Lynne, my wife of 31 years, lost her life to glioblastoma in 2010. Her death followed a battle lasting nearly four years against the deadly disease. Glioblastoma is a stage 4 brain tumor, known for its fast-growth and recurring properties. As her primary caregiver, I learned the issues surrounding the care of someone facing a life-threatening illness. This article covers grief and one lesson that I learned. I hope this will help someone else when faced with a significant loss.
About six years prior to Lynne's illness, I enrolled in a course covering counseling topics because of my responsibilities as a deacon at the Sun Valley Church of Christ. As a people helper, people often approached me to share personal struggles. I wished a better foundation of knowledge to help me guide them through their struggles. Some of the classes helped to prepare me for what was ahead in my own life. The importance of that learning helped me to understand the emotional turmoil that I was facing and some techniques to help me manage my way through the pain.
Grief is a process that causes psychological pain, creating emotional turmoil with feelings of guilt, depression, anger, sadness, helplessness, rage, loneliness, resentment, and hopelessness. I learned that the emotions that swirled within me were a normal part of the grieving process. Recognizing that early, helped me to be easy on myself as I worked through the grieving process. I believed that I moved to the acceptance phase of the process more quickly than most, in part because of the training I had received.
Another source of strength at that time was my spiritual upbringing and lifestyle. This was also a big part of Lynne's life. With this similar outlook on life, we were able to be in tune with one another. I refracted on one biblical passage frequently, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, New International Version). Despite this tragedy, I believed that God had a plan. His eternal nature, unrestricted by time, enables Him to see what we refer to as the past, as well as into what we refer to as the future. Time limits me, by allowing me to see only the past and the immediate. Because I can not see into the future, I reasoned that God could see some future event in Lynne's life that might be much worse than glioblastoma. To me, there could be no worse event but that might simply be due to the limitations placed on me by time and the accessibility to see into the future.
After Lynne's death, I read arief recovery book that helped me understand why the depth of grief for one person might be different when compared to the depth experienced by another person. Recovery from grief suggests the ability to recall the good memories you hold fondly while minimizing those feelings of remorse or holding on to the regrets that you are harboring (James & Russell, 2009). I see this as key to understanding the relatively short duration of my personal grieving period.
Lynne and I were very compatible and truly enjoyed our 31 years together as a married couple. We had our fair share of disagreements and disputes along the way. However, we did enjoy a marriage that others recognized in positive ways. The enjoyment of our marriage increased dramatically during Lynne's illness. This may seem very strange to you, so please allow me to explain this phenomenon.
Through the early years of our marriage, I appreciated and was grateful for Lynne's concern for others, her willingness to help others, and her support and care for me and our children. Lynne impressed me with her ability to run our home, her industrious nature and attention to details, and a slew of other exercises. Yet in the last four years of Lynne's life, I witnessed a courage, vision, and personal strength that I had underestimated in our earlier years together. During those final years, we also discussed topics that most people try to avoid such as death and dying. We discussed what we hoped for one another. She shared her desire that I find another woman to love and care for after she passed. A topic like that may seem like a ridiculous conversation when in health, but it is not when someone faces the last stages of life. Lynne shared her appreciation of my care and love for her and her acceptance that I would love and care for another woman in the future. Even before her death, she released me from the anxiety of the considerations relating moving on with life, after she passed. In that discussion, she released me from the anxiety or guilt associated with moving forward in life.
James, John W. and Friedman, Russel. (2009). The grief recovery handbook (20th anniversary expanded edition). HarperCollins e-books.