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How I Got Through all the 'Firsts' After Losing My Husband to Cancer

10/06/2015 12:59 EDT | Updated 10/06/2016 05:12 EDT
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I remember my first time behind the wheel of a car, my first kiss, my first date with my husband, our first home together and the birth of our first child. Life was a journey and there was no rush.

Then Matthew had a seizure and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The focus shifted to Matthew experiencing as many firsts as possible with our family. Time was limited and life felt rushed.

It has been 29 days since Matthew physically left us. 29 days since I held Matthew in my arms as he took his last breath. Since I lost a part of myself. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him. In these 29 days I have experienced many firsts, some easier than others.

First few days without Matthew

Those first few days are all still a blur. Sometimes it feels like he is not really gone. I still expect my phone to bing with a text from Matthew. My first time in the grocery store, I instinctively picked out some food for him and cried when I put it back on the shelf. These kind of things keep happening but I know this will change as time goes by. Right now I am in survival mode. Some days are good and some are incredibly overwhelming. Last week I had to start the process of taking Matthew's name off all our bank accounts and the deed to the house, the house we bought together. I felt like I was erasing him even though I knew in my heart that the real memories are within me.

First day of school

I had to prep myself emotionally for this. The first day of school meant everything to Matthew. It was his goal throughout his illness to "make it" to as many first days of school as possible. This year he did not. I cried that morning when the kids were not around, for him and what he was missing. In the end I think I did a pretty good job of making it special. The kids did not ask where daddy was and seemed happy to see their friends. It felt good to be getting back to a routine and starting a new school year. After the kids left I finally let out the breath that I did not realize I was holding. I got through another first and I felt relieved.

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First Jewish holiday

This was harder than I thought. Celebrating without Matthew proved to be too difficult for me. I tried to go to synagogue but at the last minute I backed out. Brooke was able to spend the holiday with family. I forced myself to go with Joshua for dinner and I am happy I went. A close friend drove Zachary to Montreal to celebrate with his cousins. This made it easier for me. I used to be super mom, taking all three kids with me everywhere, but now I find it overwhelming, so splitting them up is easier. I wanted the holidays to be over this year.

Joshua's birthday

Joshua turned three on Sept. 13, but we did not have a party this year. It did not feel right to celebrate without Matthew. We had cake. November brings Zachary's birthday, my birthday and our 10-year wedding anniversary. It will be tough to get through these events.

Brooke's first questions

Telling Brooke that her daddy died was the hardest thing I have ever done. She hid her head in the pillow and cried. I held her tightly and reassured her to the best of my ability that I had enough love for both of us.

Brooke asks intelligent questions that are very normal for her age. She wants to know about heaven, she wants to meet other children that have lost a parent so she does not feel alone, she wants to know why daddy got cancer, she wants to make sure I won't get sick and die. She asks me if I will get married again so I will have help. I love this kid. I do my best to answer her. Last night she asked me out of the blue if people can come back to life once they have died like in the movies, I had to tell her no. Then I cried. I don't think these questions will ever stop hurting.

First social outings

For now all I can do is meet a friend one-on-one for a coffee, walk or a manicure. I relate to other parents who have lost a spouse. The nights are still exhausting and I often fall asleep with the kids. Exercise helps alleviate the stress. I am still so tired from all that has gone on in the last few months.

First feelings of happiness

I still feel guilty when I have a moment of happiness. It is often a small thing like laughing at a friend's joke or something funny the kids say. I know Matthew would want me to be happy, but I can't help it right now.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, many firsts await me. My first day back at work, my first trip back to Montreal, the first time I introduce myself as a widow. But for the first time in seven years I have a small sense of relief -- living without the cancer cloud hanging over my head. Part of me feels guilty for embracing a new normal without cancer.

As the 30-day period of Jewish mourning comes to an end, I will start my new normal and the process of letting my heart heal.

Author: Heidi writes a monthly blog on Her Magazine where she shares her own personal struggles, how she has overcome them and the important life lessons she has learned as result.

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