5 Year Update
Five years ago, Simon died of cancer. He was my husband of nearly 10 years. He was the father to our children who were ages 2, 5, and 7 at the time. He was a deeply loved husband and father, son, grandson, brother, cousin, uncle, coworker, mentor, and friend. He was just 34 years old.
When Simon was given his terminal diagnosis, one of my first instincts was to find other widows ahead of my journey. I was desperate to know if I would ever be okay again. At that moment, I was broken, hopeless, and anxious. I think I was looking for this; an update, years later, that someone had made it through a tragedy and had learned to live again. And live well.
Today, we are a new family. I remarried in 2015. Jason became a husband and father overnight and has done pretty darn well for all the he has been tasked with. We moved from California to Texas last year and have embraced our new future together. The kids are now 7, 10, and almost 13. They are happy and healthy and make us so proud.
It has been an emotional journey for me and for many others who shared their lives with Simon. The first few weeks after he died were a blur of decisions, transactions, paperwork, thank you letters, and a wave of relief that he was out of pain. Liver cancer had ravaged his body and it was heartbreaking for all of us to watch him suffer. For me, the initial fog of grief gave way to profound sadness. My favorite person on earth was gone. Sadness evolved into anger and bitterness. I became a single parent overnight, a role that is difficult, lonely, and exhausting. Throw some self-pity in there, too. Young widows are a pretty small percentage of the population which leaves us misunderstood or overlooked and when we are the most vulnerable, judged.
Nowadays, I generally feel joy that Simon will forever be part of our story, but I still cry often and my heart aches for all the milestones he will miss.
On this five year anniversary of loss, I want to share my reflections on what I regret and what I don’t regret.
I DON’T regret pausing just about everything happening in our lives to be with Simon and our kids when he was ill. I was able to take extended leave from work, thanks in part to friends arranging one of the largest blood drives ever at our hospital which afforded me extra time off. I took a leave of absence from a board I served on. We relinquished our church and school commitments.
I DON’T regret creating firm boundaries on our time and space and needs. We did not have years to say goodbye. We thought we maybe had months. Now we know we had six weeks from the time of diagnosis to death. It was difficult to turn some away who wished to visit or speak with Simon during the limited hours he was awake and feeling social. He always had the final say as to who could walk through his bedroom or hospital door and it was nearly always a yes to those who were active and present in his life, like family, church friends, work friends, and childhood friends that he kept in touch with. As his days began to dwindle, the list grew smaller until it was just immediate family. It may seem harsh from a distance, but when you’re in the thick of it, when you’re staring at death, it is so personal. It is sacred. It is a time for peace and respect and comfort, especially for the one who is ill and truly suffering the most.
I DON’T regret marrying someone with a chronic health condition. I knew Simon had a health history that was more complicated than others. But I also knew that none of us are promised tomorrow. Anyone can be healthy, then sick, or even sick, then healthy. Someone once asked me why I married Simon and had children with him knowing he had serious health issues. After calming myself internally since I wanted to punch them in the face, my answer was that I would marry Simon again, even knowing the fatal outcome. Simon’s unknown health future never once deterred me from the thought of marriage or a family. We had the best times together, we created a life we loved, and we have three smart, beautiful, energetic kids. I would choose him again and again and again, and I would curate our lives with even more adventures, fun, laughter, and love if I would have known our time would be cut as short as it was.
I DON’T regret going to professional counseling for myself and our children. We consulted with mental health professionals during Simon’s illness and have attended sessions regularly over the past five years. If you broke your leg, you would go to a doctor – a licensed expert – to fix it, right? Mental health deserves that same regard. Well-meaning people can give terrible advice. Seeking out a professional that could guide us through our emotions and empower us to make healthy decisions was one of the best things we did for ourselves and hopefully for those who have to deal with us. One example of therapy success was this: my natural instinct was to shield the children from Simon’s coffin and funeral services when the time came. A professional counselor was able to help me recognize that kids have their own, individual grief journeys to embrace and if they aren’t able to touch or see the reality of his death, there’s a strong chance it could create resentment and anger when they are older and more emotionally mature. Taking care of our mental health has been worth all the time and cost.
I DO regret that we put off vacations due to money and time constraints. We were certainly fortunate to enjoy some travel, including many wonderful trips to Texas, anniversary getaways, one amazing adventure in Bulgaria, and a handful of trips to visit out of state friends. But the bigger trips – the longer ones, the international ones, the tropical ones…those were all put on the backburner. I wish we would have prioritized our limited budget more and been more strategic with our time to just make it happen.
I DO regret not investing more in our marriage. I could be a quarrelsome wife and stressed out mom, although thankfully this was not a frequent occurrence. Simon and I would both wholeheartedly agree that we had a happy marriage and loved our families. But five years ago, we also had three young children, Simon was traveling up to 20 days a month, and we moved four times in eight years. I wish the Kristy of today could tell the Kristy from five years ago to smile more and worry less, even in those trying times. I was grateful for our home, health, and happiness; I wish I would have been even more grateful and expressed that gratitude daily! Some of our richest memories were actually when we were our poorest, spending time together at home or with friends. I loved Simon like crazy and would have told him and showed him more.
I DON’T regret remarrying. For some, it was too fast or too soon. As I meet more and more widows and widowers, there is never a “right” time that will satisfy everyone. Some have waited two years, five years, or even more to start a new relationship and are still met with pushback from family or friends. Jason and I went to pre-dating, pre-engagement, pre-marital, and post marital counseling. We had peace from the Lord. I had Simon’s blessing to remarry when I felt ready. The kids were involved in our dating process and we continue to give them space to feel what they need to feel and say what they need to say. And I don’t believe a day goes by that we don’t speak of Simon. He is still a part of this family and because Jason was his friend, it is an extra gift to us too that he can recall fond memories of Simon.
Thank you to all who loved Simon and have supported our family during the past five years.