Living and loss: how it all started……

halo: getting ready for heaven
halo: getting ready for heaven

“It’s not a stroke,” the ER doctor seeing my husband said into the phone lines from 500 miles away. Oh thank heavens, I thought to myself as I sat down on my sister’s couch. “It’s worse,” she said bluntly. “He has a large brain tumor, looks like it’s a metastasis from an equally large lung cancer. We’re transferring him down to Roanoke immediately. I’m so sorry,” she said. Absorbing this news, all I could say was “okay, thanks, I’m on my way.” But after I hung up the phone I screamed – a primordial, deep, gut-wrenching, brutally painful scream like nothing I had ever screamed before, barely aware I was even doing it, and totally oblivious to the fact that it was 1 o’clock in the morning and most of the world was asleep………

My baby sister sat beside me, tears streaming down her face as she watched helplessly. As the scream died down, I struggled to calm myself, and chanted, “Get it together, Colleen, get it together” over and over again until my breathing slowed and I started to formulate a plan. “Kath, can you make me some coffee while I throw my stuff into the car?” “Wait,” she said,” it’s the middle of the night, and you’ve already had a glass of wine. Why don’t you take a nap and then hit the road in the morning. That will be safer.” “No, I’m fine. This way I can be there by the time the doctors are making the rounds in the morning.” I threw all my stuff into the back of my car, without even bothering to put it in the suitcase. I threw my bike on top of it all instead of bothering to put it on the bike rack, and shoved the hatchback door closed. This lovely little mini vacation, visiting my sister and her family and bike riding down a river trail, had certainly not gone the way I had envisioned.

This is how, one year ago, my life changed forever. On August 18, 2014, we learned that my 57-year-old husband, Neil, had stage IV lung cancer. Some of you know the story, but all of you will be able to relate to it in some way. Losing someone we love is part of life, and happens to every one of us. We have no choice in the loss, but we do have a choice in how we deal with it. The first step is to survive ourselves, and that is not very easy. The second step is to build a life that honors and respects what and who has been lost, all the while being grateful for what was and what is yet to be. I don’t have the answers, but whatever your circumstances, my ramblings here will hopefully remind you that we are all on this path together and that it is one that is well trodden.


  1. I read your entries backwards. It wasn’t intentional, I just started reading the page I was on, and it was two entries after this one. I didn’t know you are a writer, and a good one too. Not that it means anything coming from me, I am not a writer, I am a reader. But your entries all touched me, and I had a sense I was sharing a tiny piece of your world, joy and pain. Like you said, we all experience loss in some form or another and I am no exception to that. What I read was meaningful to me and I was thankful to read it. I wish I had some profound words of encouragement, but I only know to say, I hear you.

  2. I’d never heard the story of when you first heard the news. Incredible it was only a year ago. Oh Colleen–sending prayers your way, all the time.

  3. These blogs are beautifully written and, more importantly, allow others to learn through your journey, the heart-filled meaning of life, love, loss, and finding the strength to carry on until we are reunited again. Thank you for sharing this with us.

What do you think? Leave a reply to let me know!