It’s been three years ago that you died. Roughly 1,095 days without you. There have been so many times I’ve just wanted to talk to you, to tell you all the things. I don’t want this to be a sad letter though. So consider it an ‘update’ to you instead. Maybe others who have lost someone will be inspired to write their ‘updates’ too.
Three years ago in late November, just before Thanksgiving, Cancer stole you from us. Part of me is still surprised you are really gone. I thought you were going to beat it. I remember seeing you in those recliners at the chemo treatments, or hooked up to a feeding tube solution and I thought to myself, “just a couple more times and he’ll be done with all of it… pretty soon he won’t have to do this anymore.” Some people are lucky and do come out to see the other side. But that just wasn’t the plan for you. I used to think Cancer won because you died. As if this was all a game and Cancer was the victor.
But not anymore.
You always wanted to make sure we’d be ok, the kids and me. You got everything in order, all the beneficiary information on every policy, all the business details in order, the loose ends tied up. While you were fighting to live and hoping for even a year more, deep down you knew that the inevitable gross truth was nearing ever closer each day. I nearly fell to my knees crying when you told me I’d probably find love again someday. That you just wanted me to be happy and you wanted someone to love our kids. I didn’t want to see myself with anyone else. I didn’t want to start over again. But I look back now and see how right you were at all of it.
During the past few years, the kids and I have done quite a bit and seen so much. We moved – twice. The first time was to leave the house that reminded me daily of the promise we had of being there forever together. Of what I had lost there. It was too hard to stay. Then the world was hit not long after with a pandemic and lockdowns and some craziness involving toilet paper. It was sad to think about how hard it would have been if you were still alive, being so sick and having a compromised immune system while trying to steer clear of a deadly virus. It wouldn’t have been good. But the quarantine-in-the-cold thing awakened something in me. I figured out that life was way too short to be somewhere you don’t really want to be anymore. I was fortunate enough (mostly because of you) to seek out a dream I’ve had for a long time– to move West where it’s warm and beautiful all year round. We always talked about moving somewhere like that when we were older. So despite the self doubt and the heartbreaking thought of leaving “you” behind, I packed up and left your hometown in the bluegrass of Kentucky after 20 years and landed here in the desert of Arizona to start anew. I think often about how I remember you telling me years ago that you originally wanted to go to the University of Arizona before you ever got accepted at Notre Dame. You would have liked it here, I tell myself.
I’ve been seeing a therapist. You used to tell me that I needed to go but I always refused. So much I’ve figured out about myself that probably would have helped us during those many marital struggles we weathered. She often asks what will make me happy. That’s the million dollar question I guess because having you back is obviously off the table. But I think the answer is being a better mom. The mom you probably knew I could be but I was always too selfish, preoccupied and stubborn to work at being. I fail many days at it, but I’m trying.
We are trying to see new places and experience different things. We went to the Grand Canyon our first week here. It was magnificent. It’s probably the closest thing to “church” I’ll ever experience with the kids. I thought about how you went there as a boy, when you were the same age as our son. I remember how you told me you wanted to take the kids on a road trip West someday to see it too. You always knew I am a horrible traveler, I’m not as good a planner as you were and I’m kinda terrible at camping and outdoor stuff – the thought of a road trip alone with them frightens me; but I am trying. I attempt a balance between doing things you’d want to do with our kids and just surviving and being present another day with them. I actually took our son ATV trail riding in the desert the other day. This is quite laughable, I know, because I don’t really do four-wheel off road machines and near death activities off mountainsides. Or helmets either. But we laughed and raced and had a great time, just him and me. I told him his daddy would have loved to do exactly this with him but I’m happy I was instead.
Our son is 13 now, a teenager. I remember when he was a baby, thinking what a foreign thought it was, to have a teen someday. I never worried though because I always knew I’d have you to help me when that time came. So here I am figuring out a teen boy by myself. He is reserved and quiet and especially smart and driven. He’s just like you. The school sent home a message wanting to test him for giftedness. I smiled through tears because I knew that would have made you so proud. I was scared for him this year when he had to start fresh at a new school and make new friends but seems to be doing ok. He said there was a boy next to him in gym class who was friendly and talked to him, a boy named Caden, who made him feel welcome. Just a couple weeks ago, a news story ran about a domestic dispute where a mother and her 13-year-old son were found dead and the father killed in a standout with police. My heart sank when our son told me it was Caden. We prayed to you right then, that somehow you’d find him, you’d hold him close and thank him for me, for the short but impactful offering of kindness he gave our son. I hope you heard my plea that day.
Your daughter, our first twin— you know the one — the difficult half that kept us up so many sleepless nights, cranky and squawking at the top of her tiny lungs; well she is now the strongest 10-year-old anyone’s ever seen. She just ran for student council at a brand new school where she didn’t know anyone and she won. And she’s an athlete too. Her gymnastics coach was so impressed at her roundoff backhandspring tuck and how she’s sailing through all the tumbling milestones for her group. She’s fearless and mighty and I know you’d be so proud of her. Her twin, “your twin”—the sensitive one who is blonde like you, left handed like you, quirky like you—is sweet and sensitive and so creative. Her compassion and heart is all you. You would be proud of her too. She is a constant reminder of you and always will be.
Our baby is not a baby anymore. The ‘oops’ child we really weren’t meant to have but could never have done without is now 8. This child is not one for studying or routines, or fitting into a mold. She needs patience— of which I have none. There are times I’m begging the heavens above for some of your grace to deal with this one. She gets away with everything and knows it. This child’s goofiness is off the charts. Whenever she’s making us laugh, I tell her, “I wish your daddy was here to see how funny you are.” I wish you could see how awesome she is, how awesome all your kids have become in these short three years.
I’ve been seeing someone for over a year now. I don’t know what will happen between us, whether it’s to be a lasting friendship or just a meaningful passing by of someone at this time in my life. But I can say that I honestly love and care for this man very much. He’s too smart, too driven, too patient and just too good to be true to be with me— but then again you were too. And I only know him because I lost you, but I’m happy I know him. The best thing about him is that he adores our children. He genuinely knows and cares about each one of our kids. And I think that would make you happy.
Some days are hard (I don’t listen to country music anymore and I probably never will) but at three years out, we have more good days than bad. We smile, have fun, laugh. Sure, we cry and yell a bit too, but who doesn’t? We talk about you and look at pictures and video of you. You are constantly present with us still. I see you in our kids every day.
Cancer didn’t win three years ago. It changed us, strengthened us. It enlightened us to see what is important. We keep going. We’re still living and loving despite what it took from us. Helmets are on. We continue to barrel through this life knowing you’d be proud of us wherever our adventures take us. We miss you immensely but everything’s in order and we’re doing ok. Just as you hoped.
Andrea Remke is a widowed mother of four children. Her husband Matthew died in 2017 after a battle with tongue cancer that spread to lung cancer. She is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. Follow her at www.andrearemke.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/