dangerous grief triggers ahead

I just ate a Slim Jim and started to cry. How can eating a dried meat stick bring back painful memories? How do the most innocuous acts trigger grief and pain and sadness?

Is there anything that won’t remind me of what I’ve lost?

A few short weeks after my husband’s small cell lung cancer diagnosis, we began chemotherapy. I say “we,” although I never had toxins injected into my body. I say “we,” but I never experienced the unrelieving series of tests and scans, or having a PICC line inserted into my vein, or nausea, or injections, or blood transfusions, or radiation therapies to my lung and brain.

I say “we” because I was there, watching, enduring, trying to be supportive and strong every step of the way as the man I loved attempted, in vain, to beat an insidious foe.

What does this have to do with a Slim Jim?

When Rick and I spent hours in the infusion center during his months of chemo, I packed snacks for us to eat during the long days. For Rick: anything and everything he desired or his chemo-sensitized stomach could tolerate. For myself: low-carb treats like string cheese, almond packets, and Slim Jims.

Today, eight months after his death and more than a year since his last chemo session, I pulled out a Slim Jim for a quick snack at work. As I wrestled with the stubborn packaging, the memories came back in a rush… sitting across from him in the quiet, dimly lit room, watching as the toxic chemicals dripped into his system, staring at him for hours as he reclined under a blanket, snoring softly.

Once again, I experienced the feeling of dread, the constant emotional pain as I wondered and worried and dared to hope, and asked myself how I would live without him if the treatments didn’t work.

But then I also recalled his stoicism and his valiant attempts to alleviate my sadness as we visited the basement level of the medical center each day for his 37 lung radiation treatments: him joking and pinching or poking me every time we boarded the elevator and me chiding him and telling him we were on camera and that security would report him for abuse – then reaching to tickle him and both of us laughing and kissing.

In the midst of the most difficult days of his too-short life, he often tried to ease my suffering with laughter, and now that he’s gone, the simple act of riding in an elevator brings back those bittersweet memories, too.

An innocuous Slim Jim transported me back to those painful, yet hopeful, times. Days when we both clung to the tiny fragment of hope that Rick would live. Days that were awful, yet better than the empty days I now endure without him.

Days that I thought were the worst of my life, but that I’d live through again if I could, just to see him one more time, hold him once more, hear his voice, once again.

Yes, in an instant, opening a Slim Jim brought all those emotions back in a rush: sadness and tears, hope and longing, pain and fear, laughter and love, leaving me to wonder how I will endure a future in a world filled with so many unexpected triggers.

And knowing I have no choice.

chemo treatments
Rick horsing around while eating a Slim Jim

 

About 

On August 13, 2017, I lost the love of my life. Rick Palmer and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary one month before he died at age 63 of complications from treatments for small cell lung cancer. He was my partner and soulmate, the love I had been looking for and finally found at age 40.

Rick was a talented writer and web designer and, in 2002, we began our own web and print design business. We worked together building the business and enjoyed traveling, writing, and playing together. Our dream was to spend our golden years together doing more of the same, but in the ten months from diagnosis to death, that dream shattered.

After Rick’s death, I quickly realized that the enormity of his loss was too much for me to handle on my own, so I began grief therapy. I also began writing through my grief in a journal of feelings, thoughts, memories, and poetry. As I navigate my new life alone, I share my journey and my efforts towards creating my “new normal” on my personal blog: The Writing Widow. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.