What Grief Could Not Steal
By Becky L McCoy
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time thinking about all of the things I was willing to put up with in life. I figured that I was stubborn enough to figure out how to manage almost any situation, but I dreaded the thought of being left to raise young children on my own. I made God aware of my preferences, but then didn’t spend much time thinking about it since being widowed with young kids seemed improbable.
Keith and I got married two months after I graduated, and we spent the next four years in graduate school, working our first jobs, and living all over the country. I got pregnant, and we were excited for this next step in our journey together. Elation turned to worry when my dad was diagnosed with liposarcoma (a cancer of fat cells which has no cure) half way through my pregnancy. I spent a month on the East Coast with my parents before heading back to Las Vegas, where Keith was doing residency with the Air Force. While I decorated the baby’s nursery, I hoped, begged, and prayed for my dad to get better or at least to be able to meet his first grandkid.
My dad passed away eight hours after Caleb was born. I spent the next year angry, depressed, and unwilling to admit how much I was hurting. I was angry that my dad was gone, that my son wouldn’t have his guidance, and that I wouldn’t have my dad around for all of the milestones yet to come. I battled resentment that life’s joyful seasons didn’t seem to be joyful for me: Keith had fought cancer during our engagement, and now we were grieving through another time that should be special.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was terrified that someone else would get sick and die. I knew it was silly to think that my being pregnant might be the cause of someone’s terminal illness, but pregnancy has never been known to make a woman more rational. Keith understood my fears and reassured me that he wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
Life turned upside down when I was five and a half months pregnant, and Keith started getting night sweats. He woke up each morning covered in sweat, as if he’d been swimming the night before. It took two months to get a diagnosis, but the week before Christmas he received a diagnosis that wasn’t good: adenocarcinoma. The most hopeful prognosis we could find was one to two years with an aggressive chemo and the accompanying side effects.
We decided to wait until after Christmas to start chemo and began the first of many difficult, tearful conversations. It was important to make some decisions now, so that when Keith was gone, I would have the freedom to put our plan into motion. I didn’t want to start from scratch and having to make decisions on my own when I wouldn’t be thinking clearly anyways. We were living just outside of Washington, D.C. and our family was in Connecticut. Where would the kids and I live after Keith was gone? Would I have to work or would the death benefits from the Air Force be enough? We talked about what life would look like for me as a young, single mom with little ones, and my heart dropped. The one life situation I never wanted to deal with was coming true: I was about to be a young, widowed mom.
On New Year’s Eve, after seeing patients for the morning, Keith almost passed out on the way to his own appointment. He was admitted to the hospital for what we thought was overnight observation of his oxygen levels. Over the next five days, his health deteriorated significantly, and on January 5, 2015, Keith died, just six days shy of 33. I felt like I wore a huge sign everywhere that said, “the pregnant widow.”
The month between Keith’s death and Libby’s birth were some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. How could God let me be alone and pregnant? How on earth was I going to raise a two year old and a newborn on my own? Feelings of anger, disappointment, and bewilderment don’t even begin to cover the range of emotions I was feeling.
And then Libby was born. I felt like the world was spinning way too fast as I walked into the birth wing of the hospital with my mom, not my husband, as my birth partner. I had to explain to the anesthesiologist that my tears were not out of fear of a spinal, but of disbelief that I could be living through a birth under hellish circumstances once again.
When I think back to those first days and months with Libby, I remember how happy she made everyone. She brought light and joy to each person that walked into our house. Even now, she’s always got a silly face and a giggle and I can feel myself calm down whenever she’s near by. Just as her brother was after my dad died, Libby has been my therapy baby through an intensely difficult year.
When we face loss, doubts, and indecision, it’s easy to feel hopeless and forget what it means to truly feel alive, but my children have made it impossible for me to get lost in the darkness of grief. I’m thankful for their smiles, their snuggles, and our new house that’s close to the beach because when I take a deep breath, I can feel the life in me that my grief couldn’t steal.