Its been another year, now 6 years since Nick passed away, aged 32 from pancreatic cancer.
If you haven’t read my last post, you can find it here, I wrote it a year ago and if you don’t know who I am or what I’m talking (writing?!) about you can start by reading this.
But here I sit 6 years on since Nick’s passing and I’m ok, actually I’m more than ok. I’m sitting on my couch, with the TV on in the background, as I watch my two girls play with my husband, and even though my youngest is sick and is sneezing snot across the room, like literally!
Life is actually great.
Yet, 6 year ago, as I sat in this exact room, life looked a lot more grim. I’d just lost my husband to cancer, a word I’d barely thought of 8 months earlier and in what felt like the blink of an eye, my world changed.
From happily married with a newborn to 30 year widow and single mum.
How did that happen to me?!?
As optimistic and positive as we had been during his illness, this was the great unknown. The other side of Nick being sick.
What happens now?
I wish I could travel back in time 6 years, to have a chat with myself and say it’s going to be ok and better than you could imagine.
In 6 years, I have married again to a man I adore and have 2 beautiful girls, our youngest is turning two next month.
In 6 years I’ve lost friends and gained new ones, I’ve gone back to work and left again. I’ve gotten used to making school lunches and doing the school run. I’ve purchased more OPI nail polishes than I care to admit and I’ve realised how lucky my kids are to have three lots of grandparents who love them so deeply.
And I’ve learnt more about myself and my coping mechanisms than I thought possible.
For the record, I’m a ‘make inappropriate jokes when times a tough’ type of gal and I can’t cry on cue when it’s expected ie.funerals.
So, you might not be able to see into your future or time travel, but it will always be ok, maybe a different version of your normal but that will be ok too.
I was given a quote by the author Charles R. Swindoll in the time following Nick’s death that really spoke to me and I try and live by daily;
‘We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, our attitude. Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.’
And you don’t have to have lost a partner to relate to this, but just ultimately how you react to any situation thrown at you, whether the loss of a loved one or even being cut off in traffic, is what will change the course of your life or even just your day.
Staying positive is key.
I still get emails from widows all over the world asking me if they’re going to be ok again, or telling me how my little ol’blog helped them see into their own futures again.
I am forever humbled reading these emails, thank you for taking the time to write and if you have any questions, you can email me below and i’ll be sure to reply as best I can.
Even if it’s been a year since I wrote, this blog just seems to gain momentum and I feel like i’m being pulled back to my laptop to write.
This week also marks a year since my last post, (wow, where did 2016 go?!?) so I’ll give you a thinly veiled promise to continue writing. I have ideas that keep me up at night. Paragraphs that form in my mind as I try to fall asleep, so I think you might see me pop up again very soon.
Or subscribe, if you’d like an email reminder when I write next.
I think a piece about not being judge-y, (yes, i know that’s not a real word), should be coming shortly.
A second post in a week, which isn’t my normal habit, but I felt compelled to write this week’s first post, after watching the previous week’s episode of Offspring, which was a slight side step about the joys of widowhood. (read: sarcasm)
On that note, thank you to everyone who sent me messages on Wednesday night after Offspring ended, I think seeing what Nina has experienced on the show, has reminded friends of how hard it was for me, losing Nick.
Even though I held it together, I said the same things Nina did, ‘I don’t know how to live. I don’t know how to hold onto him… I don’t know how to live without him.’
And yes, I cried for the last 5 minutes of the show when she let Patrick go, using many of the same lines I did, when I said my goodbye to Nick, you can read it again here.
Enough about Offspring, now onto my real life course of events.
So, i’ve decided to pick up today where I left last week with – the circus has come to town – part 2, because the day was long and there was so much more that took place.
I left you with the laughable shower scene, which i’m hoping you did laugh along with. After finishing my shower, I obviously got dressed and went to join the rest of the family that had gathered. I watched as everyone turned to look at me, as I approached my kitchen area.
I was getting used to these stares already, waiting to see me crack….but no, this time I was wrong…
You see, I had put on a pink top. Yep, you read right, pink. Being of European background and the fact my husband had just died approx. 6 hours earlier, it was ‘apparently’ a sign of disrespect.
