Posted by: Rob | July 1, 2008

When Reality Sinks In

“It’s a good thing you’re task-oriented”, Shelley said to me after making the 3 hour drive from Calgary to home in July of 2006.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you made this drive after receiving the news that we did today.”, she replied.

“Oh.  But, you see, I haven’t given up yet.”

Unhappy with the performance and bed-side manner of the melanoma oncologist at the Cross, we had arranged an appointment at the Tom Baker Centre in Calgary for a second opinon.

We arrived for our appointment at the Tom Baker Centre accompanied (and aided) by Shelley’s aunt.  I was armed with a binder full of printed descriptions of alternative or new or expermental treatments for melanoma, hoping for a miracle that would slow or stop the advancement of this vicious disease.

We were disappointed.  The melanoma oncologsit at the Tom Baker Centre was polite, congenial, even empathetic.  But he was resolute in his conviction that he could offer little more than piecemeal palliative care for pain.

As I flipped through my binder and suggested each potential treatment, he would shake his head and rebut me with statements like:

“That treatment is not approved in Canada.”

“Shelley’s condition has deteriorated too much to use that particular chemotherapy.  She would need to be off oxygen and have more mobility than she has now to even consider that.”

“That treatment is experimental and has not even completed clinical trials.”

Shelley was reduced to tears by the time our appointment interview was over.  In retrospect, I see now that this was her first glimmer of realization that she might not overcome “the beast”.  I still had one more ace up my sleeve, though, and was still not ready to give up.  More on this another time.

Forward now almost two years to a small cemetery at the edge of a small community at a wide spot in a back road in Iowa.  We are visiting Will’s grave.  Katy has been wanting to come and see “daddy’s stone” for a while now.  It’s been a little over a year since the three of us had been here.

Task-oriented, I am using some of the cleaning supplies we brought to remove grime and residue from the headstone.  As I use the towel to wipe out the engraved letters of Will’s name, date of birth and date of death, the deeper meaning of what I’m doing runs to the forefront of my consciousness.

I am only here because Will has died.  Died at 32 years of age.  And also because Shelley has died.  Died at 45 years of age.  I’m overcome by a swell of the sense of unfairness – of how this is just “not right”.  I finish wiping off the headstone, get up and return the cleaning supplies to the truck.  I’m still overwhelmed by the feeling of “not rightness”.  I stay over by the truck while Ann and Katy add the new decorations we’ve brought to the cemetery.  I lean on the truck and look off into the distance.  I don’t see where I’m looking, though, I’m focused on my mind’s eye.  Images from the past flash against the screen of my mind’s eye.  I wonder – yet again – how this all could have happened.  The immutable “why”.

Eventually I rejoin Ann and Katy at Will’s grave.  I take a few photographs of Katy and Ann, of the headstone and the new decorations.  Ann says Katy wants to visit Mary, so we start walking over in that direction, Katy running ahead.

Ann asks, “Are you okay?”

“Not really.” She waits.

I’ve learned a lot during my marriage to Shelley, one of the things is to be more open and sharing when something is troubling me.  I try to verbalize my feelings of this all being “not right”.  That it’s grossly unfair.  I struggle to come up with descriptive verbiage and don’t really succeed.

And yet, Ann knows what I mean.  Although she doesn’t state it, I suspect that she struggles with the same ideas and feelings as I do.

I take a few photographs of Katy with Mary.  I think we’ll be able to gauge how much she’s grown in the last year by comparing these photos to those from our last visit here.

As we walk back towards the truck, I ask Ann how she’s doing.  She stops and turns to look at me.  I can see the tears in her eyes.  We hug.  I feel my own tears welling up.  There’s really nothing to say.

After one last look at Will’s headstone, we finish putting stuff back into the truck, close the end gate, clamber into our seats and depart the cemetery.


  1. Wow, Rob… this is beautifully written, and I totally relate.

    In self defense I had to develop a personal mantra:

    “It was as it was because it was supposed to be that way. It is as it is because it is supposed to be this way.”

    But, even though I repeat this to myself, sometimes I still get those feelings.


  2. I can’t even imagine what you are going through. Just know that you and Annie have been blessed with each other.

  3. those moments of clarity… most frustrating when the “clarity” is simply in the form of questions, rather than answers.

    i don’t get very far with the “why?” when i see bad things happen to good people… no simple answer, that’s for sure.

  4. Rob-
    What a beautiful post! I, too, can totally relate and I am sure Kent can as well. You are so very fortunate to have found Ann to share your life with.

    Why?–who knows and I am not sure I would be satisfied with ANY answer I received. All I know is that it was—too soon.

  5. Stella: I don’t know that the hints of disbelief will really ever fade. We just have to keep slogging, one foot in front of the other and one day at a time. Thanks for the hugs.

    silverstar: You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve wished that I didn’t have to know what this is like. But, given that these things have happened, Annie and I are indeed fortunate to have each other as we continue marching on.

    daisyfae: I had to force myself early on to stop asking “why” because I knew there was no answer. Doesn’t stop the waves from surging every now and then though.

    Marsha: Too soon indeed. Thanks for your kind comments.

  6. Yeah. I get shades of “it’s not fair, it’s not real, it’s not right”. It’s been a long time since I got stuck in that place for any length of time, and I fall into a shrug of acceptance pretty quickly.

    I’m pretty sure echoes of the disbelief and injustice will be with me forever, albeit at ever increasing intervals. I prefer the happiness and acceptance, but part of the reason these exist for me is because of the horror that went before.

    Hugs to all of us.


  7. Rob,

    Wow! Rob, that was an extremely wonderful and moving post.

    I can only echo the thoughts and sentiments that others have shared, that for us our loss is truly senseless and that it was all too soon. That even if we could get an answer to the question of why, we probably wouldn’t understand the answer and if we did we probably wouldn’t like the answer anyway.

    Some of us are fortunate to have found someone to share life so completely with and some of us are doubly blessed to have found someone twice.


  8. It’s surreal, isn’t it? Surreal and sad and hard to comprehend.

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