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Redefining Strength for the Trauma Sufferer
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How I Remember

A plan for remembering your loved one when times get tough.
PUBLISHED May 10, 2017
Diana M. Martin has been an adjunct professor in The Writing and Reading Center at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD, for over 10 years. She has a MFA in Creative Nonfiction and has published articles in the areas of parenting, health and cultural arts. When her husband lost his battle with cancer of unknown primary, later identified as bile duct cancer, she became the sole caregiver for their adult son, Alex, who is autistic.
I felt the smoothness of the turquoise pendant on my neck. Its teardrop surface flat, ingrained with the grey lines of his ashes. I looked at what was left in the bag, placed it back into the box, and closed the lid. The ashes of my husband fit nicely. Tight. In a few weeks, they would be sent down the James River on the "south side of the bridge" where he used to fish as a boy. I would toss them in just when a bullhead arched out of the water. 

Memories like this stay with me. I chose to honor my husband who died in 2015 from Cancer of Unknown Primary (CUP), later diagnosed as bile duct cancer, by inviting friends and family to a musical based on the Garden of Eden. Dan was a religious man. Very Catholic and conservative. I thought this suited him. He would have also been 27 years sober this April. I chose to speak about him at a 12-step meeting and make a donation to a local chapter. I don't wear the pendant with his ashes as much now. Nor do I wear the wedding rings I so loved (except on occassions when I want to feel close to him).

I remember Dan by making an effort to stay connected. Some of my dear friends are widows and widowers. We have an unspoken bond. There was a woman I met in a cancer support group whose husband has stage 4 melanoma. He received experimental treatment and is thriving as a result of immunotherapy and targeted therapy for a mutation. She says she can't imagine what I've gone through, and although her husband is alive, I know what it's like to see the train coming and not know if it's going to speed up or slow down. We haven't lost our bond even though cancer has taken us to different places in our lives. I have a friend who recently got a clean bill of health after receiving treatment for throat cancer from HPV. Some of us got together and paid a bill for him anonymously. When I imagine him receiving the "paid in full" invoice, my heart is full and a light is ignited in my eyes.

I remember my husband by taking care of myself. Yesterday, I took a golf lesson and managed not to hit any of the geese who roam the course because it used to be their natural habitat. I've lost some weight. I've also taken salsa classes that turned out not to be the best idea for my knees. I'm still learning how to have fun on my own, without him.

I remember Dan by honoring my committment to take care of our son, Alex, who is 23 and autistic. Soon he will be living in a group home. Letting go of him seems like another loss. I don't know if this is the right decision. I know that if something happens to me, he will need to be cared for. Doing this now rather in an emergency situation seems like the right decision. If you agree Dan, send me a sign.

I've stopped asking why this happened and started dealing with what happened. It is not easy. Sometimes I cope is by listening to Christian music. Hillary Scott is one of my favorite artists. She sings "Thy Will Be Done," a song whose lyrics are: "I'm so confused. I know I heard you [God] loud and clear. So I followed through. Somehow I ended up here. I don't wanna think. I may never understand that my broken heart is a part of your plan. When I try to pray, all I've got is hurt and these four words, Thy Will Be Done."

She goes on to sing that she knows God hears her and sees her. I have come to believe that this is true for myself. During the rough times, I repeat "Thy Will Be Done" over and over again with the Serenity Prayer.

In the last meeting of our bereavement group one of the leaders played "3 Things," by Jason Mraz. It goes like this: "There are three things I do when my life falls apart. Number one I cry my eyes out and I dry up my heart ... Oh, the second thing I do is I close both of my eyes and say my thank-yous to each and every moment of my life ... The third thing I do now when my world caves in, Is I pause, I take a breath, and bow and I let that chapter end ... And I try, try, try, try, try again." So simple, yet profound.

I also listen to Danny Gokey's lyrics from the song "Tell Your Heart To Beat Again" which are: "You're shattered like you've never been before. The life you knew in a thousand pieces on the floor. And words fall short in times like these ... Tell your heart to beat again. Close your eyes and breathe it in. Let the shadows fall away. Step into the light of grace. Yesterday's a closing door. You don't live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you've been and tell your heart to beat again." He sings this in memory of his wife who died from a heart condition.

Words do fall short in times like these. If I sit still and quiet my mind, I think I hear something. A slow beat: thump, thump, thump. I've made it through another day.
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