In November 2016, a few days after arriving at Benefis Peace Hospice in Great Falls, Montana, my wonderful husband, Doug, became confused and agitated.  He’d been living with penile cancer for thirteen months and was near the end of a very painful journey, yet until that evening he had maintained his usual jovial demeanor.  I quickly pressed the call button and then reassured him until the nurse arrived, thankful to be among competent and loving caregivers at such a scary moment.  

When Doug and I married it meant a lot to him that I take his last name, and so I did it to please him even though I had finally found peace in being myself, Annie Barron.  I’d been married and divorced before, and also had changed my name to make my childhood nickname, “Annie”, become my legal first name (Public Service Announcement: please, for the sanity of kids everywhere, if you are going to call your children by nicknames, put those nicknames on their birth certificates...I thank you). Five name changes later, I now anticipate name change number six, which I am determined will be my last.

What’s in a name?  Identity, belonging, acceptance, community…confusion, isolation, disorientation, longing…a name is a declaration of personal qualities and a pronunciation of membership to an exclusive group called “family.”

Today is my birthday.  It also is the eighth month-i-versary of the day my beloved took his last breath.  If you've been following our journey, you know that Doug and I wondered and talked about self-love very often after he lost his penis to cancer.  Doug wondered whether he was enough - for me, for the world - and I wondered what it would take for both of us to embrace our new reality.

We believed that self-love was essential and, both of us being writers, we wanted to find an adjective that conveyed not only the relief that self-love would bring, but also the struggle that would be required if we were going to overcome the painful, negative, fearful thoughts that ran amok in our minds. We decided that nothing short of Absolute Self-Love would get us through, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.

PicturePhoto Credit: Pixabay.com
Guest Blog:  Losing a spouse at any point in life can seem unbearable, but for seniors who have been with their spouse for decades, it can be unfathomable.  During this time, it is essential to do everything you can to keep yourself healthy - it really is possible, even though it might not seem like it right now. Below are three proven tips that will help. 

In the four and a half months since my beloved Doug died, I have begun to heal, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  Unwillingly at first, I've begun to weave myself together as a new person, knowing very well that my experience as "Annie" will never be exactly as it was before.  

This selfie shows me that light is returning to my eyes, and although I would drop everything and run into Doug's arms if he suddenly appeared, I now, once again, recognize my light, the light that exists as Annie, despite everything.

Every day I allow myself plenty of room to feel and express my honest emotions, and I also repeatedly focus my attention on the best of what was, to help me move forward.  Today I want to publicly give attention to the best of Doug's medical team, the wonderful caregivers at Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Montana, USA, people who cared for Doug - and me - not only clinically but also emotionally and communally.  

Just before moving into in-patient hospice care Doug surprised me one morning with a love letter he'd written for me.  A couple of days later he read the letter aloud so I could record this video. I am so glad we did that!  Hearing my beloved's voice and seeing the love in his eyes reminds me of how truly adored I felt, every single day of our life together.  

As you know from my other posts and my communication book, I believe in the benefits of focusing on positive thoughts and not giving a fear permanent home in our heads.  I’ve put in overtime practicing this during the past year while my husband Doug has been sick with penile cancer, but holy moly, when it comes to money I struggle! 

Last week, Doug and I faced the reality that he could no longer work.  His cancer treatments and complications had taken a toll on his body and mind and it just wasn’t realistic to expect him to focus on complicated IT work and heal at the same time.  Once we’d made the decision for him to take an extended leave from work he sank into his recliner, closed his eyes and said, “I actually have hope now.”  

I was certain it was the right decision but I also felt twinges of panic deep in my belly, wondering how we’d make it without his income.  The next day I helped Doug complete applications for various benefits, like long-term disability, and wracked my brain searching for additional resources that I might be forgetting.  I held myself together, more or less, for a few days...until…a man at Social Security told me that there was a five-month waiting period and Doug had earned too much for any of his year-long illness to count toward that.  That’s when Annie lost it. 

“My husband is in our car outside. He’s bleeding and I need a wheel chair.”  To the registration staff my voice may have sounded clear and calm, but inside I was screaming, Somebody do something, now!

The young woman at the registration desk quickly handed me a piece of paper and said, “Sign this.  We’ve already filled it out for you so you can bring your husband right in.  There’s a wheel chair right behind you.  Do you need help?”  Thank God for Benefis Health System, I thought.  I had called them not more than 10 minutes before arriving in their emergency department, and here they were, jam packed with patients and also ready for us.