Catherine Graves, author of “Checking Out: An In-Depth Look at Losing Your Mind”, shares her inspiring, candid and heartfelt story with us.
By Catherine Graves
It was my 40th birthday and I thought I had it all. A loving husband, six amazing children blended from two families, lots of great friends and a beautiful home that my husband John and I created together.
Fast forward months later to suspicious behavior from my husband, money and equipment missing from our business that we had built together, and six months of marriage counseling that was seemingly getting us nowhere. John and I had been together almost seven years and things were moving along quite smoothly. Until suddenly, he began showing less and less interest in me and in our marriage. It had gotten so bad that at one point the marriage counselor told me I had a big decision to make. Stay in a marriage that seemed to be dissolving before my eyes, or move on by myself. That was a decision I was not ready to make. So I did what a small percentage of people do when they suspect their spouse is having an affair. I hired a private investigator.
Now fast forward to the emergency room at a Tucson hospital. We have just been told that John is not having depression or a nervous breakdown as initially suspected by the counselor. John has a giant tumor in the front lobe of his brain that is affecting his personality, his decision making, inhibitions and emotional abilities.
I ask the doctor how we find out if the tumor is benign or malignant. She tells me it is in fact malignant. It is a form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma and it is terminal. The decision we now had to make was do we let nature take its course and allow him to pass gradually within the next few days… yes, few days. Or do we fly him to Barrow and do the standard surgery of removing most of the tumor (along with brain tissue) and follow with chemo and radiation in order to prolong his life.
Within minutes (which felt more like seconds) the decision had to be made, and we (meaning me) chose the latter. It is with some regret that I did so. However, with six children and his family up in Phoenix, it seemed like the right thing to do at the moment.
John endured the surgery and the chemo and radiation quite well, but physically and mentally he was deteriorating rather quickly. At a towering 6’4′, he was quite stately and when he would have a seizure or a fall, I had to pick him up off the floor and move him into bed, where he would sleep it off for a couple of days. I never knew if or when he would be waking up. The doctors estimated that he could have “a good year” with the treatment. John had less than six months; six months that I would not classify as good. He had no motivation as that was the part of his brain most affected by the surgery. Not a very good short or long term memory. Nor was he able to finish sentences, decipher what his toothbrush was for, or have the ability to socialize. So he sat in the same room on the same sofa at the same time watching the same programs everyday until it was time to go to bed. We had a few outings here and there, but as I said, he had lost all motivation so getting him up and going was quite an endeavor!
The blessing in it all is that John was virtually unaware of what was happening. He knew he was going to die, but he had no emotion about it. He worried that I would be alone, and that broke my heart more than anything. John didn’t worry for himself. He worried for the children and for me. That was his nature. He always cared more about other people’s feelings and concerns than his own. He always made sure customers were happy, the children were happy, and that I was happy.
John passed away on 7/7/07. He was an avid James Bond fan and we knew he chose that day to be remembered. It has been over five years since that day and it still stings, though not in the way it did previously. Initially after John died, I thought I had grieved as I was caring for him and that I would be able to just move on. This was clearly not the case. I made a huge mess of my life in the coming year or so and had to pay dearly for it. I alienated my children, my friends, and even some family. Finally the time had come to reconcile. We cannot move away from grief. We cannot move around it, or under it, or above it. We MUST go through it. I suffered from PTSD and dissociative disorder, depression and loneliness. But all long after we had said our goodbyes to John. It has taken me a few years to get my feet firmly planted back on the ground.
Fast forward again…to the present. I have a beautiful relationship with my children. And just as important, if not perhaps more important, a beautiful relationship with myself. I am grateful for the time that I shared with John. I am blessed that he was a part of my children’s lives. I have more gratitude for those things than I ever had prior to this experience. There are so many sayings. So many Facebook posts. So many ideas of how things should be, what they should look like.
I have truly tried to let that go. We are on a journey. It is like a vacation. When and where we choose to unpack is up to us. What we choose to keep packed up is our choice as well. It is a process. It all takes time. Whether it is a death, a relationship, a friendship… letting go is a grueling process that we need to allow space for. There will be people along the way that will help. There will be people along the way that will judge. It is our job to decipher the people with the right intentions.
My life is an open book. Literally. Every stupid mistake I made is out there for people to see. I did that not to exploit myself, but to aide others in their journeys. I believe there is a purpose to these experiences, and it is what we choose to do with them that matters most.
To learn more about Catherine or to purchase her book, click here.