Last Kiss: Janice, Joe and a story of someday
"Someday" is a word spoken with hope and wistfulness. It often found its way into conversations my husband, Joe, and I had around the dinner table.
Every night, we ate off our everyday plates, saving the china for someday special.
"Someday," we often said, "we will take that cruise that we have dreamed of. We'll do it after the kids finish school and after the mortgage is paid off."
With an apology in his voice, Joe would explain: "Someday, I won't have to work such long hours and we'll have more time to do the things we enjoy. When I retire, we'll get a little place, an A-frame cottage by a lake. We'll watch the sun rise and the sun set. There will be more time then, lots of time."
Someday was enough for us. After all, we were still relatively young. We could be patient.
Right before the holidays in December 2016, Joe said he wasn't feeling well. Suddenly, he couldn't swallow. He was hungry, very hungry, but he couldn't eat. After a few tests, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
On New Year's Eve, our son and his family came over. Everyone put on black and silver New Year's hats and attempted to be festive. They knew something was wrong, so Joe told them his diagnosis. He thought that even if he couldn't be cured, he could live with his illness.
Joe's best treatment option was a serious operation known as esophagectomy. The plan was to remove the bottom of his esophagus and connect the remainder to his stomach. After treatment with chemo and radiation, he was supposed to have the surgery in March.
Sadly, the surgeon discovered his cancer had spread. Joe was no longer a candidate for surgery. Ever optimistic, Joe accepted another course of painful chemotherapy and radiation so he could get better.
Joe was strong, but the cancer was stronger, as determined to spread as Joe was to recover. One course of treatment followed another. Unfailingly, Joe was brave. He was stoic, continued to work and commuted more than an hour each way. I tried to get him to eat, but he couldn't. Over the course of a few months, he lost 80 pounds. Throughout the spring, we both held out for someday, which seemed farther away than ever.
Suddenly spring became summer, and a celebratory Father's Day beckoned -- a sliver of happiness we needed. Joe wanted our family to go to a resort in Wisconsin for the weekend. By his decree, our whole family was to go -- no excuses, no time conflicts, no prior commitments would be accepted.
Soon after arriving, we sat on the balcony and watched a lovely bride glide down the cobblestone path at the resort. Although she was a stranger, we toasted to her happiness and our own.
We were together. It was enough. Anyone who was old enough had a taste of champagne. Joe had ice water. Shortly after, we went down to the hotel dining room. The food was delicious, and Joe was able to eat a little tomato soup.
On this special golden night, I took a group photo. Joe said he wanted to go upstairs and rest while I paid the bill.
Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the lobby. Loud cries … people running … a scene forever frozen and etched in memory.
Joe had collapsed. Our son and daughter-in-law, former paramedics, worked feverishly on his chest. Even though they got him to breathe, he died three days later after more suffering than anyone should have to endure.
His bout with esophageal cancer ended on June 20, 2017, six months after the date of his initial diagnosis, six months into our 38th year of marriage.
Even though I knew Joe was sick, I had always held to the hope that "somedays" were still a possibility. He was so adamant that he wanted to live. Surely, the doctors, Joe and God would find a way.
The day after Joe died, his oncologist called. He shared that Joe faced his illness, with its many heart-shattering setbacks and disappointments, with grace and courage. I realize that doctors are schooled in what to say, but his words were heartfelt and true.
I have always believed in God and in His wisdom. Like others who have lost loved ones, I do not understand the reason for Joe's suffering. He was a good, hardworking man, and he died before so many of his dreams were realized.
I mourn the somedays that will never be; I regret the days I had with Joe that I did not treasure as much as I should have; I grieve over the many words I should have said but never did.
I am sorry for my children, who have lost a loving father; I feel sorrow that my precious grandson may not remember his caring granddad.
Every day, I miss my husband, and I wish that I were not so very much alone.
I falter at the difficult lessons that I am learning about new widowhood; my learning curve seems insurmountable at times. I want to be useful, and I want to be strong -- not for myself, but because I know that is how Joe would be if our roles were reversed.
People tell me that I need to let myself grieve and that each person's grief is unique. They say that healing is possible one day, but only achievable by facing the grief. Deep within, I know they are right.
I wrote this story of my husband's passing not only for people who have lost a spouse, but also for those who still have their loved ones.
The message is simple and sincere: Hold your loved ones close today because someday is a fleeting dream -- not a guarantee.
Do the things that bring you joy today. Buy the brightest, shiniest New Year's hats you can find and celebrate -- truly celebrate -- the blessings as well as the challenges of the year.
Use your best dishes and be your best self every day. Right now, love the most deeply and with the most passion and most gratitude you can muster. Today is all we have.
THE LAST KISS SERIES
■ Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.
■ Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.
■ Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story
■ Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: The Love Story.
■ Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story
■ Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story
■ Dennis & Maggie: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story
■ Dennis & Maggie: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.
■ Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.
■ Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story
■ Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story
■ Ted & Donna A widower's plan to count his blessing at times of deepest grief A Straight From the Source story
■ Fred & Beverly: Unique and Devastating Loss (by Wifeless) A Straight From the Source story
■ Last Kiss Epilogue: Some widows heal from grief by healing others
■ Ken & Michele: A widower's story of a loving couple's life A Straight From the Source story
For more on the series, please click here.