future posts. We are all in this life journey together never knowing what tomorrow may bring.

  5. Janeen,
    I don't know where to begin. First, {{{hugs}}} and know that I will be thinking of you. I cannot imagine being in your shoes; when my husband was diagnosed, I would watch him and wonder what he might be thinking, but he was a man of few words and probably wouldn't have been comfortable with the question had I asked. Like you, I have to think about the future; but just as necessary as that is, it's often just as difficult. I'm so glad you found me, and I hope to hear from you often and to know how you're doing. Also, please feel free to email me at if you ever want to talk privately. Bless you, my friend, and be well.


  6. Okay two back blogs in one morning but I could not stop reading. My memories go back to the shock of that day not believing what I was told. We had a family event planned with my granddaughter, etc. and now we were together planning a funeral all in two hours. My husband was from England and had lived in New Zealand. We had friends to notify. We have a family business and my assistant helped me as did the members of the running club where my husband ran. Oh my I see this is going to be a long story so maybe I better not do this. But your memories trigger mine and I have never written about them.
    But I will not elaborate but can commiserate with you. The shock, the emptiness, the confusion, the inability to deal with everyday matters. I look forward to your future blogs to bring me to the point where you are now. Your comments help me also. Cheers, jean

  7. Jean, I cannot imagine what that day must have been like! Please feel free to share your story any time -- as little or as much as you want/need to share. I know that putting things in writing helps me process things; maybe the same would be true for you. Thank you for your kind words; I'm so glad to know that my experience is in some way helping someone else -- that's exactly what motivates me to write. Bless you for sharing your time and your thoughts with me!

  8. I've lost a granddaughter who lived 6 days and a brother. I was blessed to learn the stages of grief a long time ago and I listen to myself and recognize the stages and allow myself whatever time it takes to get through them. Don't beat yourself up for having feelings. God gives you feelings for a reason. Instead, embrace them and hold on for the journey.

    1. I'm so sorry for your losses, Cheryl! I so appreciate your presence here and your encouragement!