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Giving myself more time and more space (#1271)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, disjointed.

Uncertain general warning: This musing may elicit tears.

Welcome to one of those musings that I can’t quite figure out how to start and can’t quite figure out how to finish. Perhaps that’s most of my musings. But this one felt more difficult than most. Oh well. Here goes.

It’s January, 2024. Less than a month ago, people were making resolutions for the new year. I generally don’t make resolutions because my experience is that I don’t keep them. But this year, I made a resolution that I will try hard to keep [1].

I resolve to give myself more time and more space to cry.

You may ask yourself why I’d make such a resolution. Am I crying for lost relatives? Mom’s been dead for more than a decade; Dad’s been dead for more than four. But I still miss them. My uncles and aunts have been dead longer than my mother. My mother-in-law outlived my mother by a year or two. My father-in-law barely made it beyond my youngest’s birth. I miss them all.

But no. I need not cry more for their loss. I grieve for them the appropriate amount.

Rather, I need time to cry as I attempt to comprehend future losses. You see, Michelle, the love of my life, my rock and my rudder [2], my partner for more than 36 years, is dying. I suppose we’re all dying. She’s just dying more quickly than most.

How much time does she have left? We don’t know. She has stage four metastatic pancreatic cancer. Adding stage four to metastatic may be redundant. Nonetheless, that’s how I think of it. Her cancer has progressed from the head of her pancreas to two new tumors (mets) in her liver. Doctors are amazingly unwilling to give estimates. Nonetheless, I remember when we were talking with her oncologist about possibilities. She’s young; she should do well, or so he said. I asked, So maybe two years or more? The look in his eyes of you poor fool as he said, Um, no was just devastating.

We should make plans.

What plans? She can’t travel easily. We don’t know how much time we have. What’s left that’s essential?

We’ve talked about the important things. The funeral. The burial. Money. The kids. Our love for each other. The things we’ll miss. The activities we’re devastated she’ll never be able to do and events she won’t see.

Two weeks ago, she was doing great, and we both felt optimistic. She’d even found a paper about someone her age who had lived five years on the chemo she was getting and who had reached remission [3]. Maybe we’ll take a trip to visit friends this summer, or so I thought.

Then, we went up to Minnesota to get the bi-monthly CT scan. Sorry, you now have a second met. And your other two tumors have grown. That’s not encouraging. So they’re switching her chemo. Rather than the currently preferred mixture of chemical poisons, they’ll be using an older mixture of such toxins. The old one worked for some people, where worked means extended their lives for a few months. I wish it worked better. I hope it does. Michelle says it does once in a rare while.

I want her to have another Thanksgiving with the family, another birthday, another Christmas. I want to celebrate our 37th anniversary [4]. I want her to see our youngest graduate college [5], to see all three get their doctorates [6], to watch them get married, to meet her grandchildren. The odds get slimmer and slimmer.

What will life be without her? I try not to think about it. My therapist, who calls me a world-champion avoider, notes that planning for the future seems pointless. We can’t know what it will feel like, other than that it will hurt. It’s probably not worth the time to worry.

But it still hurts now. And, as my critical therapist suggests, I can’t just avoid the pain and sadness. I need to take time to grieve for the losses, particularly the loss of our future together. Otherwise, it will come out in other ways, or come out unexpectedly.

Perhaps I’ll eventually muse about those unexpected appearances of grief I mentioned above. For now, I need only give myself time and space to cry.

It’s hard. I don’t want to burden Michelle. I can’t cope because you’re dying seems like an unfair stress to put on someone who is dying. I don’t want to burden the kids [8]; it’s hard enough for them as is. I don’t want to cry only when I talk to my therapist. I don’t mind burdening him; he gets paid. But I don’t want to break down in front of other people; I know how hard it is to cope with someone else’s sadness.

In any case, I need to give myself permission and time to cry. Preferably somewhere it doesn’t affect others.

Writing this has helped [9]. That is, it’s helped me cry. I’ve effectively given myself time and space. I’ve found myself snot sobbing as I write. I suppose it’s good to acknowledge my sadness, my hurt, my worries, and my future loss, and to allow my body and my mind to respond.

Will I again muse about her cancer? Almost certainly. I’ve even grabbed a new journal to do so offline. Will I post other musings about the subject? I’m less sure. Maybe a few. I may have promised one about some of those unexpected and uncontrollable bursts of sadness. We’ll see.

I promise to post about some happy things (or at least less sad things), too.

Thanks for giving me time and space to cry.


I find myself asking, Is it selfish to muse about the effects of Michelle’s cancer on me? Shouldn’t I be musing about the effects on her? I’ve concluded that it’s okay to be a bit self-centered in this situation. Michelle is a private person; she wouldn’t want me sharing much. So I shouldn’t write about her. She also knows that I worry about what’s going on with her.

I think it’s okay to share my own reactions; part of the point of the resolution (or at least the advice from my therapist) is that I need to allow myself to react.


I need to work on my planning. I was 90% of the way through this musing when I realized that I had a meeting. Do you know how hard it is to go from shaking grief to a calm demeanor?


This musing has been released with Michelle’s permission.

[1] I should also try to keep my normal resolutions: eat better, exercise more, lose weight, worry less. It’s difficult.

[2] How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

[3] For those who don’t know, remission from stage four pancreatic cancer has traditionally been next to impossible.

[4] That comes before the other events, so I’m more hopeful.

[5] Also hopeful.

[6] Um. About two years out for the first one. Maybe five or six for the last one [7].

[7] Maybe three or four, if we’re lucky.

[8] Adults.

[9] I know; I should avoid using this as a pronoun. Sometimes, it’s necessary [10].

[10] As is using it a a pronoun.

Version 1.0 released 2024-01-26.

Version 1.0.1 of 2024-01-26.