This is a work of creative nonfiction. The events are portrayed to the best of Justine’s memory. While all the stories in this book are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
This story is not an attack. It was written with the intention that it will hopefully be used as a tool in preventing others from having to encounter what I did. I am not trained in any specific areas of psychology or bereavement counseling. The stories in this book are the experiences I had in dealing with individuals and their reactive behavior following my husband’s death.
The day my husband was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, my life became a photograph, a distorted picture that I was forced to look at every day. An image that stayed the same, capturing a moment in time, a moment that changed everything.
Seasons passed, birthdays and holidays, but the disease remained, hanging on a branch right in front of my face like a rotten piece of fruit I wanted to pick and throw away. My husband’s diagnosis became our life, overcrowding our marriage and squeezing everything else out.
In order to completely describe the turbulence that my husband’s cancer caused I have to revert back to the beginning.
It’s important to realize that different personalities, age, and how one conducts their daily life play a major role in how one might handle a diagnosis such as this.
In movies and books it’s often portrayed as a sort of renewal for the relationship, the spouses uniting as a strong force, preparing for battle. I quickly learned that this is a misconception. Reality had smacked me square in the face and the sting has been painful ever since, a sort of lingering anguish.
This is my first memoir. My craft of choice is fiction romance. I have published fourteen novellas through several e book companies.
When my husband got sick, because of his personality and how he managed the other components in his life, his diagnosis only brought us closer for a short period of time, a sort of stunned desperation that had us clinging to one another, but then soon after, it tore us apart. As the leukemia corroded my husband's bone marrow, it also poisoned our marriage.
Because Mike wasn’t what the doctors referred to as symptomatic, I think that worked to his disadvantage, aiding him to never really accept the illness for what it was. His acknowledgement of the disease wouldn’t come until ten months later, and by then his prognosis and our marriage were drifting into dangerous territory.
Chapter 1 -The Bridge
Mike and I are 16 years apart in age. I met him when I was 31 years old. He was 47 and had never been married. I had been recently divorced for about six months. I ended my first marriage due to excessive instability and irresponsibility on my previous husband’s part.
When Mike came along I welcomed his hard-working, responsible ethics. My husband is structured and very dedicated to his routines as well as a hard worker, having worked in the Laborers’ Local 593 construction union for 32 years.
As our relationship progressed I soon learned that he did not like change. Due to our difference in age, he was more rooted and settled. At that time Mike had no qualms with things staying as they were for the rest of his life, and as our years together passed, things indeed did stay the same.
I myself had always found contentment in routine, but can credit myself with being more flexible when the outside world demanded it. As we both got older, the bridge between our ages became more apparent.
Recalling certain things from my childhood often led to a running joke that we referred to as “The Bridge.” I would ask him things such as if he remembered Mr. Rogers and explain that he was a childhood icon from the late sixties. Mike would laugh and tell me that he was in the Marine Corps at that time.
The year I was born he was a sophomore in high school. I remember him saying to me, “If someone put you in my arms when you were an infant and told me that I would one day marry you, I’d laugh in their face.”
Our first nine years together were rather routine, but mostly pleasant. We had our ups and downs like any other couple. As Mike got older I realized he was getting tired. I was excited for him when he began contemplating putting in for his retirement.
Because of Mike’s fear of change, he began to waver over his decision. After almost a year of encouraging him, he finally decided to put in for his pension. After all, he was 61 and had been doing heavy, physical work for 32 years. I worried that his body would break down before he was able to enjoy his retirement.
In November of 2011 he got laid off, which was a normal occurrence through the winter season. While he was collecting unemployment, we began planning to submit his papers for his pension and roll over his annuity.
In late March of 2012 Mike was doing some yard work outside. The next morning he was digging at his back and asked me to take a look. I found a tick embedded in his back. The tick was dead when I pulled it out. The next morning he had a large ring around the site. Like any wife, I suggested he go to the doctor’s. Of course this was met with a heated debate, but Mike relented and went to see our family doctor.
The doctor ordered a lab test. Within three days he was called back in. I was worried that he’d contracted Lyme disease. Mike called me at work after his appointment and left a message on my voicemail.
I’ve listened to many stories from older people, telling me that they’ve never forgotten where they were when President Kennedy was shot. I’ll never forget where I was when The Challenger exploded. I’ll also never forget where I was when I listened to my husband’s message saying his red and white blood cell counts were dangerously low, and our doctor ordered him to see a hematologist as soon as possible.