My wife Lynn died of cancer in 1995 when she was 49. She was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer; she had surgery and it went well. Three years later, she was diagnosed with unrelated lung cancer that killed her. Coincidentally, she was the Clinical Director at Alive Hospice at the time and very familiar with cancer, death and grieving.
I hear a lot of stories about cancer, but the thing that made our cancer story unique was Lynn’s refusal to err on the side of hope. She insisted on erring on the side of reality. She knew it was unlikely she’d survive – and so our family lived like that for the last couple of years… Lynn and I had been married for 23 years and we had 15-, 17- and 19-year-old kids. We told them she was going to die. Doing so made it possible for Lynn – and our entire family – to grieve during her last year of life. I believe it’s important to allow loved ones to grieve before they die. And, while our kids grew up fast because of what they experienced, they are great. They’re fun loving. They all went to college. They’ve all married and had children.
And Lynn had a wonderful last year. She dressed every day and did laundry and such. She remained in book clubs and kept her garden. In fact, about a month before she died, there was a story in the Tennessean about Lynn and her garden… It was a big, front-page story about how a woman was going to die, but kept her garden… She was in good shape all but the last week, when she went into a coma. She died July 29, 1995.
I got involved with Gilda’s Club not long after losing my wife. I was a man on a mission and have been leading support groups and helping Gilda’s with occasional special events for more than 20 years at this point. Much of what I do focuses on bereavement, which is something I didn’t know much about until Lynn’s diagnosis – but I learned a lot from her and want to help people learn to deal with the anger they’re often feeling. There’s something about being in a group with others who are in the same boat…where you don’t have to pretend. I tell people all the time: I don’t have all the answers, but we’re all in this together, so let’s see how we can get through it together.