IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Widowed at 28

Pete had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was 31 years old.
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Alysha StGermain
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Pete had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was 31 years old.

When I was 22, I met my husband, Pete. I was immediately drawn to his quick wit, his passion for life, and his ability to do anything he set his mind to. He seemed invincible. 

In the years that followed,we would share many memorable experiences. We spent our time together hiking and backpacking, exploring foreign lands, and daydreaming about the future. 

In the midst of it all we exchanged wedding vows and welcomed two precious babies to the mix, while vowing to never allow the expanding size of our family to interfere with our plans to seek adventure. 

Along the way, we developed a grandiose vision for our lives both independently and collectively and lived a life free of fear. We believed that as long as we had each other, all would be right with the world.

That is, until one fateful day in December 2011.

Pete had been feeling unwell for some time, but naively believed it wasn’t anything serious. After all, he was invincible. While I was visiting family out of state with my mother and our children, I received the call that changed my life forever. Pete had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was 31 years old. 

There is absolutely no way to give voice to exactly how I felt in that moment. The easiest way to describe it would be to say the world stood still. While everything around me continued to buzz with life, my own had begun crumbling before me.

We started out strong and brave. I was convinced God would save him and was unwilling to accept any other way. But as the weeks and months progressed, we realized claiming victory wasn’t as easy as giving God an ultimatum. With each chemo session, each new set of scan results, and each dose of pain medication, we realized we were losing the battle.

On March 18, 2013 the unthinkable happened when my husband closed the chapter on his earthly life -- leaving me a widow at 28 years old, with two young children. 

Leading up to his passing he had received hospice care in our home for five excruciating months during which I witnessed cancer strip him of every last human ability he possessed. During that time I was forced to face the facts, he was never invincible, and neither was I. Unfortunately the same is true for every one of us -- life is fleeting.

There is a distinct feeling of surrender, laced with anger and sadness, which envelops a person when they realize their life is out of their control. It is a feeling I now know too well -- one that has continued to befriend me, even still. 

Fortunately when I have been unable to carry myself due to the weight of the burden of loss, family and friends have come alongside me to bolster me up. Before loss I didn’t fully understand the necessity that is human relationship, but now I know I would never have survived without it.

In the wake of my loss, I felt bereft. For years I felt I had a purpose that was bigger than my own vision for my life -- I was my husband’s wife, his lover, his friend, and in the final months of his life, his caretaker. 

During his battle with cancer, each day had been lived with a newfound urgency. When he was no longer present, I struggled to identify my purpose and questioned every reality I had ever known. I wondered who I was without him by my side.

Steeped in the pain of my loss, each day felt weighted with the emotions of the day before and as they piled on top of one another, the muck and mire of such intense feeling seemed too much to navigate on my own. 

There were days I cried incessantly. While other days I felt an overwhelming desire to tell everyone about what had happened to me -- to us. I felt as though the word “widow” was etched into my forehead. 

On those days I told my story so stoically, oftentimes to absolute strangers, that it made me wonder if they questioned its authenticity. 

Even still, there were days I escaped in an effort to connect with him. I longed to revisit the places we enjoyed together. While in those familiar places I felt at peace knowing I could cry uninhibited without feeling pressured to conform to society’s made up grief timeline.

Near Mount Lassen — Connecting with Pete’s Spirit

Near Mount Lassen — Connecting with Pete’s Spirit

Slowly but surely, I began making a concerted effort to confront my grief and loss and eventually it became more natural to move forward. Still, there is not a day that goes by that I do not look at my children and wonder, “Why them, why me?” 

While the pain of loss remains so raw, at this point there is no other way than to accept that it will always be this way. There is absolutely no explanation and no justification for what has happened -- it simply is what it is.

Fortunately, acceptance does not mean apathy. Acceptance simply means my energies are better spent elsewhere. I am proud to say that where I am now is a place of identifying the lessons learned through my trials, recognizing the beauty in the day-to-day, and expressing gratitude for the time I did have with my husband. Through my loss I have become a stronger, more impassioned woman who is slowly coming into myself, recognizing my own needs, and pursuing my own future.

As for our children, they will continue to work through the loss of their father -- as will I -- but they will take their cues from me. I must continually remind myself that they will mimic the way I grieve. The last thing Pete would have wanted is for us to stop living, which is why I have made a genuine effort to put one foot in front of the other no matter how intense the pain may be. 

Because our youngest son was only 2 years old when Pete passed away, I feel it is especially critical to speak of the sacred memories we shared while their daddy was with us in the flesh. 

However, I feel confident he is with us in spirit, so I guess, in that way he was invincible, its just not the way I ever would have imagined.

Pete Reads to Lucas from his Hospital Bed

Pete Reads to Lucas from his Hospital Bed