We are going to Houston tomorrow just for the evening. And as I packed I realized the same suitcase I've used for our "learning to live again" vacation trips this summer is the same suitcase my husband used when he was hospitalized getting cancer treatment. There's one picture in particular I have that shows him pulling his suitcase after what we thought was his 8th and final cycle of chemo. There was so much optimism when we took that picture because his oncologists were confident that he would stay in remission.
And yet he didn't stay in remission. Just a few months after this picture was taken, the cancer returned. And in 2016 we used the suitcase so many other times with so many more hospitalizations. By the end of 2016, my husband would be hospitalized seven more times. Most of the stays were two weeks. One stay was six weeks. And with each hospital stay the bad news we received got worse and worse. This red suitcase has seen a lot over the last four years. It has witnessed us receiving the initial news of my husband's cancer diagnosis. It has witnessed the doctors telling us long periods of hospitalizations were needed. It has witnessed the pain that cancer causes a family to endure. It has witnessed tears, late night prayers, questions to God. It witnessed the joy we had over remission and the heartbreak when the doctors told us the cancer returned. It witnessed my husband becoming paralyzed and heard the doctors tell us that there was nothing else they could do. It witnessed a wife telling her two young children that their dad was going to die. And witnessed the doctors hook Mel up to life support. It witnessed the efforts of the nurses the last night of his life to give him more time. And witnessed the heartbreak I experienced when my husband took his last breath.
As I packed for our trip to Houston, I thought of the things this red suitcase witnessed when I wasn't with my husband in the hospital. It witnessed the prayers he prayed for my children and me. It witnessed him pleading with God to carry us through the darkest times if he died. It witnessed him asking God to make sure we would be okay if God called him to heaven. It witnessed the tears of a husband crying for his wife. It witnessed the tears of a father crying for his children.
I know that my husband would be so happy for these little trips we are taking because that is what he wanted.
He wanted us to live.
He wanted us to make plans for our future.
He wanted us to move forward.
He wanted us to experience happiness again.
He wanted us to create new memories.
He wanted us to smile again.
He wanted us to be okay.
He wanted great things to take place in our life.
He wanted the chapters of our life that no longer contained him to be filled with so much joy.
He knew that we would never forget him.
He knew we would be heartbroken.
He knew our life would never be the same.
If he thought we'd spend the rest of our life broken, I'm sure he would have pleaded with God to let him live, even if it was in the paralyzed state, even if it meant he battled with cancer for decades.
You never forget.
You never stop missing.
You never stop loving.
But you need learn to live again.
You need to learn to build a life without the person you thought you would grow old with you.
You need to learn who you are without them.
It is hard.
It is painful.
It doesn't make sense at times.
But it is possible.
So this red suitcase that witnessed so many tears, so many hospitalizations, so much bad news is also witnessing us refusing to let my husband's death defeat us. It is witnessing God's story for my life continue to unfold even at the moments I struggle to have hope for my future. It is witnessing us moving forward while never forgetting. It is witnessing us make memories as a family of 3 even though we wish we were still the family of 4. It is witnessing us trust that God will see us through. It is witnessing the sorrow slowly turn to joy. It is witnessing the heartache slowly getting mended. It is witnessing what can happen when you trust in God even when you don't understand. It is witnessing new chapters created for our life.
In 2016 I self-published a book When Cancer Invades Your Home. In the last chapter, I wrote about what cancer does to a family. I ended the book writing that cancer can't win. Although my husband passed away a few months after the book was published, cancer didn't win. God won. God always wins. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.