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Within 2 Months, I Lost Both My Son and My Husband

Here's how I have found love and happiness again.

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illustration of woman putting herself back together after loss, grief
Maria Medem
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Once there was a family. Not perfect, but close. There was a mother, a father, a daughter and a son, 14 months apart. They supported each other. They laughed together. There were troubles. They got through them. They had tempers and fought. Mostly, though, they loved each other.

The father was a successful business owner, who worked and played hard. The mother was a therapist; she helped people who had experienced grievous trauma. The daughter met her husband in law school. They married and had three young children, beloved by the whole family.

The son was a veterinarian, his life’s goal, and was dating madly, hoping to marry and start his own family. They lived within 10 minutes of each other, which had always been the father’s dream.

Sounds like the near-perfect life? Read on. This is my story.

One day in the fall of 2013, the father, my husband Bruce, is diagnosed with a glioblastoma. Our family is devastated, but also optimistic. Some people beat this. His surgery, radiation and chemotherapy prove to be successful. ( He never even loses his beautiful thick head of hair. ) My husband continues working and celebrates his 65th birthday with family and close friends.

In the spring of 2014, the MRI shows tumor growth. He has difficulty navigating and reluctantly uses a wheelchair, then goes into physical therapy to learn how to get up when he falls.

Bruce is hospitalized the week before Thanksgiving with blood clots in his lungs. Our family bunks in the hospital, sharing turkey between blood draws. My husband comes home to a hospital bed in the living room, where hospice and full-time aides await. Jessica, our daughter, visits daily, often slipping into Bruce’s hospital bed. Our son, Zachary, who is called upon to shave him and cut his hair, has difficulty seeing his father so helpless.

In December 2014, Zachary has an operation to repair a celiac artery dissection. I race between home and hospital, but our son finally feels better and returns to work.

On January 11, 2015, my husband of 42 years passes away during the one minute I leave the room. He has no pain and is calm to the end.

That Super Bowl Sunday, my son’s favorite day of the year, he is hospitalized with acute pain. Doctors find two aneurysms, unusual for a “healthy” 35-year-old, The decision is made March 13 to operate on the larger aneurysm first. Zachary comes through the surgery well and the doctors are elated that he is talking and breathing normally.

I kiss my beloved son goodnight when visiting hours are over. Back at home, I call the Intensive Care Unit to check on him only to be told he had a massive stroke. My daughter and I rush to the hospital to confer with specialists throughout the night and learn of the massive damage that has been done to his brain.

The breathing tube is removed on March 15th and my son dies.

Two huge funerals, two months apart. Our family of four has been cut in half, each death by a medical goblin both completely incurable and unexpected. My daughter and I cling to each other, struggling to process what has happened and wondering how we can go on with bleeding holes in our hearts.

Nine years later, the memories of my spectacular men still keep vigil over my waking thoughts and sleeping dreams. In the midst of everlasting grief, which is as it should be when such love abounds, I keep living.

I have used the pain to turn sorrow into solace. I start co-facilitating a bereavement group for spousal loss. The eyes of new widows plead for some hope that life can be good again. And I can offer it, honestly.

For three years now, I have been with a man who is kind and loyal and loves to cook for us. After the first years of finding myself again, this relationship brings comfort, help and, yes, love. I have found what my heart needs.

And yes, while my late husband and son are always with me, I find joy in our home together, warmed by each other and our Scottish Terrier’s fuzzy blanket.

I am Gigi to my four grandchildren, and can never get enough of inhaling the new baby’s caramel-colored curls, while I read him The Hungry Caterpillar. My teen granddaughter preens before me in her cool new clothes, while we conspiratorially whisper about her recent crush.

Here is what I know now of what helped me move from loss to a full life:

To say “no” to people and places without excuses or explanations that are destructive to my peace. And, I say “yes” excitedly when opportunities whet my appetite.

To honor my past, I speak of it often and embrace the future without comparison. I remember that no one lives without loss unless they haven’t loved, and that is too great a price to pay despite a ragged heart. I allow myself to feel my agony and anger as long as I keep those thoughts to myself, share them with someone safe or write them down.

I realize that it is my responsibility to shape what remains of my life.

I’m closing in on 75. A recent annual physical disclosed a treatable but disconcerting heart problem after decades of perfect EKGs and blood work. I will be brave and start what treatment is prescribed. I will share my experiences and work as a therapist with others in need.

I will surround myself with people I love, who love me back. And that is what happiness is for me.


Have any of you found happiness after profound loss? Let us know in the comments below.
 

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