Terry Arnold was diagnosed with a right inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) in August 2007 and a left contralateral tumor soon after. She had weeks of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and eventually a double mastectomy. She completed treatment in June 2008 and has been an IBC ambassador and advocate since.
It was like someone slapped me.
A simple post on Facebook, "I'm in a relationship, yes, I am dating again!" I shook my head, as if I could clear the words from my mind, re-read the post and it would make sense. It didn't change anything.
The post read the same, but now, was followed by happy tidings for the future. Why was I so upset? Why was this so personal to me?
The poster's wife of many years had passed away due to inflammatory breast cancer three months ago. Too soon to date? Not too soon to date? Not even casual dating, but a "relationship."
I wasn't judging, just stunned.
Just like cancer comes without rules, life post-cancer is confusing. And everyone has an opinion, a suggestion and a horror story, sometimes all rolled into one.
What's a surviving spouse to do? There are no clear-cut answers, and it's common to hear after a long and happy marriage, the "surviving" spouse finds this new state of singleness as unnatural as the day is long.
Time to heal
I'm living with a fatal cancer currently at bay. I've told my adult children that if the cancer returns and overcomes, to be supportive of their father if and when he chooses to date.
After 32 years of marriage, he's used to living in the community that married life offers. I've explained to them that he'll be ready before they're ready. Even though they've just lost me, and will have experienced a deep sense of loss prior to my death, he'll have experienced something different, a sort of pre-death loss.
When one is ill for a period of time, as rich as that time can be, the marriage does change. Mixed in the blessings are losses that only someone walking that path can relate to.
I have also told my husband that if and when he wants to date, to wait. Wait a little longer than he might feel ready -- to give our children time to be ready, too.
Their loss, although significant, is different. They're not alone and won't feel the same type of emptiness as him. Their lives will have different distractions, demands and responsibilities that will naturally remove their focus from loss. But for him, he would be living in that void.
A little time will make it easier for our family to heal, and time to grieve is important. To process loss is important, because pain post-death seems to come out in layers or more like waves, like your heart can't give it all out at once and not just be broken forever. Then, as he moves forward, although I will always be with him, I can be a memory and not a shadow.
I tell myself that I'm stunned and worried that my friend is moving too fast and could be hurt.
A little more time to process would be good. But if I was honest, I would have to say that I'm being forced to mourn myself.
As much as I would not wish my husband to be alone, I mourn the losses that we have been forced to live with in my illness. Mourn the loss of us growing old together, after what is now 32 years of marriage. Mourn being with him, for his final days, as the sun sets on a long life.
What the future holds for us only heaven knows, so give love today, as tomorrows are precious and fleeting.