Now, I don’t buy into all these traditions and Nick absolutely didn’t. Me wearing colour was not a sign that I loved him any less, and it also wouldn’t miraculously help him rise from the dead.
We had laughed about it before he died. He hated me in black in general, he teased my mum constantly for wearing black, asking if she had a funeral to attend. He specifically told me not to wear black when he died! I was kinda scared he’d come back to haunt me if I did. (just joking!)
My grandma was the one who started on me, but in hindsight I can’t be mad because it’s what she believes in, and having lost her husband 6 months earlier, and now me, joining the same widow club, she felt it was her duty to tell me.
She started, ‘what would people think, it was disrespectful, you’ll look like you’re not in mourning, it’s wrong…blah,blah,blah.’
I fought with her for a while on it, trying to explain in my 1/2 english, 1/2 italian way of speaking to her, that it was my choice and I didn’t care what people thought and it’s what Nick wanted.
Obviously all falling on deaf ears, I felt like a child being scolded. She kept trying to push me towards my bedroom to change. In the end I did, because I couldn’t be bothered hearing it anymore.
But, once there, I quickly realised I had no black tops, not even a t-shirt, so I settled on navy instead, that was ‘approved’ by her.
Can anyone relate to this ??
The other part of having a partner die is that you need to get started on funeral arrangements. I wasn’t prepared for this!
Nick’s parents gave me the number of the funeral directors they wanted to use, so I made the call and waited.
A middle aged Greek guy arrived and got straight to business. I asked all relatives to give us some privacy, as I sat down with Nick’s parents to discuss the once unimaginable, burying Nick.
He went through it all so quickly, like we were holding him up from the next dead person. Flicking through the pages of his folder at lightning speed, caskets, flowers, rosary, burial, service.
Peppering his dialogue with enough Greek, that I could barely understand what he was saying. He spoke mostly to Nick’s parents.
I tried my best to get across what Nick would have wanted.
Nick had wanted someone to do a Eulogy, but in a Greek Orthodox church, this was something they would never make an exception for.
In the end, I resigned myself to the fact that it was only one day and it didn’t matter if it all didn’t go the way I thought he’d want.
It was only one day and I had 10 years of memories of Nick instead. He’d forgive me if this turned into a circus.
Again, I didn’t want to argue with anyone, especially Nick’s parents, who were already distraught and sensitive.
They needed my support and it wasn’t the time to shout, ‘he was my husband, I think I know what he wanted’, though some people may disagree with this.
I was respectful of Nick’s parents, and although I was hurting, they too had just lost their son and we were in this together.
To me, keeping quiet was also because I didn’t know much about the Greek Orthodox religion. Nick himself was not religious, but I knew his parents were, so I let them decide on the finer details.
In the back of my mind, I knew I’d continue with his birthday party celebrations as he wanted. That would be my chance to send him off, surrounded by loved ones, talking about their memories of him. (I’ve written about that in an earlier post here if you missed it.)
The funeral director asked us to get some clothes together for Nick, I went to our room and decided on his favourite jeans and jackets, that he had loved from his ‘skinny’ days.
His mum told me we couldn’t bury him in jeans, it had to be a suit. I hadn’t seen the email stating he wouldn’t get into heaven without one, but again, choosing my battles, I pulled out the suit we’d purchased when we’d baptised our daughter, being the only one that would fit him now.
And it was decided, Nick would be buried in his suit, at his family church.
In the same church, with the same priest that had baptised him, that had married us, and that had christened our daughter and would now officiate his funeral.
Nick’s time had now come full circle.
The funeral director had bought a couple of workers with him and they were to take Nick from the house to the funeral palour.
It was a tense time for us, though to them, there was very little emotion shown, they were just doing their job.
Everyone rushed to say their goodbyes to Nick, his mum didn’t want to let him go. I was calm, I gave him a final hug and kiss, but to me, he was already gone.
His body was cold, there was no signs of life left.
They lifted all 47kg’s of him onto a stretcher and then zipped him up in a blue body bag. I wasn’t prepared for that, the sight of my husband, the love of my life, the father of my child, being zipped away, like he was an extra on some crime show!
