Every life is a story. Moment by moment, the sentences and paragraphs come together, telling a much bigger story of a life lived. One day the story reaches the final period. Each of us has a story to tell of how we became a widow. Each story is unique, and each one of you is still writing your story. The amazing thing about these stories is that each one has a surprise ending for you to discover!
Writing a blog is a new venture for me, so I’ve decided to begin by sharing a bit of my personal story. Dave and I had been married 48 years when a malignant cancer appeared under his tongue. Like many men, Dave had put off going to the doctor thinking there was an irritation that needed to heal on its own. At his first visit to the ENT specialist, the doctor scheduled a procedure to remove the affected area and surrounding tissue. That day began a series of surgeries to remove additional small sections of his tongue until we got clear margins.
In January of 2018 the surgeon pronounced him cancer-free with no need to check-in for 6 months. At 5 months Dave became concerned about a small lump he could feel in the side of his neck. The PET scan was moved up, and sure enough — a new cancer appeared in a lymph node in his neck. The ENT surgeon began another surgery to remove it, but decided it was too complex for him. So, he closed and referred us to a Head & Neck specialist at the Buffet Cancer Center in Omaha. And that’s where this present story began.
In August 2018, Dave underwent a 16-hour surgery that removed about half of his tongue, 3 inches of the jugular vein, and most of the muscle on the left side of his neck, as well as a large malignant tumor and 40 lymph nodes. He nearly died twice more during that weekend, had two more emergency surgeries, and spent 5 days on a ventilator. A team of over 30 people worked on him, including a truly brilliant head and neck surgeon, and an equally brilliant reconstructive surgeon. They assured me it was a textbook procedure, that all had gone perfectly, and that Dave should make a complete recovery.
Eight months, 33 radiation treatments, 7 chemo treatments, countless surgical procedures, and hundreds of appointments later, the oncologist stood by Dave’s bedside with me and said, “I don’t know what to tell you. Everything we tried didn’t kill it! There’s nothing more we can do.” That was probably the worst day of our 50 years together. Five days later, Dave heard the Father call his name, and he went right around the cancer into the arms of Jesus.
So, suddenly I became a widow.
That changed every single thing about my life. Every. Single. Thing.
I had more questions than I had answers. A veritable mountain of paperwork stood before me. I suddenly felt like the most intimidated, incompetent person ever to live on the planet. An unending path extended before me, and I had to walk it alone. My kids and grandkids were wonderful…no doubt about it. But I still had to adjust to being alone and making ALL the decisions. Fifty years of marriage had created a comfortable division of labor, and now that was gone. I was now half of a couple learning how to be an “I” after fifty years of being “We”.
As I researched resources for widows, I found lots and lots of grief groups. However, I found very little that actually focused on moving a widow from looking at the past to anticipating the future. One night I saw the fascinating image of a kaleidoscope. As I watched, a slight twist moved a beautiful pattern, and it went completely out of focus. When things turned slightly again, a new and just as beautiful pattern emerged. And suddenly, Refocusing Widows was born in my heart and mind.
In these posts I’ll be speaking from my heart to your heart about the issues that we face as widows. From a faith-based perspective, I know that each of you reading this has a joyful, fulfilling life ahead of you. Faith-filled Hope will motivate you and catapult you into thriving in spite of the trauma of losing your spouse.
What does your story of becoming a widow look like? There are nearly 285 million widowed individuals in the world. You are not alone in all that you’re experiencing. I’d love to hear your story and watch the surprise ending unfold with you. Please feel free to send your thoughts and comments or share your journey with me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you!
Sheryl Gehrls Founder and Director of Refocusing Widows