I stayed in the hospital with my children for seven hours the evening he died. We said goodbye again and went home for dinner, not knowing what lay ahead. About forty-five minutes later we got the call that our beloved partner and papa had died. My children and I wailed. I said from deep inside, "This is the hardest part." We held each other. We brushed our teeth while wailing and headed back to the hospital to join my partner's family who never left his side. Our daughter chose to spend the night with a cousin, our son chose to stay to participate in our Buddhist chanting ritual, our baby travels everywhere on my hip. When I saw my husband without breath, I went to him, touched him, told him how much I loved him. My son climbed into his daddy's bed under the covers, holding him around the middle, showering his body with love. He said, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my papa you'll be." It was so beautiful and so awful. I hugged those around us. Then I fled the room, wanting to be alone. I sat alone and cried and cried. My sister-in-law followed me. All I could say was, "I am so f@#$%&g angry cancer did this to my husband, to my family." It felt good to say it over and over, as a true expression of what I felt in that moment. I'm still angry, though I let it come out in different ways now.
I returned to my partner's body's side. His family and I chanted over his body for four hours with Buddhist monks, then sat and talked around him for four more hours. We told stories of my partner as a child, as a dad, as a brother and son. We laughed, we cried, we were quiet together. Then we headed home for the night. Cousins followed us home as guards for myself and our two sleeping children. They stood at the garage door in the middle of the night as we said goodbye. These cousins still have our backs in so many ways.
My two children and I returned to the hospital with an aunt and uncles the next morning to clean my partner's body. His cornea have been donated to bring sight to others. Nothing else could be donated because of the extent the cancer had impacted his body.
Cousins, siblings, our children, and a friend joined us for my partner's cremation. We viewed his body, contributed things to the cardboard coffin (In & Out Burger bag with drawings of favorite foods, workout outfit, University of Washington clothing, letters and drawings, etc.), and said goodbye in our own individual ways. My daughter didn't want to see him like this. My son did. "He looks worse than I thought he would," he told his aunt and uncle. This was very hard. After the viewing, he was taken to the cremation room. We again said goodbye, then walked by his side as he was moved into the machine. His children, siblings, and I pushed the buttons necessary to start the cremation process.
A week later we placed the large urn with his ashes under his parents' pictures in our prayer room. His sister had ashes sealed permanently into a beautiful purple necklace, purple to show love for her brother and his love for the University of Washington. My children and I now each have our own little urns of ashes. These parts of our beloved partner/papa can travel with us wherever we go. This may be a bit morbid, all of it, perhaps. These little things help us to come to terms with the awful ending to our favorite man in the entire universe. These mementos help us hold him here with us in our hearts and memories.
I continue to say goodbye to the man who was tortured by and died of lung cancer. That was easier to do that what lies ahead. Now as I come to terms with the large loss our family has experienced, I again see the man I feel in love with, the man I talked into marrying me, the man I loved and held for 18 years, for most of my adult years. The man who joyfully fathered and raised his adored children. The man who was there for us when we wanted him and needed him. When I go back to seeing my partner as the man he was before his diagnosis and treatments, that has been the hardest part for me. Harder than speaking about how deeply I love him to a room full of our favorite people. Harder than letting his body be cremated. Saying goodbye to my healthy, extraordinary partner has brought my biggest pain.
I continue to very intentionally focus on the beauty in my life, the gifts in my life as a result of being with my partner. Our children are our biggest blessings, the three (out of four) biggest loves of my life. I search for the silver lining, the miracles, the touching moments we shared. The pain accompanies these thoughts, dragging behind like a dark shadow. There is nothing to fill the hole left by the loss of someone so beloved in our lives. I yowl like a wounded puppy, I sob, I sing, I talk with others, I take walks and create routines, I gather with those who loved him, I find quiet, I cuddle my children. The only way through this grief is straight through. There are no shortcuts here.
I miss my partner. I miss my children having their daddy here. I miss his voice. I miss holding his hand. I miss him saying, "my beautiful wife." Nothing will change that. Each day feels harder and easier in different ways. I can pay the bills on my own now, though I yearn to see him more. As I experience my sadness, my immune system echoes these emotions. My children and I will get through this immense loss, one little step/breath/moment at a time. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. We hold each other, practice our patience, humor, and determination.
I love my life. I love this life I get to share with my children and my extended in-laws. I love this world we get to create together. I love finding the silver lining together. I love naps, rest, reprieve. I love togetherness and togethering and letting it flow in and out, expressing it as it comes, as long as it does not wound others. I trust this journey. I trust myself on this journey. I am so very thankful for this moment in which I get to share what flows through me. I am thankful for taking the next step into my life, hand-in-hand with these beautiful little and big people. I am thankful to get to share it with you. What a life. What gifts.