They rolled him down my driveway to the waiting car, neighbours obviously noticing something was up, all started to come over.
They walked slowly like zombies, getting closer, not quite sure what was happening.
And we all watched as they fittingly, put him into the back of a Toyota hi-ace van, and drove away. (On a side note, this was the only Toyota that Nick had never bought home!)
I’ll leave it there for now, thanks everyone for reading along and welcome to the new readers.
I’ll pick this up at the same time next week.
Keep sharing and commenting, I love hearing from you.
Til next week, Michela x
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I just had to stop and write my post today, The award for having a dead husband goes to, because I finally caught up on last week’s episode of Offspring and felt compelled to put fingers to keyboard.
If you don’t know about Offspring, it’s an Australian comedy/drama centered around 30 something Nina, who’s an obstetrician with a slightly chaotic family. At the end of last season, she was left widowed with a baby girl after her partner passed away. (Sound familiar???)
Photo courtesy of Sunshine Coast Daily Media
Well as i’ve mentioned before, this season seems to be eerily similar to what happened to me. So, please admit here if you have submitted a manuscript of my life to the producers of the show, no hard feelings, we can split the royalties!
Slight exaggeration, not all of it is life imitating art, i’m no doctor, but the last few scenes definitely were.
In it, Nina attends a 20 year school reunion and things don’t quite turn out as she planned. She is asked to give out awards for most interesting career since school and student who travelled from overseas to be there, when the last award is reserved for her, for being so so resilient since the death of her husband!
She graciously accepts and then tells her sister to ‘get her out of here!’ because she’s not really fine, even though she is telling everyone she is.
Here’s my version of events:
Around 5 months after Nick had passed, I was invited to an awards night for my work. They had been so supportive with everything that had happened and even though I hadn’t been there, in about 18 months (having had maternity leave for Claudia, then discovering Nick was sick, and taking further leave) I still felt apart of the team.
So, when the invite arrived, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get out for the first time and be around people that wouldn’t be asking if I was ok, every 2 minutes.
I mean, they were work friends, we had work stuff to catch up on, like who was doing who etc. I wanted mindless chatter to take my mind off my situation for one night.
Plus, knowing it was a national award night, there would be heaps of people there I didn’t know and new faces to meet, after my 18 month hiatus.
When the night came, I bought a new outfit, and made my way into the city.
Just like when Nina first walked into the reunion, I felt like all eyes were on me the minute I got there. There were nervous looks my way, as they noticed me and the look of surprise that perhaps I was even there.
But, I was calm and cool and said my hellos, some asked after Claudia and some asked how are you? in their saddened tones but I was fine.
I was surrounded by a group of about 8 good work friends, at one stage, when they asked me about Nick. I reeled off the story with ease, as I was so well versed in it. It came with all the usual questions and murmurs, ‘why?, how’d you know?, i’m so sorry I didn’t make the funeral?’ I had expected some talk about it, and thought that I was done for the night.
I excused myself and went to the bar (alla Nina) when there I was approached by a new team member who I hadn’t met yet or been introduced to.
She started on me straightaway, ‘she had lost her father in law to cancer, she knew what I was going through, I could talk to her if I needed’, I barely knew her name and wanted to say, ‘it’s not the same, you have no idea what i’m going through’.
I got away only because we were asked to make our way to our seats, happy to have an out from this woman.
Phew, that will be it now…or so I thought!
Finally, sitting with my old work friends, I was comfortable once more, I started to enjoy myself, a glass of wine in hand, convincing myself it wasn’t a bad decision to be here.
A presentation started on the overhead projector, photos and slides of team member achievements, babies born, houses sold and renovated, marriages etc. As I started to watch and ohh and ahh along with everyone, a good friend of mine, crouched down besides me and whispered, ‘I hope you don’t mind, we’ve included photos of Nick at the end’.
I was speechless! I did mind!
I didn’t want my photos put up for 200 people in the room to ogle, of which 180 of them had no idea about my circumstances.
