I’m writing this post on the nine month anniversary of my husband’s passing. Today is a sad milestone; one that confronts me with exactly how long I’ve been living in a world without Dan. I’m used to commemorating milestones, but in a different way now. When Dan was here, we remarked about his health in a comparative way, like “Wow, I can’t believe we walked to dinner tonight, last year at this time you were fighting septic shock in the ICU.” Each time we deliberately marked “x-amount of time” since “y” it bred hope, joy, and ultimately, love. It was a scary way to live, but it was a beautiful way to live. Now that the cancer world is behind me and I’m learning to embrace the normal world again, I’m looking for those celebrations to keep that joyful spirit alive.
Among the many, many things I’ve had to learn in the last nine months is how to be normal. When you spend years clouded by cancer and caregiving, you kind of lose sight of those things. Dan and I may have lost sight of what’s normal, but something I am beginning to realize that I miss about our normal is the celebrations.
Dan and I celebrated little victories, no matter how small. We danced over unremarkable weekly blood draws, we went out to eat to celebrate a day without nausea. Dan bought me flowers to jumpstart a pending weekend after a long work week. It’s those celebrations that kept our love alive through some of the most unimaginable fear and horror we endured.
Granted, Dan and I had an edge on the whole every-day-is-a-gift thing. We enjoyed the little things because of the so many big things that almost took him. At the time, it felt normal and we’d often wonder, mid-snuggle, why other couples didn’t enjoy each other as much as we did or why they let the little things slip away. Now, nine months after he’s gone and equally as long without a good snuggle, I desperately miss the immense joy that the celebration of a milestone could bring.
Last week I remembered the anniversary of the 100-day milestone after Dan’s bone marrow transplant. For those of you new to our story and/or unfamiliar with bone marrow transplants, that’s a big deal. Like, the biggest of deals. Bone marrow transplants are serious, they’re risky, and they’re complicated. Many patients never see the 100th day post-transplant due to a variety of complications or a cancer relapse. If and when you reach day 100, you’re considered stable enough to travel home to continue recovery. From day -7 when you begin pre-transplant treatment until day 100, patients are intensely monitored for host rejection and a slew of red flags that need to be treated immediately. Dan had daily appointments at the clinic and experienced fevers, rashes, hundred of transfusions of this and that, along with a few bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps to boot.
Needless to say, those 100 days 3,000 miles from home were difficult. They were stressful. We were actually counseled on how to keep our marriage strong during such a tumultuous time, as this process and subsequent stress often leads to divorce in married couples. I’ll admit, being Dan’s caregiver was difficult and it challenged me to be selfless, patient, and sensitive. And Dan as a patient challenged him to be humble, patient, and sensitive. Times were tough. But those low lows gave us the perspective to make the highs high.
When we reached day 100 post transplant, we felt a joy like no other. It’s impossible to capture the love, the joy, the pride, we felt on that day. We were inspired by our teamwork and the love it bred over the course of those months. The sense of accomplishment was so strong we just knew we could face anything life threw our way. On that day, I fell even more in love with Dan and experienced a love that will be with me for a lifetime. I felt beyond blessed to be his wife. It’s a feeling a wish all couples could have and I hope to feel one day again.
But are those highest highs possible without the lowest of lows?
How can you incorporate more celebration into your marriage? Maybe champagne on the anniversary of your first date, or a night out after a long stretch of good communication between each other. Celebrate a successful dinner, bath, and bed routine with your kids. Mark your calendar when something bad happens so you can celebrate in a month when it’s behind you. Make joy happen. Make love happen. Celebrate; because those memories will breed joy for a lifetime.