If a Genie popped out of Aladdin’s lamp and I had but one wish, I would not want fortune or fame, nor any of the luxuries life has to offer. My wish would be simple and from my heart. “In my lifetime, never again would I have to experience the loss of another loved one.” The burden, I fear would be too great for me to handle.
Yes, one could argue that I was being selfish, and that I could use my wish for a much better cause for humanity, but then you probably have not felt the gut wrenching pain I felt for over 4 years. There’s no silver bullet to make it disappear, it’s just there, twenty four hours a day…You go to sleep with it, which can and often did bring on nightmares, and when you wake, it’s right there waiting for you with open arms. There is simply no way of escaping it–it follows you around like a shadow on a sunny day. And yet, you’re swimming in the darkness.
A million tears
When you’re a griever, especially if you love deeply, you’re going to shed some tears. Some grievers will shed more tears than others. So the statement, “a million tears,” is probably an understatement, of what is likely millions of tears. And I say that because, it’s not just my tears I talk about, it also the tears of others touched by Annie’s story, and to words communicated to others by me, or by words communicated to me from others. It really can be a very tearful circle. But, communicating with others through our tears, is very important to a griever in terms of healing.
You’ve seen the comedian that while walking on stage folks spontaneously start laughing because he’s got a quirky look about him, which looks a bit silly and makes them laugh. Well, I was that comedian–and when I went on stage to speak to an audience of folks about my loss of Annie, the audience would take one look at me with my quivering lips, and the tissues would start coming out from everywhere. They were acknowledging my tears as an expression of my pain and I really hadn’t spoken a word. However, when I saw their tears, I knew we would be locked together for that emotional ten minutes, and I was free to safely pour out my rambling thoughts, that jumped around like a spinning top in a sea of filtered tears. My audiences were anywhere from eighty-five to five hundred and sixty folks, most were attending one of the various events sponsored by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s charity benefits program. I never asked to be a speaker, but my grief driven passion for helping others, through revealing Annie’s tragic journey with blood cancer, was very powerful and seemed to bring out the best in others–and for that moment in time we were all a part of something much bigger than ourselves…humbling ourselves, with a dream of a world without “Blood Cancer.” And for that matter, “Any Cancer.”
The stories within the story
A few short months into my grief I was summoned to the clinic by my doctor, demanding that I get what I can only call, an after the care giving ends, physical. His thoughts were–I had to have some problems as Annie’s condition was such that it required my 24/7 attention, and I didn’t get much me time to relax. He noted that I hadn’t been to the doctor for any reason over the thirty month period of Annie’s battle with cancer.
My daughter Melissa, obviously had something to do with this visit as she worked there as a nurse, and I always scoffed at her notions that I needed a check-up. But, here I was at the clinic being escorted by her to the scales, where we shed a few tears reliving the memories of the many times her momma and my wife Annie made that same journey, usually in a wheelchair, while fighting cancer. While standing there, Melissa motioned for me to look at a short, frail, elderly man coming our way. He was being propped up by a nurse walking beside him and I couldn’t help but notice his tears, which were like a torrent of rain coming down, while he continually clasped and spun around some beads with his two thumbs and index fingers. Melissa had previously told me he recently lost his wife after many years of marriage. He was in his early seventies and obviously heartbroken.
I immediately got off the scales and Melissa and I went to him. He was one of her patients. As we approached he saw Melissa and immediately knew who I was, as he knew Melissa’s mom had passed away, and he could see the tears streaming down my face. It was a strange feeling for me as I was hurting too, but all I could think about was he and his loss. When I walked up in front of him, he reached out to me and we embraced, each telling the other how sorry we were for their loss. And I believe, for a short moment in time, life was not all about Annie and me. It’s those kind of moments in the lives of grievers that one never forgets. Special, heartwarming, and precious.
On another occasion a short time later, I went over to the clinic to speak to Melissa. While there she pointed out this very old and frail ninety-five year old lady sitting in a chair by the front door, while her daughter and a friend sat beside her.