For one night I just wanted to forget about what had happened, but I was powerless to stop the presentation now, so all I could do was smile politely, skull my wine and wait…
And then it came, under a banner of lost but not forgotten, or something to that effect, photos of Nick, Claudia and I from her first birthday flashed across the screen, as well as a couple more of him. Photos I had emailed to some of my work friends when i’d updated them on our progress.
Heads turned to locate me in the room, people started whispering and all I could do was give an awkward wave from my seat down the back.
A wave that signaled, ‘yep, that’s me’. I didn’t know whether to get up and do a little curtsy with it.
In that minute I became that girl again. The poor, sad widow, who had lost her husband. So much for anonymity, now everyone knew my story, in a flash of just 3 photos.
I spent the rest of the night talking about it, every where I turned people stopped me to pay their condolences.
I went on about Nick, the cancer, how it unfolded, the last days, the funeral, how are you coping, you’re so strong. The sympathy, paired with sad eyes, was the last thing i’d expected, but in hindsight, what did I really expect ?
I left early that night, when my friends were kicking on at a bar down the road, I just couldn’t. I was emotionally spent and just needed to get out of there.
Like Nina, the excitement of heading out, turned into another night of Nick. I was fine when I left, but once home to my empty house, I cried and cried.
I wasn’t fine.
I cried for Nick and the life we lost and for the knowledge that no night out would ever be a moment without him. I cried because i’d foolishly believed I could escape the widow in me for one night. I cried because I missed him so much.
But, I couldn’t escape my past, it was apart of me.
The inclusion of Nick in the presentation was thoughtful and kind, it wasn’t meant with any malice. I just wasn’t expecting it and the impact it would have on me and the rest of my night.
In another way of thinking, it showed how touched they’d been by Nick’s passing and how respected I was at work, that they wanted to show their support.
Again, trying to turn a negative into a positive.
That’s it for today’s story, I was going to save it for another time, but I couldn’t help myself after watching Offspring’s version!
I’ll aim to post again this week keeping with the actual timeline of events.
Thanks for allowing me to share this memory out of sequence with you.
If you haven’t read last weeks post, then you might want to do that before beginning today’s- and then his last day came. If you’ve only just found this site, welcome, but you’ll probably want to start from the beginning so you can catch up!
Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin.
We had made it home in the ambulance, no sirens blaring, it was a little different to Nick’s last trip in one. We pulled up out the front of our house and they wheeled him in on the stretcher, our friend John had already arrived and watched as Nick was taken out of the ambulance.
He told me at the time, that he noticed Nick look more relaxed as he realised he was home, that the tension in his face disappeared.
I knew we’d done the right thing, it was where Nick wanted to be, back in our home in the suburbs.
It was the first home we bought together, the home we poured our hearts and hard work into, the place we first bought our little girl home to, our home of many gatherings and fun memories and now it would be the place of his final breath.
We set Nick up in our bedroom, as comfortable as we could make him. He was only semi-conscious, drifting in and out of sleep and not being able to say very much, his voice was just a whisper.
Phone calls were made, letting friends and family know of his new situation, many of them couldn’t believe how quickly it had transpired, some were planning on visiting the hospital that day. I asked for privacy at that time, as the last thing I wanted was a circus on an already emotional day.
I kept things calm and in control. A few people were invited to come and say their goodbyes, others preferred not to, wanting to keep their last memories of Nick, happy ones instead. I completely understood this.
Our parents arrived, as did our siblings and I re-iterated what the doctors had told me, ‘this was the end, his body was shutting down, there was nothing more that could be done for Nick, we had to let nature take it’s course now, as hard as it was to watch.’ Of course, no one wants to be the one to deliver this news, but I was the only one who could.
There was nothing else left to do, I couldn’t even drain his ascites, which was one of the indications that the end was near, as his body had even stopped producing the fluid. It was slowly letting go. He was on a morphine pump, so he wasn’t in any pain, it administered the medication at regular intervals to keep him comfortable.
And then I set about doing what any European does in times of stress, I made coffee, over and over again.
