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“I don't want a new normal. I loved the old one.”

By Robert Altieri

I sometimes find myself standing in the hallway or the kitchen, wondering, “What should I be doing? Is there someone I should call? Should I be alone or with someone?” These periods of utter aloneness and despondency happen intermittently, magnifying her absence. There are a hundred enlarged photos of her throughout the house. I can smile, remembering the joy we shared in that moment, on that day, at that event, and then, tearfully, I think, “It no longer is ... She no longer is.”

I'll put on music, sit at the computer, and write to her asking for help. So many times in the three years she's been gone, help has come. A phone call, email, or text; a knock at the door; a thought of something purposeful to do; the recognition of my many blessings.

Yes, she is physically gone, but I keep her alive in my thoughts, especially in my actions.

Yes, she is physically gone, but I keep her alive in my thoughts, especially in my actions, which can be meaningful, if I act like she did. Is this God's plan for me? I can't say I agree with how He brought me to where I am, but I can be with people, share who I am, what I'm capable of.

Valentine's Day 2014 was the day Laura was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Advanced. Inoperable. Incurable. She was dying after being with me for sixty years, fifty-six years of them in a beautiful marriage.

Her death was the death of "us," and when she died, "we" died too.

I lay in the hospital bed and gently held her. I placed my hand on her chest, where the disease and infection were killing her. Please, Holy Spirit, take it away. On those last mornings in the hospital, sitting at her bedside in the dull gray light of dawn, listening to her measured breathing as she slept, hoping for a miracle—even then her warmth enveloped me. Please, God, make her mine again. But God, in His mercy, ended the pain she so bravely suffered. He selected the prettiest flower in His garden and brought her home. I still miss her. I still cry. She was wonderful.

The months passed as I tried to accept the unacceptable. Her death was the death of "us," and when she died, "we" died too. I tried not to be angry, but there were words that angered me, like “cancer.” It took from me the most precious thing I ever knew.

"You'll find someone else," they said. It's unimaginable that anyone could mean as much to me, care as much for me as my gracious lady. I could not replace my wife any more than I could replace my parents. I also heard, "You will find a new normal." I don't want a new normal. I loved the old one.

Reality is a stern taskmaster. Making decisions alone is no fun. Having no backup leaves never-ending doubt.

There were horrible nights when I lay awake going over the many hours spent with her in the hospital in those last three weeks, reliving her struggle to survive. My career as a police officer was spent protecting people, yet I could not protect the one I loved and cherished the most.

Reality is a stern taskmaster. Making decisions alone is no fun. Having no backup leaves never-ending doubt. I, who thought I was so strong, can be as helpless as a puppy. There are a few people I open up to. They reassure me in my weak moments. They chide me in my foolishness.

I have received so much help from family and friends that I am obligated not to let it go to waste. It was time for me to get serious about why I'm here. God guided me to Beginning Experience, a grief resolution workshop, where I ultimately became a facilitator. The BE program and the beautiful people who make it work have helped me grow and maintain my sanity as I struggle on without my lifelong love.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a long tunnel, with hard days. But there are days of relief, an awakening, where life does have meaning. Our job is to give it our very best effort. To live. To be. Our faith is so very important. When things are just too tough, rest and pray. God is listening.

Prayer and my faith in God have gently encouraged me not to let the pain and loss I'm suffering destroy me. And, in their place, I feel loved. God is like the air. I can breathe Him within me and feel Him all around me.

Words can seem inadequate to articulate a heart-wrenching tale of losing the most important person in your life.

I'm using my memory and the many things my wife and I learned together to make her proud of me. I'm trying my best to be here for our family, our friends, our community. Am I optimistic? I want to be, but the days sometimes are just too hard, and I have to rest. I know that there is still life that needs to be lived. I pray that I live it well, caring for myself and others. I want to do it willingly, lovingly, hopefully, and, if possible, joyfully.

Each of us wants and needs to tell his or her story. Words can seem inadequate to articulate a heart-wrenching tale of losing the most important person in your life. If you are reading this because you too have lost that beautiful soul who completed you, then tell your story. Keep that very special person alive in the telling and retelling of your very unique experience.

I wish you peace.

Grief & Loss Bouncing forward Building resilience Finding meaning Loss of partner Overcoming permanence Supporting others Women Cancer Faith
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