The fact of the matter is, I’m a 37 year old widower. By most standards, it’s quite unique. I wasn’t married to someone in a high-risk career. Megan wasn’t in her seventies, hell, she barely made it into her thirties. Statistically, I’m much more likely to be divorced than widowed at my age.
The fact of the matter is, Cystic Fibrosis is a brutal disease. It’s filled with ups and downs that last a lifetime. Emergency room trips and months-long inpatient stays, immediately followed by “feeling good” and leading a normal life for awhile. One can never plan their lives out more than a few months in advance. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The fact of the matter is, I understood all of this very early on in Megan and I’s relationship. I knew she would have to be admitted to the hospital for, at a minimum, two weeks at a time, multiple times per year. I was completely aware that birthdays, holidays, vacations and other events would be a crap shoot from time to time, not knowing if she would be blowing out candles or coughing up blood.
The fact of the matter is, I proposed to her in her hospital room. Three years after meeting, I understood that there was no sense in waiting for the “right moment” to come. The hospital was almost home for her, and thusly, it became almost home for me as well. It didn’t shock me to think about, and it still doesn’t. I loved the woman, and I wanted to marry her…who cares where I asked her?
The fact of the matter is, after eight months of planning and preparing for the wedding, her brother died in front of our eyes…three days before our wedding. Still, I had no cold feet. She needed me to keep the ball rolling with the impending marriage while she sorted her own grief out. Our first trip after our wedding day was not a honeymoon, but a return to the same church for his funeral.
The fact of the matter is that we kept moving forward together, fully aware of not the consequences, but of the time we had. There were never consequences. We could hope for lung transplants or major treatment breakthroughs, but we operated together under the assumption that neither would come. There was almost no emotion about illness or death, as if it was just another chore or responsibility. Hospital stays were no different than oil changes in our car, and about as frequent.
The fact of the matter is, we decided to have a child without fear. We knew the likelihood of Shelby not reaching adulthood with a mother was high. It may sound cruel or thoughtless to consciously bring a child into the world with that knowledge, but ultimately, the world would be a better place with Shelby in it. Megan spent over a month in the hospital after Shelby’s birth, with me bringing her home after a week or so. It was excruciating for Megan, but she was still beyond happy nonetheless.
The fact of the matter is, Shelby watched her mother be taken out on a stretcher when she was only three years old. Megan had one collapsed lung and another taking on fluid. Shelby didn’t understand the actual medical diagnosis…only that “Mommy was sick”. It was all she needed. I knew what it truly meant, and I simply went into the mode I had spent so many years polishing. Work, hospital, Shelby, eat, sleep, and repeat. Megan could be dead the next day, but life couldn’t stop because of it.
The fact of the matter is, Megan lucked out and received a double lung transplant within a week. She had some significant recovery to go through, but she would be in a state of “guarded health” after coming home. There were all of the anti-rejection medications and monthly exams. There would be restrictions placed on certain activities (she didn’t like roller coasters anyway). Ultimately though, life would become easier. More laid back. More time for Megan and I to spend with Shelby as a family. All the while, we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The fact of the matter is, the other shoe dropped, three years later, in 2014. Rejection began. 11 months after the first signs, Megan was dead. I was asked by the team at the hospital to make the decision. She would not be receiving another transplant. Even if they had a donor match, her body was too weak to survive the surgery. Much like the previous twelve years, I had to simply face the facts, and move forward with the agreed-upon plan of action. Yes, it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, and yes, I still cannot stand to think about it without breaking down, but it is was it is.
The fact of the matter is, I am not a “victim”. I am not a “survivor”. I hate those terms when they are applied to me. I marched through all of the muck and uncertainty because I loved this woman. I regret nothing about any of my decisions to devote my heart to this woman, all the while knowing that she’d be dead before I got my first gray hair. Of course, I did everything I could do to help prolong that inevitability, but I never truly expected some miracle. I wasn’t asking for it, but I certainly wasn’t surprised by any of it.
The fact of the matter is, much like our time together, there were bigger, more important responsibilities to attend to after her death. I could not sit and wallow for long as a “widower”, or it would become the norm. It had nothing to do with dating or big changes, and everything to do with continuing on as if it had never happened. Shelby was still in school, I still had a job and mortgage and lights to keep on. I had grieved her death at a low level for 12 years, and when the bill came due, I had already paid it forward.
The fact of the matter is, none of it mattered. I would do it all over again, in fact, there is nothing I would change about it.
However you want to describe it, the fact of the matter is that I loved a woman that loved me until the day that she died, which is more than many people can say.