(This post was originally published on All Will Be Well)
To know Dan was to love him. To be in his presence was to be loved. On May 17, my world stopped when Dan took his last breath that ended his 33 years of life, his five-year battle with leukemia, and our four years of marriage. My hopes (our hopes), my dreams (our dreams), my vows to him (our sacred marriage vows), were abruptly shattered in the quietest hours of the day. That morning, I became a widow at the age of 29. I won’t share the intimate details of our last days and hours with Dan, but I will share that they were precious, beautiful, and peaceful.
Believe me when I say I am happy Dan is no longer suffering. Trust that I find comfort in knowing he is in Heaven. The fear is gone. The countless specialists, the sleepless nights, the endless trips to the pharmacy and texts to our doctor, the relentless procedures and treatments, the never-ending side effects, reactions, infections – all came to a sudden halt on May 17th in the early hours of the morning.
But I miss Dan. I miss our life, albeit “crazy”, “difficult”, full of medical expenses instead of social life expenses, full of cancer milestones instead of our children’s milestones. I miss quiet nights in our apartment watching Jeopardy! or reality television and eating snacks after a procedure or chemo. I miss the clinic at Georgetown socializing with our doctor/nurse/tech/receptionist friends and the hem-onc unit that became a second home. I miss catching up with the pharmacist and filling him in on Dan’s latest ailment, chemo regimen, or “close call.” I miss watching Dan’s physical therapy and the cute little smirk he shot me when I took his picture to post on social media. I miss searching for recipes to alleviate a side effect, balance a vitamin deficiency, or beef up his weakening muscles, and then the look on his face when it turned out well (or gross). I miss his hugs. I miss his laugh. I miss his beautiful smile. I miss his advice, his friendship, his company. I miss our nightly ritual of holding each other and our “all will be well because we’re in love” assurance. I miss Dan.
On May 17th in the darkest hours of the morning, I lost my husband. For just over four years, I was Dan’s proud wife. From the first day, nothing about our marriage was ordinary. Dan took chemo pills and we postponed our honeymoon until he was stronger, healthier. We never had more than a four-week stretch without a doctor’s appointment and no more than ten doctorless days in a row in the last two years. Dan got and was cured of cancer three times in the last two years. He defied statistics for all of our marriage. Cancer dictated what we could and couldn’t do. Cancer made us miss weddings, showers, bachelor/ette parties, get-togethers, vacations, baseball games, and birthday parties. Cancer made Dan postpone his PhD program three times in four years. We talked about cancer a lot. We promised it wouldn’t affect our happiness, our love, or our faith. We wouldn’t let stress make us irritable. We wouldn’t allow fear to hold us prisoner. We wouldn’t let hospital stays, sickness, or the financial burden of treatment make us argue about petty things. Dan and I were the happiest married couple I know. Cancer, and all it brought with it, was all we knew as a couple. It didn’t define us, but it certainly shaped our marriage, our commitment, our faith, and our love. From the very first day, our marriage was extraordinary.
Dan is gone, I am a widow. On May 17th, everything changed. The proverbial rug was pulled from beneath me and I’m left to sort out the mess. I’m left alone, scared, sad, overwhelmed, defeated, and even angry. I know I have the tools to find happiness again. If you read this blog you know that Dan and I–as a couple–faced more adversity, trials, and tribulations than many endure in a lifetime. You also know that we were happy. We found joy. We recognized the horrible things right in front of us, but we focused on and lived among the good things all around us. People always ask me how we did it, how we always “seemed so happy” despite all we had “going on”. We made a commitment to live life to the fullest. We learned, together, that there is good and there is joy, all around. It wasn’t frivolous, it wasn’t for show, and it certainly wasn’t pretend. It was genuine, real, true joy.
I plan to approach this grief process the same way I approached the cancer process. I read and researched a lot, I learned a lot, I reached out a lot, and I loved a lot. Sure, I can get caught up on how this is not fair, how much life we missed out on together, how sorry I am that Dan died, that he suffered, that I’m suffering, we’re suffering (yes, I have found myself dwelling on that at times). But I know that’s not how Dan would do it. That’s not how we would do it. We would let ourselves cry, hold each other close, say “I love you” and then look around. We’d find something good. We’d have a snack, watch a show, cuddle, or take a drive. I don’t have to search far to find good in this world. I’m surrounded by so many loving friends and family. People from all over the world have reached out to express their condolences and share their memories with Dan. I am humbled. I’m inspired. I miss Dan.
I’m so proud to have been Dan Lyons’ wife. Despite it ALL, they were the best four years, one month, and seven days of my life. I will never forget what Dan taught me, what we learned together. I will always remember his love, his smile, his laugh, his faith. I will carry him with me until my last breath. I will find happiness and I will continue to notice the little joys around me. I will remember that ALL will be well.