Melissa told me that she was one of her very favorite patients and that I needed to meet her. (Let’s give her a name, “Lilly.”) So I said okay, and we walked over to where she was sitting. Melissa introduced Lilly to me and then spoke with her for a moment or so. As I looked at Lilly her general appearance reminded me so much of my Annie. From head to toe, she was very frail, her lovely white teeth protruded out of her mouth from loss of skin mass, and she wore the same TED Hose and type of slippers as Annie. And when she got up to walk a bit later, she walked the same as Annie too. Imagine, Annie was a vibrant, healthy 58 year old lady when diagnosed with blood cancer. Two and one-half years later, shortly before she died she looked and moved like a ninety-five year old lady. Another sad reality of what cancer can do to a person.
When I started to visit with her, it was immediately apparent that she knew all about me. I wasn’t surprised, but what did surprise was, when I was talking to her I kept hearing and getting distracted by the hospice word that seemed to keep coming out of her daughters mouth. I’d just asked Lilly if she was okay, thinking she had a problem and that’s why she was at the clinic. Lilly told me she was fine and just needed a check-up. I guess my imagination got the best of me and I asked her daughter if she was thinking of putting her momma on hospice. Fortunately she said no, and if she hadn’t, I would have told her Lilly would not qualify for hospice in her condition. I think she knew that.
At some point in our short but frank conversation, I noticed Lilly’s eyes start tearing up, and she said in a most beautiful soft voice, “What’s going to happen to me.” My face immediately rushed with emotion and I couldn’t hold back my tears, but I managed to ask her a question that all caregivers should ask others in the same situation. “Are you of faith.” She said she was, so I told her that I believed she was just going to lay down one day for some sleep, and when she woke up she would be in heaven. She replied in a soft sorrowful voice, “I wish it would hurry up.” I didn’t even know her, but when I walked away a few minutes later, I knew I loved her. She was a special lady. (See Footnote)
I had made arrangements with her daughter, to come over and visit Lilly at the weekend. However, the day before my visit, Melissa got a call from her daughter saying her momma died peaceful in her sleep last night. In turn Melissa called me, and although it rocked me a bit, it was a blessing for all. Just a few short days earlier she was so tired and ready to go, and now she was resting in peace.
It seems to me these days, that so much time is spent by the media on all the hate, and disruptions in the world, always focusing on the bad and not enough of the good. I know, “Good news don’t sell, bad news do!” However, as a griever, I saw and can see just the opposite…there’s so much love in the world.
A griever doesn’t target individuals to speak to. We’ll tell our story to anyone that will listen. And it’s our tears that seem to bring out the best in others. People that I didn’t even know would cry with me. Sometimes, my tears and the tears of another would blend together, turning to laughter as we’d see a small crowd gathering, wondering what was going on. Their expressions seemed to be, oh dear, are they okay. And you could see their sad, curious faces turn to relief as we started laughing. All that was driven by one man, that no one in the immediate area knew, but wanted to rescue. My grief was terrible, but my world was a good, kind, and loving world. Yes, I will acknowledge that it’s not always the same for all griever’s, just remember, there is usually one rotten apple in every bunch. And that’s probably one of Murphy’s Laws. And the irony is, another one of Murphy’s Laws is, you may run into more than one rotten apple in a row. Life happens!
(Footnote: If Lilly had said she had no faith, I would have basically said the same thing to her, leaving out the words, waking up in heaven. As caregivers we must not push our beliefs or agenda onto others, whether it be faith or politics. It’s wrong on every level. If they initiate the conversation, try not to get aggravated or be forceful, just simply offer your opinion. It’s a win, win for the caregiver. And if someone does not agree with your opinion, so what, you’re obviously not agreeing with theirs either. Care giving is not about winning, it’s about caring.)
Annie’s Online memorial is approaching 70,000 visitors: http://www.forevermissed.com/annie-barber-harrison/#about
Hear the whole story in Bob’s book, Because of Annie. All proceeds are donated to cancer charities.