Back to the Future

It’s been four years.  Four times, the earth has orbited the sun in full since Megan’s death.  That seems like an eternity, and yet at times, it also feels like it was yesterday.  It’s still “fresh”, yet also “routine”.

If I could have foretold the future, four-and-a-half years ago, a few days before she died, it wouldn’t have changed anything, really.  I would just know what to expect. I can reflect on it now, however. I can write to myself, 1,700 days later, telling my past not what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to.

So, here goes.


It’s me!  Or rather, you!  Guess what? Doc did it!  88 miles per hour in a Delorean, and I got to play the part of Marty McFly and jump four years ahead!  So let me tell you a few things.

I know you’ve been sitting in this godforsaken hospital now for six months.  You’ve driven the hour commute up there, after picking up Shelby and working all day, 13 out of 14 days now like clockwork.  She’s had her ups, and her downs, but neither you, or her, have given up hope for that call stating that they’ve found a donor.

It’s good that you’ve monitored her meds and her vital stats and her food intake.  She needs you to do that for her, because with all that cocktail of drugs going into her, she isn’t exactly able to pay much attention.  Somebody has to be her voice, and let’s be honest, you really are the best person to do that at this juncture.

It’s even better that you’ve made every effort to have Shelby by her side through all of this.  She really needs her there. You’ve seen it. You know how when you first walk in, she’s usually asleep, mouth agape, slurring her words like a zombie, but when she feels Shelby’s hand touch her, she wakes up and lights up?  That’s what is most important to her.

Just so you know though, she’s gonna die.  It sucks to say it, but it will be so much easier on you to know it now, rather than 24 hours before it happens.  She isn’t going to suddenly “go” though. It’s gonna be a decline into unconsciousness for almost a week before the doctors come to you and ask you to make the call.

Make the call.

It’s going to be the toughest thing you will EVER have to decide.  You’re going to feel conflicted beyond belief. You’ll hesitate, asking for 24 more hours just to see if anything improves with her vitals.  It’s fine, you’ve earned that right, but it’s not going to change the situation. There isn’t going to be some miracle cure found, and she definitely ain’t gonna be up and doing cartwheels in a few hours.  But, either way, you deserve to make the decision yourself, rather than having a doctor do it for you.

Still though, remember what Megan wanted.  Remember how clear headed you both were when you talked about it.  She didn’t want to be like this, with no hope of a transplant. She didn’t want Shelby seeing her this way.  She didn’t want to be a vegetable.

So, stop staring at that monitor screen.  Shift your hope from hoping she gets better to hoping you can get through this, for both you, and Shelby’s sake.  Wipe the snot off of your face, dry your eyes, grit your teeth, and call for the doctor.

Tell them.  Tell them you yourself have given up hope of her getting better.  There isn’t any shame in that statement. Tell them how you’ve sat with her for 48 hours, watching every vital sign and noting every nurse visit.  How you’ve watched for any sign of lucidity, and found none. Make sure they know that you aren’t just making the decision on a whim, but that you’re being realistic.  It WILL help you come to terms with it yourself in these coming days, just knowing that the doctors don’t feel you “killed your wife”.

Tell them “it’s time”.

That’s all you’ll be able to do man.  Once you say those words, fate is sealed.  Call both of your parents and get the word out.  Call her friends. Let everyone know that this is it.  Don’t you dare post it on facebook or text people...CALL them.  

When it truly is time...observe your surroundings.  Take note of the stupid coffee and donut cart they wheel in for the grieving family to munch on while their loved one dies, like it’s an ice cream social or something.  It’ll give you a small glimmer of humor about it, looking back, and you’ll need that. Let Shelby say her goodbye, above anyone else, and let her make her own decision about if she wants to be present for the actual event.  She won’t want to, by the way, and that’s something to hang your hat on...raising her to be aware enough that it would probably be pretty traumatic to watch.

Once you watch her die...go home.  That’s it. Just take Shelby, go the fuck home, and cry.  Don’t immediately start planning her funeral or even worry about cleaning the house or doing anything even remotely “responsible”.  You’ve already been responsible enough for today, and you deserve to just sit there and cry, goddammit. The next morning, cry some more, but muster up the slightest bit of adulthood, and call the funeral home.  You’ve been around the block a few times, so, deep down in your consciousness, you know that you can take care of it.

