Six years later, I still sometimes sit on the edge of my bed shaking my head in disbelief and thinking to myself or saying aloud: "This just can't be. It didn't really happen. Neal can't really be gone - dead." (I use the dirty "d" word to reinforce it - lest I forget and lapse back into deluding myself that at any minute, he's going to appear around the corner with that impish grin on his face.)
Six years later, I think of my cousin, Mindy who died four years ago of lung cancer at age 51 and how I have an insatiable urge to call Neal and say "Neal, you'll never believe who else died!"
Six years later, there are still things that come up - whether in the news or with the family - that only Neal would appreciate or be tickled by - and for a split moment, I want to pick up the phone and call him.
Six years later, when I'm in the supermarket and see a cantaloupe display, I think of him because that was his favorite fruit.
Six years later, I still feel queasy when I walk into a doctor's office - where the stark walls, exam tables and tongue depressors still trigger memories of the countless hours spent in doctors offices and hospitals searching for a diagnosis, and once receiving it (angiosarcoma, a rare, aggressive blood vessel cancer) enduring rounds of radiation and chemotherapy - and seeing looks of pity in all our oncologists' eyes.
Six years later and I still occasionally second guess myself and wonder what I could have done, better, faster or smarter in my frantic quest to save his life - even though I knew from having spent the midnight hours scouring the Internet that in almost every case, angiosarcoma is terminal.
Six years later and I still sometimes feel that twinge in the pit of my stomach reminding me of those days of anguish.
Six years later, I also think how pleased Neal would be to know that I've become a better dancer!
Six years later, I think how proud he would be that our niece has become an aspiring singer/songwriter, our nephew is studying biochemistry and another niece is getting married.
Six years later, I think what joy and comfort he would take in knowing that I moved from Connecticut to Maryland, have a lovely apartment, have made supportive, new friends, live just minutes from family, and gained back the 10 lbs I lost during my two years as a caregiver.
Six years later, life is far from idyllic, but it's far better than it was one, two or three years later...
Six years later, I rarely visit those Facebook support groups I used to visit nightly to commisserate with fellow widowed travelers from coast to coast and around the world.
Six years later, I feel privileged to have had the time I did with such a kind, witty, smart and honorable man.
Six year later makes a difference. It will for you, too. Give it time.
By: Leann Sherman, MSW, LGSW