In November 2016, a few days after arriving at Benefis Peace Hospice in Great Falls, Montana, my wonderful husband, Doug, became confused and agitated. He’d been living with penile cancer for thirteen months and was near the end of a very painful journey, yet until that evening he had maintained his usual jovial demeanor. I quickly pressed the call button and then reassured him until the nurse arrived, thankful to be among competent and loving caregivers at such a scary moment.
When Doug and I married it meant a lot to him that I take his last name, and so I did it to please him even though I had finally found peace in being myself, Annie Barron. I’d been married and divorced before, and also had changed my name to make my childhood nickname, “Annie”, become my legal first name (Public Service Announcement: please, for the sanity of kids everywhere, if you are going to call your children by nicknames, put those nicknames on their birth certificates...I thank you). Five name changes later, I now anticipate name change number six, which I am determined will be my last.
What’s in a name? Identity, belonging, acceptance, community…confusion, isolation, disorientation, longing…a name is a declaration of personal qualities and a pronunciation of membership to an exclusive group called “family.”
Today is my birthday. It also is the eighth month-i-versary of the day my beloved took his last breath. If you've been following our journey, you know that Doug and I wondered and talked about self-love very often after he lost his penis to cancer. Doug wondered whether he was enough - for me, for the world - and I wondered what it would take for both of us to embrace our new reality.
We believed that self-love was essential and, both of us being writers, we wanted to find an adjective that conveyed not only the relief that self-love would bring, but also the struggle that would be required if we were going to overcome the painful, negative, fearful thoughts that ran amok in our minds. We decided that nothing short of Absolute Self-Love would get us through, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.
Guest Blog: Losing a spouse at any point in life can seem unbearable, but for seniors who have been with their spouse for decades, it can be unfathomable. During this time, it is essential to do everything you can to keep yourself healthy - it really is possible, even though it might not seem like it right now. Below are three proven tips that will help.
In the four and a half months since my beloved Doug died, I have begun to heal, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Unwillingly at first, I've begun to weave myself together as a new person, knowing very well that my experience as "Annie" will never be exactly as it was before.
This selfie shows me that light is returning to my eyes, and although I would drop everything and run into Doug's arms if he suddenly appeared, I now, once again, recognize my light, the light that exists as Annie, despite everything.
Every day I allow myself plenty of room to feel and express my honest emotions, and I also repeatedly focus my attention on the best of what was, to help me move forward. Today I want to publicly give attention to the best of Doug's medical team, the wonderful caregivers at Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Montana, USA, people who cared for Doug - and me - not only clinically but also emotionally and communally.
Just before moving into in-patient hospice care Doug surprised me one morning with a love letter he'd written for me. A couple of days later he read the letter aloud so I could record this video. I am so glad we did that! Hearing my beloved's voice and seeing the love in his eyes reminds me of how truly adored I felt, every single day of our life together.
Each time I share a post about my grief process, I receive well-meaning comments encouraging me to trust that Doug is with me, is proud of me or is okay. The thing is, I already “know” that. Very often I can sense Doug’s nearness and I’ve received messages from him, which I cherish.
What feels the most painful to me in this moment is not my mind’s understanding of where or how Doug is, but rather something that I don’t think most people talk about, or maybe even think about – it is my body’s experience of loss, the profound absence of my body’s favorite companion.
“Stop it!”… “Stop it!” Those are the last words I heard my beloved say.
Even though he was receiving a steady and very high dose of Dilauded through his pain pump, the day before he died Doug awoke in a panic about every 90 minutes, grabbing wildly for the pump so he could get an extra dose. And even though the extra dose was immediately dispensed, it was too slow to protect Doug from the intense pain that the ever-growing cancer inflicted throughout his body, from his thighs all the way up to his chin.
I am so grateful to myself for opening up to unlimited love, first toward myself, then with Doug, and now with a community I never thought existed; one I can relax into and bond with and trust and, eventually, play with. I choose to believe I will eventually be okay. Because not only am I surrounded by Doug's unlimited love, we are both exquisitely embraced by the unlimited love of our community of friends, coworkers, family and healers. Cancer might be beating Doug's body, but Unlimited Love can never be beaten.
"You two really love each other!" ~ says someone nearly every day, whether Doug and I are shopping at an outlet mall, walking hand-in-hand to our car, smooching in the corridor at work, or visiting with his hospice nurse. And it's true; we really, really love each other. And now he's really, really dying.
How can those last two sentences be in the same paragraph, in the same life, in my life?