Tomorrow is a year since Dawn lost her battle with melanoma, leaving behind me and two wonderful boys, a business, friends who miss her every day, and a family that would give anything to have her back. She was just 39 years old.
From the day of her diagnosis, she preached the use of sunscreen and checking your skin. She implored strangers to stay away from the tanning bed, but they rarely listened. It couldn’t happen to them, they’d tell you. It couldn’t happen to us, either, but it did. It didn’t faze them. She told so many people that I’d be willing to bet that at least one of them has since been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer, and maybe they’re remembering that woman who told them to stay away from tanning beds. Maybe they’re telling a stranger now. I sure hope so.
I’ve told Dawn’s story several times here, and I invite you to go back and find some of the posts about her struggle. She really was an amazing woman in the most difficult time of her life, never once giving up on her fight; never once thinking she was going to lose. She smiled every day and she took in visitors whenever they wanted to see her, and she never wanted them to leave. “Even if I fall asleep,” she’d say, “I’d rather have them here than anywhere else.”
The thing I miss most is her touch. The way she’d run her fingers through my hair as I laid on her lap after a tough day. She would almost always fall asleep if I asked this of her in bed, and that became a running joke. She also picked on me incessantly, with that shit-eating grin accompanying her ribbing of me. If I did something stupid, she’d give me that deadpan “really?” look. But it’s her touch I miss most. Her hugs. She’d hold me when things were rough, and for the last 18 months, things were rough for me, too. She didn’t let me hide behind being the strong one or the caregiver. She knew this disease was almost as much mine as it was hers. Thing is, she’s done with it now. I’m still suffering from what melanoma takes away.
I’ve cried oceans of tears in the past year, and in many ways I’m worse now than I was then. A year ago the future held that she wouldn’t be here, and I’d be responsible for everything with the kids, the house, and everything else. I was aware of probably 10% of what that meant, and besides the tangible things like keeping our lives going, there was a storm waiting for me in the form of social interaction. I was going to fall in love again, and I wasn’t going to be able to stop that from happening.
I’ve found comfort in the huge number of new friends I’ve made over the past year, who help me along my way when my best friends, the ones who have always been here, can’t be there. We all have lives, but I’ve rarely felt nobody was there. I’m incredibly lucky for that. I’ve gotten too close with a few in that time, but that’s been part of my growth as a widower as well. I have regrets and wish I’d done things differently, but who wouldn’t? This new life of mine has been full of mistakes, but I move on and try and go to sleep at night and hope I wake up the next day, and I do it all over again. I’m often lost and lonely and miserable, but the clock keeps ticking. Someday I won’t hear that ticking and I’ll be back in a good place. I’ll keep trying different paths until the right one comes along.
What gets me out of bed every morning is a promise I made to Dawn in her last days. I was keeping the house so we could stay close to friends, I was going to continue pushing the boys to be the best men they could be, I was going to take over the business and keep it on the path she wanted all along. But mostly, I was going to live with no regrets over her leaving. We left nothing unsaid. We were lucky enough to have time to make our peace with our lives and our marriage, and this disease. She blessed my future in any way that made me happy, and I don’t know that I would even be here without that gift.
I’m still feeling my way through the dark with almost every aspect of my life. I have a wonderful therapist who doesn’t speak ill of my mistakes, but rather, she takes me where I am and guides me along the way to peace and happiness. I have friends who let me hide in hotels with my tears, understanding that I just can’t be with them that night. I live in a town that knows my story, and while I’ve spoken ill of that curse, as it were, I’m touched by the closeness of the community as they come together for one of their own.
Mostly, though, it’s all of you who shepherd me through. There are too many to name, for I’d surely forget a few who deserve to be named as much as anyone else. But there’s always someone around the corner holding a light for me, and they do as Dawn did – pick me up when I need to be picked up, or sit down in the dumps with me until I’m ready to climb back up. My boys and I cannot even remotely express the amount of gratitude we have for all of you, but we send an unending supply of virtual hugs and kisses to each and every one of you, for you have kept us breathing.
As time goes on, I’m sure the pain will be replaced bit by bit with loving memories. There’s not enough room in my head or my heart for all of it yet, but I’m making room. I’ve still got a lot to tackle in this, but every day is a new opportunity. I’ll surely phone some of those days in, and maybe even stay in bed all day, but they keep coming and I keep trying to make them work for me. I can’t touch her, or feel her, or talk with her, or kiss her, but she’s here. She’s happy with my progress, I can just feel it. I’ve questioned my direction a couple times but I’ve made adjustments. Perhaps that was just her turning my shoulders in a different direction.
I love Dawn very much, even to this day, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate and accept that of me. I look at her smile every day and marvel at how she was able to wear it in those times. She truly is my hero, and is easily the most courageous, strongest, bravest person I’ll ever know. I just wish she was here so I could tell her that.
I love you, baby.