This account of a father who's lost the love of his life reveals that it's the small moments of joy, love, and tender care that truly matter.
"The one person who knew me, understood me, loved me...
No amount of time could have prepared me for it.
I remember it all so clearly as if it was just yesterday. I was just walking back from the store after a long day when I saw her. Standing in a pale pink summer dress, it was like everything faded around me. To me, there was just her. She was beautiful - her smile made my heart flutter and her laugh made my lips curve. I didn't know it then, but she would be the one I exchanged vows with.
What I did know was that there was something special. And after three years of dating, 14 years of marriage, four adorable, naughty children, a dog, and a cat - she'd always wanted a big family - my heart still skips a beat when I remember her smile.
That was at least until a month ago. Now, just thinking of her feels like a thousand knives searing into my chest and a void that wants to devour me. It was a month ago that my world shattered as the love of my life, my darling wife was gone. She had passed on to a place that I couldn't reach. Her death brought me to my knees.
It was about a year ago that we noticed something was wrong. She was falling sick too easily and getting up in the morning got harder and harder for her. So when we got the news and that the disease was rapidly progressing, time stood still. And yet, she did her best to reassure me. As I looked into her eyes, I realized that she knew this was coming. But there was no regret, fear, pain or sadness in her eyes. The look she had was one of love and wisdom - she was well aware that the end was closer than either of us had thought. She told me to give her a bit of space because she knew that both of us needed it. After two hours to digest it all, she finally called me back in.
I remember what she told me. She said, "Hon, let's go back home." Then she paused and I could hear the catch in her voice before she said, "I want to be with our family and live as if we have a ton of time in the world. I want to be able to run around with our kids, take our dog for a walk, laugh as the kids play with the cat, sit on the beach with you. I want to do everything... before it's too late."
For the first time in decades, all the pain in my heart turned into tears and I couldn't hold them in. I sobbed harder as she listed out everything she wanted to do before her time was up. I was at war with myself. One part of me wanted to make everything she wanted come true. But the other part of me that was drowning in sorrow wanted to scream and believe that it was all a bad dream.
That evening, as we made our way back home, both of us were silent, lost in our own thoughts. My sister and our cousin had helped move our stuff to the ground floor bedroom so that she wouldn't tire herself out using the stairs. "But what about the breeze and view from our balcony?" she asked and so we moved everything back to the room on the top floor. She didn't want to miss a moment of life and there was no way we were going to say no.
The last 20 days of her life revealed things that I wish I had figured out earlier. I was making coffee when her laughter had me turning to watch. She was giggling away with our teenage kids. How had I not seen these moments before? Why had I let work keep me from this?
As we were getting ready for bed, I heard her singing slightly off-tune. But it was the most beautiful voice I had heard and I grabbed my phone to record it. Then it hit me... she only sang like this when she was at peace. Why had I never bothered to learn the name so that I could have cheered her up with it?
Whenever she cooked, she had the habit of taking in the aroma, and when she smiled, we knew it was going to be a good meal. It was something she had done as a kid, as she liked to tell me.
Later, as I watched her strike a pose with the kids for a selfie, it struck me that these good days were so numbered. It was only a matter of time before my world would come to a crashing halt.
Then on one school night, the kids were snuggled in bed early. So we took a stroll on our lane in silence. Suddenly, I felt the need to grab her hand, so I did and entwined our fingers. I wasn't ready for her to go - my true love and the mother of my children. Her hand was weak and trembled slightly. I knew she was pushing herself to walk. Still, she didn't say anything as she stared straight ahead. It was the look she usually gave before we had a serious discussion.
I knew there was so much she wanted to say but couldn't bring herself to. At that moment, I kicked myself for all the times that I could have wiped out her pain but did nothing. We always made up after our fights but there were times I let my pride get in the way. I wished I could've erased it and it struck me that I needed to say something to her. If I didn't say it now, I knew I would regret it.
I stopped her and she was a bit surprised. I looked into her eyes and said, "I'm sorry." I could see the confusion. "I'm sorry for every time I hurt you or blamed you for something that was never your fault. You deserve far better. I want you to see how I see you - a beautiful, kind, funny, loving, intelligent, and compassionate woman. You are the only one who has made me feel like myself and no one has ever made me happier. I'm proud of you. But most of all - I love you with every fiber of my being."
I saw the tears fall for the first time since we got the news of her tumor. Instantly, I knew that they were of joy, love and yearning. I should've told her this long back. I assumed she knew, but hearing it isn't the same. I mentally kicked myself for not having done it earlier. Wrapping my arms around her, we stood like that for a while in the night breeze and a moonless sky.
And then it was a couple of days before she needed to be admitted into the hospital when I said, "We need to talk." She looked at me and my words came out in a rush. "I am not ready to let you go. I just can't. Being one second without you is devastating enough, and to imagine you never being there..." As I trailed off, she had tears falling down her cheeks again. This time, she wept, loudly.
It hit me that she had been bottling up her pain for our sake. She was giving up her family, her life, her children, her love. Telling the children had been her personal nightmare. Now, there was only one place for it to all to go - her tears. I was so lucky to have met her and to have had such a brave, kind woman stand by me.
Finally, I had no choice but to say goodbye. I'd like to think that we were able to grant her her last wish - to have her family by her side as she finally let the pain fade away.
And as I waded through the days after her passing, I realized, the last 20 days I spent with my wife gave me new insight into how precious and short life is. A few meaningful words, a couple of loving gazes, a single piece of news... Everything has the power to make or break your heart.
Not a day goes by that I think that I would trade all those late nights at office for more time with her. Or that given a chance, I would look into her eyes as she speaks, really listen to her unsaid feelings and hold her when she needs it. Just a few extra moments to show her I loved her, tell her I loved her.
That last week, as she lay in the hospital bed, I was more attentive to her than I ever was before. I knew I was too late but I wanted things to remember her by. Her fragrance - the soap she'd been using since we were dating. The odd freckles on her nose. I memorized every contour of her face. I waited for her to call out my name, so damn scared it would be the last time.
Sobs, laughs, confusion, resentment, guilt, pain, and love. All of it meshed together but she was never afraid to share her feelings - she was real. And as she left, our children and I were desperately heartbroken, but we knew we were loved and we felt blessed to have had her in our loves at all.
To those who were lucky enough to find a good woman to be by your side, take care of her now. Let her know how you truly feel. Take in everything about her. Because life really is short and all too often, we men take our loved ones for granted. Let your owman know how loved and cherished she is, before it's too late.
Trust me, if I were given a second chance, I would do everything so differently, just to make my wife happy, anything to hear my beautiful partner break into a laugh..."