One Month Ago Today You Died: How Can That Be?

I am still getting used to it.

I promised you I’d write about you, about us. This is harder to do than I thought it might be. A promise is a promise.

We had twelve amazing years together. For these, I give thanks every day. The last year was a rough one. From your diagnosis of pancreatic cancer till your death we had a mere nine months. Nine mindful months. Nine months to say goodbye. Nine months is not enough.

I believe you are now at peace. Your struggle to drink when you couldn’t bear swallowing, to eat when your favorite foods were anything but appetizing, to endure the indignities that came with not being able to walk nor even to stand on your own legs, to accept there were no more therapies available to potentially give you more life; all of these are now behind you. You gave it your best. We all did, all your supportive loved ones and your healthcare team.

I wish I could tell you now what a privilege it was to care for you through thick and thin, to be close by when you needed whatever you needed. You apologized many times for being in the state you were in, for causing us all so much trouble. That was what you needed to say. I accepted it. I also know that all the trouble, as you called it, was well worth it. Caretaking was my love poured out for you, my love expressed in the deeds of daily life. So many other ways we could no longer share.

For most of those nine months, we could walk together, you with a cane in one hand and your other hand on my shoulder to steady you. And then walking was no more.

For a long time, I prepared foods whose taste and texture you could still enjoy: jello, pureed soups, jello, French toast, jello, matzo balls, jello, mashed potatoes, and more jello. Eventually, even jello was no longer a pleasure. I was amazed how long you were able to barely sip anything of nutritional value and still hang in there.

For most of your journey through cancer, your greatest pleasure was the time you shared with our grandchildren. Whether in person, on the phone, or on Skype, your joy at having them near was clearly expressed. You became their pen pal, sending letters through the mail. They sent you their own letters and hand-drawn pictures, and you papered your visible spaces with these precious gems. You ached for the moments you would not be together in their future. It broke my heart when at last the time came when you chose not to be with them because doing so was too emotionally painful for you. You didn’t want their last memory of you to be one of your weeping at the thought of imminently parting.

It’s 4 AM. Some hours of some days are easier than others. I miss your presence, though you are with me day and night, in every precious memory. Holding you close in my heart, I am learning to accept what is: One month ago today you died.

How can that be?


Julie Nierenberg
Julie Nierenberg
Julie Saeger Nierenberg is a freelance writer and editor, lifelong educator, and artist. A proud parent and "grand-partner," Julie grew up in Northeastern Oklahoma and now lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she has worked as a freelancer since 2006. Inspired by the experience of her father’s dying and death, Julie published a short memoir about her family’s grief and loss. Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad (2013) launched a true journey of connection and transformation, as Julie reached out to share it with those who assist the dying and bereaved. It has been called a “how-to book for conscious dying” by several reviewers who work in dying and bereavement support roles. Following its publication, Julie received numerous end-of-life perspectives from others, many of which are available in Journey's End: Death, Dying and the End of Life (published in 2017) and soon to be republished by Stratton Press). Writing and publishing in this heart-led direction, Julie hopes to contribute to a cultural shift in how we prepare and support others in the final chapter of life. In recent months, she completed her training and certification in end-of-life planning using the Before I Go Solutions method. She is in the process of launching her education and pre-planning business, End-of-Life Matters, to provide online coaching for individuals, couples, and small groups. In 2018, Julie published a journal memoir about her experience discovering that she has a benign but seriously located brain tumor. It Is What It Is: Learning to Live with My Brain Tumor chronicles her journey through finding out all she could about treatment options, discerning which would be best, and then finally choosing and receiving treatment. The book has some light and funny parts despite the serious nature of the topic. Julie also enjoys editing legacy writing, fiction, and nonfiction works; she feels privileged to help other writers succeed. Her other creative pursuit is making watercolor and acrylic paintings, primarily of landscapes. She does commissioned work, such as custom portraits and favorite landscape scenes, when requested. Julie is never at a loss for something to do next.

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