Moving My Story Beyond Me
For nearly five years, I’ve wanted to write about the journey I shared with my late husband, fighting the Glioblastoma.
In the last months of Jim’s life, I imagined writing about the cancer journey. I knew inside of me: it was a story I had to tell.
Five years later, I’m finally in a place where I’m truly ready to commit to writing a memoir.
One reason it took me so long to get here is that I needed time, perspective, and distance from the events of my life, to understand what my story is all about.
I needed to move beyond the specifics of my situation to get the bigger picture.
On one level, my story is about the cancer journey with Jim. It’s about our relationship and life together, living with and fighting against the brain cancer, especially during the last 15 months of his life.
But, on a higher level, it’s so much more
My story is about the universal human struggle to face, and ultimately accept, a painful and terrifying reality: the person you love is going to die.
It’s about loss and grief before your loved one dies. It’s about facing the impending death of someone you care about.
That’s the central idea behind my story.
The main conflict, the driving force that will turn the various events of my life into an actual story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Tough questions with no easy answers
To help me better understand what it means to experience this universal human struggle, I came up with a list of big picture questions.
They’re from my perspective, as someone who was once the spouse and primary caregiver to a young man who had brain cancer.
How do you cope with the emotional turmoil of knowing that the person you love has a terminal illness, such as cancer?
How do you emotionally deal with the painful and terrifying reality that your loved one will likely die from the illness at some unknown point in the future, especially as that future gets closer?
How do you go on living day-to-day, knowing that you cannot stop it from happening? How do you learn to live with the reality of death? Can you ever really learn to do so?
When do you stop fighting? Should you stop fighting? Is there a point when fighting is no longer the best strategy? Does stopping the fight imply you’re giving up?
- How do you cope with the fear, uncertainty, and sense of powerlessness that comes from sharing your loved one with a terminal illness? And, at the same time, be strong for your loved one who has the illness and struggles to face his/her own mortality?
These are tough questions. No one can tell you how to respond to them. They’re the kind of questions you have to go inward to answer for yourself.
There are no right or wrong answers. Nor are there any easy answers.
If, or when, that day comes, each of us will have to find our own – that work for us, our loved one, and our personal situation.
For years, I wrestled with these questions
In my mid-20s to my mid-30s, I went on a cancer journey with my first love, a journey I never imagined he and I would share – certainly, not at such a young age.
While many of our peers fell in love, got married, started families, and focused on a future together, Jim and I shared our life with a Glioblastoma. No matter where he was on the cancer journey, the reality of death always loomed in the background. Until, one day, it stopped looming and took Jim away.
These questions reflect my inner struggle to come to terms with a reality that I did not want to accept. In fact, during the last 15 months of Jim’s life, I fought hard against accepting his impending death. It was my worst nightmare.
During that time, I had to find my own way of responding to the questions.
I don’t have any easy answers. But I do have a story. I have a perspective and an understanding that comes from having lived through this journey. Having faced these questions head on.
That is what I seek to share.
What it’s all about
The desire to share my story has never been about telling the world what I went through for the sake of telling it. Even if my circumstances were unusual for me, I’m not the first person to lose a loved one, through a terminal illness or in any other way.
It’s a common human experience to face the death of someone you love. As frightening as it can be, as difficult as it can be, it’s a part of life – for all of us.
It’s that universal human experience that I want to tap into, to connect to our common humanity.
At the deepest level, that is the reason why I need to write my story.
My primary creative drive is to explore and understand the larger meaning behind the specific events of my life. To create a story that delves into, and tries to answer, the big picture questions.
To write about one woman’s inner struggle to face her worst nightmare. To emotionally accept that reality. And to let go of her fears and be there for her loved one at the end of his life – for him.
When sharing my story, I do not assume to speak for others who have lost a loved one. Yet I do hope to touch a chord in those who have experienced this universal human struggle, even if the personal details of our experiences are different.
It’s that human connection that will make my story more than just about me.
That will move it beyond me.
That will give it a larger meaning.
That will make it a work of art.
For me, as a writer, that’s what it’s all about.
* Photo credit: Image from Flickr by Iain Wanless