The other day, I was coming out of my house to run an errand and I ran into a neighbor. I don’t know her well, but she and her husband are always friendly. The day we moved into our house, they brought over a bottle of wine. When a hurricane struck DC soon thereafter, her husband came out and helped Shawn as he dug a trench so that our basement wouldn’t flood. We always waved at them when we’d see them on the street, and they thought our young kids were adorable.
When Shawn died, they left a very sweet note on the front porch. Apparently, they had noticed us coming and going from the house, and that Shawn appeared to be very ill, but of course they didn’t know that things were as bad as they were.
“Thanks for your sweet note,” I said to my neighbor.
“Of course,” she said. “We are so sorry.”
I thanked her, and then she asked what had happened. I told her that Shawn had been sick with a mysterious illness in the fall, but that he hadn’t been diagnosed with colon cancer until December 1st. (In fact, the photo with this post was taken the day before he first went to the hospital with intense stomach pain. He just managed to power through it until then.)
He died less than 6 weeks later.
She was very surprised, and it showed on her face. But then she said to me, “well, I guess it’s better that it was fast.”
I froze. Somehow, I managed to choke out, “yes, for the kids, I suppose…” and quickly said goodbye. I got in my car and drove as fast as I could away from my neighbor.
She meant well. I know she did. But it upset me so much that I was choking back sobs.
It definitely wasn’t “better that it was fast.” I’m not saying that I wanted Shawn to be suffering longer on this earth, but he had so many good days after his diagnosis. Yes, he was very sick, especially the week before he died, but he was totally coherent until his last hours. The day before he died, Monday January 8th, we spent the early morning making videos for the kids and just talking about our lives. We met with the two other executives at his think-tank who told us they were setting up an education fund for our kids. Our dearest friends came over at lunch, and we all joked with each other. Our oldest friends came over for dinner, and though he was going downhill, we still reminisced about living in Japan and other fun times.
And he told me that he loved me. Of course, he’d said it many times before, but that morning, before everyone showed up, he looked at me with a deep intensity and told me that he loved me. That he’d always loved me. Always.
There were other things we said to each other. Other things that don’t need to go on this blog. But that conversation – well, I have that seared into my memory. Forever.
By the next day, he was more out of this world than he was in it. The doctors had told us the Saturday before that he had “weeks, not months.” It turned out he only had 4 days. We used those days to talk about everything – a lifetime of conversations in just a few days. And yet there were still so many things we didn’t get to say to each other, so many questions I wish I had asked him that just didn’t occur to me in the few days we had together at the end.
His parents and both of his sisters managed to make it down from Canada to say goodbye, but they didn’t get any extra time with him. The many people I had scheduled to come and visit later in the week instead only came to his funeral.
And the kids didn’t really get to say goodbye. They did, of course, hug him and tell him about their day on Monday, but I didn’t know it would be the last time they’d see their dad.
Was it better that he got to spend the last year of his life celebrating his 40th birthday and going to concerts and helping start a company and playing with his kids? Absolutely. But do I wish I had more time with him? Do I wish I could get another day – just one more – when we could be with our kids and each other and say all the things I wish I had been able to say?
What I wouldn’t give for one more day.
I know my neighbor meant well, but no, it wasn’t “better.”
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.