On February 27, 2014, I watched my husband transition for four minutes, from 7:42 p.m. to 7:46 p.m. I sobbed and pleaded for him not to go, until he took his last breath, his pupils dilated, and he was gone.
No one prepares you for the death of someone you love, especially the person you were supposed to spend your life with. Although I knew one day I would be without him, when death comes, the pain is unbearable.
I thought I would be okay. I wasn't. I wanted to die.
I thought going through Geoff's illness with him and being a caregiver was tough. I thought watching him suffer and die was difficult. But the most arduous thing lay ahead.
This grief and widow journey is the hardest thing I've ever endured.
The emotional pain is torrential. And add to that everything yet to come.
Geoffrey Mark Barnard was twenty-two when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January 2001. He went into remission later that year, and we married in October 2004. In April 2008, he relapsed. He was sick until he passed in February 2014. We were married for almost ten years and together nearly twenty. We were both thirty-five when he died.
How was I supposed to live? My life with Geoff was what I knew. There were days I didn't want to wake up, get out of bed, leave the house, or talk to anyone.
I felt guilty that he was sick for thirteen years. Although we tried so many different treatments, I felt guilty that we didn't do more. I struggled with this guilt. I still sometimes do. I don't think it's something that will ever escape me.
A few months after Geoff died, I started to date a man seventeen years my senior. Needless to say, I faced judgment and criticism from people.
It was too soon for me to date. How dare I start dating just a few months after Geoff died?
Ken was too old. Didn't I want to be with someone my own age?
People assumed Ken was wealthy and that's why I was dating him. (Insert eye roll here.)
On top of grieving my husband, I was getting crap from people about how I was living my life. Why did it even matter to these people? How about you take a look in the mirror and reflect on your own life before judging mine? How does what I do with my life affect yours?
I got used to the thought that regardless of what you do, people are going to judge. Someone is always going to have an opinion. It's up to you to acknowledge or ignore these opinions.
Ken saved my life. He gave me hope, kept me going, helped me heal from the guilt, got me to smile and laugh again, "allowed" me to grieve the way I needed, helped me honor Geoff, and mended my broken heart.
Fast forward to today, and Ken is still in my life. We are building a life together, planning to marry and have children. He continues to honor Geoff. Ken supports me in all of my endeavors, including a group assisting widows and widowers based on my experiences.
Here’s to HOPE:
1. Everyone's grief journey and timeline is different. Practice empathy.
2. You will get through this. The priest from Geoff’s funeral said, "You'll never get over it, but you’ll get used to it." I'm not over losing Geoff. But I've gotten used to it. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him.
3. Forgive yourself. Then you can be free of the guilt you're feeling.
4. You may and will love again. It takes a certain kind of person to be with a widow or widower—one who knows that he or she is not replacing your beloved, but is the person that will help you continue life. He or she will "allow" you to grieve however, whenever, and wherever you need.
5. Ignore those who judge and criticize you. Be you. Drown out the noise. Stay in your lane. Keep going. You will persevere.
6. There are always grief triggers. Grief comes and passes. There will be times when you cry, smile, and laugh. That's okay. It's normal.
7. Geoff fought to live for thirteen years. I'm healthy and still alive. It would be completely unfair for me not to live a full, meaningful, passionate, and inspirational life—if not for myself, then for Geoff.
The tagline of my widow group, Incidentally Inspirational, is:
SURVIVE, LIVE, THRIVE
When we first lose our spouse/partner/significant other, we try to SURVIVE, up to the point when we can LIVE "normally"—albeit a new normal. After some time, we start to THRIVE again.
This doesn't mean we forget. Despite suffering one of life's greatest losses, we can prosper and flourish in the next chapter of our lives, post-loss. This is all while we continue to celebrate our beloved’s life, and honor their memory forever.