It was 2 days before their son’s 12th birthday. Joanne’s husband Andy went to lay down for a nap and never woke up. Faced with running her business and raising their two children alone, Joanne found herself experiencing many firsts. Watch her heartfelt story.
One magical moment in the summer of 1969 changed my life forever. A chance meeting. A spark. A love that was meant to be. A love that defined me. A love I will carry with me forever.
In 1964, my husband arrived as a first year teacher and basketball coach at my high school. I arrived there as an eighth grade student. No one—especially us—would have ever guessed that five years later we would fall in love and marry.
We were blessed with a son in 1976. In 1982, we moved to Las Vegas and, after a year of coaching, Vern went to work at UNLV’s sports arena. After twenty years, he retired to open the Orleans Arena. Vern was an amazing teacher, fabulous coach and inspiring mentor to many.
Vern had back issues that flared from time to time, so we weren’t initially alarmed when the pain began in 2006. However, when he got to the point where he could hardly walk, I convinced him to see a doctor. A CT scan was done but didn’t show anything, so Vern was sent to a physical therapist. And he got worse. We finally begged his primary physician to get insurance approval for an MRI. We weren’t home too long after the procedure when the doctor called and said, “My God, man, you have a tumor on your spine.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words.
We met with the surgeon early the next morning. A small room. Vern in a wheelchair, me on a stool, the doctor showing us the MRI scans. The tumor. The hot spots. Spinal compression fractures. And so many lytic lesions. Multiple myeloma. Cancer. Metastasized. Not a good prognosis.
And so it began, four plus years. Surgeries. Mistakes. Rehab. Physical therapy. Infections. GI bleeds. Pleural effusions. Pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism. Chemo. Radiation. So very many blood transfusions. Colostomy. Kidney failure. Dialysis. He went through so much. And then there was nothing more they could do to him. For him.
Vern’s final days were spent at Nathan Adelson Hospice. No more pricks and prods or waking him up for rounds. He was peaceful. I stayed with him twenty-four hours a day. And those final four days were a gift. He spoke very little the first two days and then was silent, but I have no doubt at all that he was able to hear my words.
When the death rattle arrived, I gently slid into his hospital bed, held him close and spoke to him until he slipped away.
Written by Dianne West in How to Help the Newly Bereaved. Dianne’s beloved 69-year-old husband Vern died from multiple myeloma in 2010.
I met James Cameron Mjelve in 2005 while we were both living in Edmonton. At the time he worked for a laborer’s union. We married in 2007 and had three beautiful children together, one boy and two girls. In 2009, Cameron decided to go back to university and finish his Education degree.
In 2010, Cameron was in his second year when I began to notice that he was struggling more with the course load. During Christmas break Cameron seemed different, a little off from his usual self. Perhaps a little depressed, but nothing to be overly concerned about. In January 2011, our youngest daughter was born with a disability and the stresses of life became overwhelming for Cameron. He began to struggle even more with his university courses.
On July 21, 2011, my husband committed suicide. We were both forty-two at the time and our children were three, two, and five months old.
There is much that has changed in my life from losing a spouse. Perhaps the first is that I’ve had to learn how to use the word widow when speaking about myself. That alone has been a tough adjustment. I’ve become single again and I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable in a room full of couples. I’ve had to become comfortable in a room full of widows. I’ve had to become comfortable crying in front of both those groups of people.
It has been a difficult experience, losing a spouse. I’ve had to face major decisions for myself and the children alone. At times this has been very stressful, especially when I’ve had to make decisions which impact my children’s health or our financial stability. It has been so difficult not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. Friends will always tell you they are there to help you and listen, but it’s still not the same. I miss my friend who shared everything with me.
But I have learned from my experience, and developed a stronger decision-making process. As a result, I have been able to become more confident in the decisions I make. Another way my life is different is that I simply cannot do the things I want to do. I cannot run to the store at 10 p.m., there is no one to watch the children. I cannot sleep in on a Saturday if it’s been a tough week of being up in the night with sick children. Even something so simple as taking a vacation has become a major undertaking. Not only is there no one to help me with the children, but there’s no one for me to share the experience with. Even if we as a family are on vacation and the children are enjoying themselves, who did I get to tell about my experience?
Life is lonely. I don’t have anyone to share even the small moments with. There is no spouse who laughs with you or remembers with you. There is also no one who touches you. Yes, the kids hug and climb all over me, but it’s different than the simple loving touch of a husband.
Life has been different and even difficult, for sure. But I also see it as an opportunity to grow. Although my life will never be what I had dreamed it would be, I am discovering there is a new life that I can make. It unfortunately doesn’t include my husband, but it does include my children and we take Cameron’s memory with us wherever we go. And we are learning that we can still live a life that is full of meaning and adventure, even if it wasn’t the life we originally chose. And I do feel like I have a choice. We live in a society that is very focused on couples. This is not the life that I chose, to be single at forty-two years old, but I also feel like I’m presented with a choice on how to react. I can sit and wallow in self-pity and despair over broken dreams, or I can get up and start life over again.
I will always, always remember my husband. I will always grieve his loss. I will still cry over his loss. But I will choose to keep on living and to help my children find their life as well.
Written by Julie Mjelve. Julie’s 42-year-old husband Cameron died by suicide in 2011 Read her full story in Surviving Loss of a Spouse.
Michele Neff Hernandez lost her 39-year-old husband Phil in a cycling accident in 2005. Faced with darkness and hopelessness, she set out to find out how other widows survived. This is her story.
When I started this, I promised myself I would be open and honest. My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago. We received the call one night at 2 a.m. that she had passed, and was asked to come to her apartment. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t think this through. When my wife Gloria and I walked into the apartment, there was my mom passed away on a hospital bed. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that was the way it would be, but I didn’t.
During my mom’s funeral home setting, I don’t recall seeing her in the casket. All I remember is seeing her as I entered her apartment. I talked to Gloria about it and said, “Please, I never want to be put in that situation again.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I found my wife Gloria—passed away in our bed. I cannot get that out of my head. The person I loved more than anything passed away. This sticks with me to this day.
One night when I was drinking by myself at home, I opened a bottle of liquor to go along with my beer. After finishing the bottle, I went in to our bedroom, sat on the bed, and thought about how I would never get that sight out of my head, and tried to think how I could. I came to the decision that the only way to get it out of my head was to commit suicide.
I grabbed the gun and the bullets, and then loaded the gun. I decided I didn’t have to write a note, because I would be found on the bed where my wife died and it would be self-explanatory. I thought all my kids are big enough, they all have kids, and they don’t need me anymore. Then I thought of who would find me. The one person who checks on me is my stepdaughter Alecia, and she has a key. So Alecia and Heather would be the ones who find me.
I realize that drunks aren’t smart but I was thinking, Chuck, you can’t handle finding Gloria passed away, and here you’re going to run from your problem and pass it on to the two girls.
Needless to say, I don’t really drink anymore. Alecia asked me to get the gun out of the house, and I did. I will just deal with this the best I can.
Written by Chuck Andreas. Chuck’s wife Gloria died unexpectedly from heart disease in 2014. Read his full story in Grief Diaries: Through the Eyes of Men.