Once you get the meeting arranged, cry some more.

The next day, you’ll have to leave the house and go take care of all that.  You got this. You know exactly what she wanted, right down to the Captain America shirt she wanted to wear for her cremation.  This shouldn’t be a hard decision for you, considering the decision you had to make a few days ago.

It will be, for some reason, but you’ll make the right one, so just keep telling yourself that.

Go home and cry some more.

Look, the next few years is going to suck.  But just the same, there is going to be some really, really good things happen too.  You’re gonna go through periods of guilt, shame, sadness, remorse, loneliness, and confusion.  You’re also going to have bouts of pride, accomplishment, happiness, nostalgia, love, and unbelievable clarity.  I can’t tell you when things are going to shift more towards the “good” side of things, but just believe me, they will eventually.

As for now, I am the only person that can tell you this, because I AM you, and I am the only person that has experienced your exact situation.  Don’t lend any credence to anyone else telling you it will get better or that you’re doing something wrong. Pay no mind to people trying to give you instructions on how to grieve or move forward.  They don’t get to do that.

Mostly though, buck up a little and be proud of yourself.  You’re about to go through some really, really tough shit. Tougher than anything you experienced in your youth or twenties.  Cry all you want, but keep that little glimmer of pride smoldering in the background, because you deserve to know that you’re going to do what is right, no matter how much you’re going to try to convince yourself otherwise.

See you in a few years man.



Showing 7 reactions

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  • Vartan Agnerian
    commented 2019-01-13 15:44:40 -0800
    Though I’m at the stage of " guilt’ shame’ sadness’ remorse’ loneliness’ confusion "and daily weeping and crying profoundly’ somehow your emotionally packed grief experience ’ from a “back to the future” point of view had a calming effect ….
    I recently transitioned to widowhood’ becoming a non couple after 44 years of a committed and loving marriage’ losing my husband due to last stage Parkinson’ followed by paralization and aspiration pneumonia .
    These posts of shared grief experiences have become my daily therapy’ since in my circle of friends and relatives’ nobody can relate to the upheavals of this strange reality of my new status of a widow …

  • Matthew Kells
    commented 2018-12-21 16:54:35 -0800
    I need to get to where you are, but I know it will take some time. For me it’s barely 2 months and it’s Christmas so I have a ways to go. Good on you and the letter. Thankfully, I have a boatload of letters that she wrote me, to reflect and remember. All I have now is recent……,looking back, nothing but work, go to the hospital, rally her bring her home, nurse her, lie to ourselves that “we’re doing it” “we’re going to beat this” ……I couldn’t, I tried, but what was I thinking? I was told to prepare. Nothing can prepare you for the worst experience that never seems to end…..30 years of marriage to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met…. I’m lucky, I had it all…..Cancer is insidious….sigh
  • Karen Prager
    followed this page 2018-12-17 04:37:52 -0800
  • Susan Weiss
    commented 2018-12-15 18:21:54 -0800
    Those conversations we have with our loved ones…that was the hardest talk I have ever had in my life. How do you want to laid to rest? Do you want a service? I thought my heart was going to break. The last thing my beloved said to me was stay strong, I am so proud of you. My grief is at the cellular level, always there in background. I feel it even when my every thought of him has gone to maybe every other one. My heart goes out to you and yours.
  • Linda Poehler
    commented 2018-12-15 17:11:41 -0800
    Im 10 months in and the holidays are coming. Every single day since he died I have moments when I say “I can’t get through this” “I can’t live a life without you.” And yet here I am…so I must be able to. Im still at the point where I beg to go back and change things, full well knowing I can’t save him. I just hope some time in the future I have the clarity to look back and see things how they really were.
  • Kirk Kaiser
    commented 2018-12-13 15:04:37 -0800
    It’s been 6 months and 4 days since I made that same momentous decision to call it. This hits home. We had some of the difficult conversations during her relatively short illness but nothing prepared me for that moment. Thanks for sharing. I hope to, one day, be where you are.
  • Marissa Hutton
    commented 2018-12-12 06:59:30 -0800
    Wow! I need to write a back to the future letter to myself because this is awesome! I’m crying while I’m reading this but realizing how far I’ve come in the six years since my husband breathed his last as esophagus cancer robbed him of his life.