A few months before my husband turned 29, he sat in bed one night watching one of his favorite late-night crime shows. I had just gotten our toddler son to sleep and was sitting on the edge of the other side of our bed getting undressed, tired and distracted.
He casually said, "I've been thinking, even if I don't make it, if this really is it, I've accomplished everything I wanted to."
I stopped undressing and half turned around, not wanting my full attention to make him stop talking, to stop opening up. This was the first time he admitted he might not beat the cancer that was rapidly spreading throughout his abdomen, lungs and now, his brain.
"Don't say that," I said.
"No, really," he said, almost upbeat. "No one thought I would get married, and I found you. My teachers didn't think I would amount to anything, and I managed to get a job I really like. And the doctors always said I couldn't have kids. We have Logan."
I smiled. He turned off the light and went back to watching TV.
To celebrate his 29th birthday, I threw him a party. His closest friends, colleagues and their families filled our small home on a humid August night. I have a picture of us, my husband holding our 19-month old son and looking at me, in my floor-length summer dress, surrounded by everyone as the three of us blew out the candles on his specially made birthday cake, designed with his favorite photo of him and our son on our boat that summer. At the moment, he was still ok. We had no idea the end was right around the corner.
Three months and 18 days later, he was gone.
We knew we were lucky he had even made it to 29. At 27, he was re-diagnosed with testicular cancer, ten years after his first battle, and very quickly after beginning treatment was given a poor prognosis. The cancer was too aggressive. A treatment would work for the first few weeks, giving us hope. Then, in a gut wrenching cycle, all hope would be lost as the cancer grew immune to the treatment and took over again, usually spreading to a new part of his body.
Now, two years after his death, I am the one turning 29. I cannot help but think that three months and 18 days after my birthday, I will have outlived him.
Like many who have lost loved ones, especially at a young age, I have struggled with questions: Why did he have to die? Did I do everything I could to help him? Why do I get to live, blessed so far to be disease free? Why am I the lucky one who gets to enjoy the feel of little arms around my neck, sleep with a trio of midnight visitors who come to my bed that include a boy, his puppy and stuffed koala, and get to deal with tantrums and time-outs and endless questions about the Transformers?
After he died, I seemed to freeze. The doctors had been telling me for about a year that he would not make it, yet even though my rational mind knew and understood this, it was still almost impossible for me to truly comprehend. We had spent the past ten years practically inseparable. My goals and plans had long been forgotten and ours had melded together and taken their place.
I was allowing my career as a reporter to take a back seat, trading it for time to raise our family. At the same time, his was advancing. We hoped one day it would take us to Tennessee where we would buy a house with a big yard and settle in for the long haul of little league games, school plays and impromptu date nights of pizza and wine enjoyed while vegging on the couch watching our favorite reruns. If I grew antsy, I figured I could always freelance and write in my free time.
Now, it is just me and my high-energy four-year-old. And even though I had spent 10 fun years setting roots in South Florida, I sold our Miami home and said goodbye to the life we had built there. I most likely will never move to Tennessee and instead I have moved back home to New York -- a move I never could have imagined just three years ago.
I have cried, been angry, isolated myself from friends and tried to go back to a career I used to enjoy. Time has healed most -- the pain of watching someone I love die and the realization that my son was too young to remember his father and will only know him through photos, videos and stories. Most of the time I have spent feeling lost, moving through each day with no real direction. No goal.
One thing hasn't changed since the middle of that April night when my husband was diagnosed in the emergency room: the sound of a ticking clock in my ear.
And as my 29th birthday nears, it only gets louder. I have tried going back to how things were, but that person and life doesn't exist anymore. I can no longer sit in an office and be content writing things that come too easy and that I feel too little about. Those near-forgotten dreams and plans, long ago shelved, keep pestering me, reminding me of all that I once wanted. And new ones are appearing -- for both Logan and me, varying images of us exploring possibilities we may not have had the ability or desire to, had things turned out differently. But I still struggle, straddling the fence between wanting to go back to the naïve, false sense of stability and security I had before, and the new sense of urgency and desire for adventure that has since taken its place.
I think this year will be the year to jump the fence. Maybe, since we can no longer live the life I had imagined we would have, it is time to start living the life I never could have even dreamed of.
Follow Kathleen Fordyce Rohan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KathleenFordyce