Throughout the day, everyone had their time with Nick, to say the things they wanted to say, or just to sit and cry. My grandmother sat at his side with her rosary beads praying. His parents, understandably, were inconsolable, nothing could give them any peace. We were literally watching him get closer to the end, with every breath he took.
I kept my cool, making sure there was no screaming or carrying on, I kept saying, ‘Nick wouldn’t want to hear any wailing over him, let him go in peace.’ I asked that our bedroom remain quiet and comforting for him instead.
I gave his parents alone time with him, closing my double bedroom doors, so they could be with their son. Their youngest boy, who they obviously adored, who they spent so much time with, who had called his Dad his best friend.
There were angry words said too, but I always knew they came from being scared of a life without Nick, of feeling helpless. They cursed the hospital, his doctors etc. but the truth was, everyone had done all they could, this was inevitable.
I was at peace knowing we had done our best, Nick had confided to me, just the week before, that he was done and over it all. As heart breaking as it was, this was what he wanted too. He couldn’t fight it anymore, pancreatic cancer was going to claim his life.
Over the course of the day, he deteriorated, his waking moments were far and few between, his eyes were permanently half closed. Occasionally a faint smile would cross his lips, like he was remembering a moment in time. He no longer squeezed against my hand, acknowledging that I was there.
We didn’t know if he could hear us anymore, but we kept on talking, especially me, chatting to him like normal, laughing as I re-counted times we shared together and funny moments. I think everyone thought I was mad that day, not falling into a heap, but it was all I knew how to do, I just wanted Nick to be reminded of all the good times we had, to go out in the most positive way.
It started to get late, Claudia our daughter was put to bed, our families were camped out around the house, no one was wanting to sleep. Mostly there was silence, but Nick was never alone, someone was with him at all times. A constant revolving door, as one person left his side to regain their composure and another took their spot. I bustled in and out, making sure everyone was comfortable, while stealing my moments with Nick.
It was important to me, that everyone had their alone time with Nick, I didn’t feel the need to hover over him constantly, he knew I was there and our families needed the closure.
And then night came, no one was wanting to leave, just in case, though I assured everyone that if they needed to go, I would call if anything happened.
Everyone kind of settled in for the night and then it was my time alone with Nick. I lay down besides him and held his hand. I continued to softly talk to him about all the wonderful things we’d done together. He was not responsive at all, but I hoped that he could hear me still.
His eyes, though half closed, were transfixed on a spot on the ceiling, I started whispering to him, ‘if there is a light or something, go towards it, let go, we’ll be fine.’ I repeatedly told him, not to hold on for me, that Claudia and I would be ok, we had all the love and support in the world. I thanked him, for choosing me to spend his life with, for being the best husband, father, son and friend to so many. I promised he’d never be forgotten, hence this blog!
I talked on and on, promising to look after his parents and always include them in our daughters life, I spoke of all the things I thought he’d want to hear. I thanked him for all the lessons in life he had shown me and finally, I told him I loved him and would continue to love him all the years of my life.
It had been a long day, having arrived home at 10am, it was now early morning once more, the house was quiet, as mostly everyone had drifted off.
Nick was holding on, his breathing raspy and deep. I remember looking at our bedside table clock it was 4.50am. I was exhausted, I hadn’t drifted off to sleep yet and then I closed my eyes, for what felt like a minute, but was probably closer to 10.
I opened them again and just like that, I noticed he was gone. There had been no sounds, no changes. I like to think he had waited til we were alone together, til there was silence and everyone was sleeping, til he took his final breath. I’ll always believe he was in control of when the time came.
I sat with him for a while, kissed him goodbye, closed his eyes and relaxed his legs. The doctors had warned me that he could be in this state for days or even weeks, I felt relief that he had only remained like this for such a short time, the relief extended to Nick not suffering anymore. It was over.
I walked calmly out of my bedroom and gave the news no one was ready for, “He’s gone’, I said and then the circus really began.
Thank you for reading along, stay tuned next week and i’ll begin with the aftermath of Nick’s passing.
Please keep sharing, liking and commenting, I love knowing your thoughts and how it leaves you feeling.
If it makes you grateful for all you have or makes you act a little kinder towards others, please let me know!