How Our Family Spent The Last Month Of My Wife's Life

by Sherry Keen
Originally Published: 
Sherry Keen

I fell in love with her in my mid 30’s….the kind of love that takes your breath away and scares you with the intensity of knowing you have found “The One.”

Flash forward 12 years, 2 boys, 2 dogs, 3 cats and still madly in love…the slow dancing in the kitchen while dinner is on the stove and children are running wild through the house, kind of love. She went in for blood work from feeling overly fatigued, but nothing could prepare us for the words we were about to hear — cancer, aggressive, rare.

In an instant, reality is suspended by this seemingly incomprehensible information. What started out as a normal day — packing lunches, walking dogs and rushing the kids out the door to school — became anything but normal. In the days that followed, we would continue these same routines but with a thin veil of sadness and uncertainty hanging over us.

Her type of blood cancer was a bit unusual (and frustrating) in that it needed to progress to a certain point before treatment could begin. With this time in limbo, we rented an RV and set out on our dream trip across the country. A trip, that for no particularly good reason, we had put off for years. It was literally the trip of a lifetime and we made memories with our boys that we hoped would last through theirs.

Once the disease progressed, she spent four of her last six months in the hospital trying different chemo protocols. When nothing appeared to be working and her body was weak and ravaged by the drugs and the disease, she asked to come home.

Once home, we had the gift of 29 days.

29 days of holding hands. 29 days of laughing, of crying, and reminiscing with friends and family. 29 days of our 7-year-old reading to her. 29 late night talks when neither of us could sleep. 29 nights I would study her moonlit silhouette trying to commit to memory every line and curve of her face. We had an amazing “village” of friends and family surrounding us to make it possible for her to live her last days at home, right where she wanted to be.

I miss her every minute of every day. It’s not the big things that get to me the most; it’s the million little everyday things that I ache for, like telling her I heard from a teacher that our son was extra kind to a new student, or seeing the fig tree she planted and babied for the last three years finally growing fruit, or surprising her with pomegranates every chance I could because she loved them so much and then making fun of her when it took her three hours to eat one, or the way she rubbed my head each night because she knew I had a hard time falling asleep.

Her last days were lived with beauty and grace, still thinking more of others than of herself, just as she had done her whole life and career in the nonprofit world. That was never more apparent than on one of the last nights of her life. She motioned for me to lie beside her in the hospital bed that now occupied the small space between our bed and the wall and when I did, her hand instinctively reached up to rub my head, still taking care of me.

So I ask this…what are you going to do with the next 29 days? Here’s my suggestions: take the trip, dance in the kitchen, hold hands, kiss goodnight, kiss good morning, hug the child and then hug them again and again, say I love you and then say it again and again. Make the memories today that will last through a lifetime of tomorrows.

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