When my wife Maureen passed away after a three-year battle with cancer, I thought I was prepared. I was wrong.
On July 2, 2016, my wife Maureen McEnaney passed away after a three-year battle with colon cancer. This is not only my story about the pain and sadness I experienced while grieving her loss, but also about my journey of self-discovery, positive change and adventure as I wandered through my new world suddenly filled with uncertainty and ambiguity.
Looking back, as much as I thought I had mentally prepared myself for that day, it was still a mind-numbing experience. Maureen and I had fought as a team throughout the cancer, both of us remaining positive while at the same time preparing for less desirable outcomes. I remember sitting by her side as she grew weaker and weaker; her last words expressing her devout love me.
I knew we loved each other, but as the tears rolled down her face, I experienced the most powerful expression of love I have ever felt in my life. We cried, holding each other dearly in a lasting embrace. I’m a lucky man, to have known and seen true love, to experience it at its most vulnerable, to see the truth in it, to know it is real. It is ironic how this moment of intense love and clarity is then followed by loss; our love is forever etched upon my soul and constantly gives me strength.
Her breathing became labored and erratic and I knew she would be leaving. As her last breath was drawn, I froze. Time seemed to stand still. It’s one thing to prepare yourself for the concept of losing your best friend and soul mate, it’s quite another to comprehend the devastating reality. Somehow, I mechanically was able to take care of the remaining business, but my spirit had been sucked out of me, I was empty.
A good friend drove me home, knowing I just needed to sit in silence. Returning home to face my four children was daunting. I was wondering, how I do this? Here was my first act as a solo parent, and it’s breaking the worst news of their young lives to them. I had always loved being a Dad and considered myself a good parent, yet suddenly I felt incapable and incompetent without the support of my loving partner. The physical act of death is so simple but the complex chain reaction of events that follow are so intense and emotional, that it’s impossible to fathom the severity and far reaching effects. It’s like being stripped naked and dropped in a strange land, being left to figure out how to survive.
As I struggled for strength and direction, I knew that I was not going to let cancer beat our family. It may have wreaked havoc on our lives, but I was not going to let it win. Early on, that was my strength; it’s what kept me going. My drive and my motivation today is to continue the fight and somehow keep our family healthy and strong, while also keeping the spirit and love of Maureen McEnaney alive within us all.
A version of this post was previously published on lossandlearning.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Mike McEnany