Approaching the Natural End of a Marriage

January 9, 2014
 Navigating the uncharted waters of  cancer and marriage.

Last month, Renee, my webmaster, wrote a note explaining why I wasn’t able to post anything until my turned-upside-down-life settled down a bit. Things are still unsettled. However, I have decided to take a stab at writing again, because I hope that writing will help give me the perspective I need to move through this period of my life.

“This period” is a phase of life that happens at some time to all marriages in which the partners have committed to love “until death do us part.” Unless both die together, that is true whether the relationship has been long or short, fulfilling or miserable.

The parting is happening because my husband of 54 years (an anniversary celebrated on January 2) has incurable cancer.

Fortunately, as I wrote in an earlier post, we have moved into Villa Gardens in Pasadena, a retirement community whose support was tested the day after we moved in. Bob had developed pneumonia and sepsis (a blood infection) throughout his body. It was almost a month before he went from emergency room, to intensive care, to the direct observation floor, to a regular hospital room, to skilled nursing care in the facility connected to Villa Gardens, and finally back with me in our apartment.

Now he walks without walker or cane, and is even driving again, which helps both his spirit and our ability to accomplish tasks that need doing outside the apartment. However, it is only a matter of time before he will have another infection. Right now, Bob is getting blood transfusions every couple weeks, and we have no idea how long he will receive them before they no longer work to keep him alive.

It is a state of uncertainty that is particularly interesting because more than twenty-five years ago I co-founded the Wellness Community Pasadena, which is now called the Cancer Support Community. It was one of the first in a global network of local affiliates and satellite locations with the mission of providing services so that “no one needs to face cancer alone.”

While Bob is not interested in participating in a support group, I am using what I have learned in almost ten years as both board member and workshop leader with that program to get through this time with him.

What I have learned up until now doesn’t make this period of life easy, but it does make it easier. As I’ve written before — when sharing the metaphor of a friend who worked with cancer patients and was then diagnosed with her own breast cancer — studying diving and actually doing it are two very different things. You can read about the effect of wind and velocity and how to control your body when you enter the water. That is all theoretical. It is only after you have left the diving board that reality strikes you, cold and wet.

Since breast cancer is often curable, this metaphor of a pool can work, since one can exit the water from the pool’s sidess. When there is no chance of cure, it feels as though the diagnosis is more like a path we’ve been walking together that ends at a river. We are unable turn around.

The only way forward is to enter the river. Where the water goes, how many rapids we will need to get through, and how long it continues are unknowns.

Fortunately, there are friends and family standing along the banks of the river who periodically throw us life preservers that keep our heads above water as we navigate this uncharted territory.

Incidentally, you will notice that I didn’t title this “How to Face the End of a Marriage” because I don’t know how. I certainly don’t know enough to advise you on what you should do when you find yourself in a similar situation.

Furthermore, like many people, you may be uncomfortable reading about approaching death. However, if my writing can give me some perspective on the inevitable parting of a long relationship, perhaps these posts may also help you, or someone you know.

One final note: Between posts about what is happening in my life, about once a week I will have Renee tell you about earlier posts that you may not have read. Someday, hopefully before Bob dies, I will return to write posts as I have in the past.

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