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When only the dying has accepted it’s time to die.

A grieving husband's reflections on his role in his wife's death.

Photo of Don Bayer
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I was her husband for 32 years, fulltime caregiver for her last 2 years, fierce patient advocate in the hospital and then a hospice facility for her last 2 months and now am a profoundly grieving widower 6 months after her death.

Missionary, social worker, preschool director, teacher, rural village project director in Africa and Brazil, bank vice president and business owner were all part of my wife’s remarkable life. She was always physically fit and full of life and energy until that day a CT scan, seeking answers for some minor GI issues, revealed a 21 month nightmare was about to begin.

Lela knew, the moment she received a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis, that she was going to die sooner rather than later. She received the best care, at UCSF and Stanford, that medical science could provide. She fought valiantly doing all they recommended yet knowing it was a battle she would not win. She accepted what was to come with unending grace and courage.

It was I, her caregiver, who was unwilling to accept the fact that what I cared about most in my life was going to leave me. It was not out of any fear of death I had, for in my heart I begged to trade places with her. She was my hero and I simply could not accept the fact that try as I might, and oh, how I did try, I couldn’t prevent it from happening.

My reflection and struggle 6 months later are what more could I have done to help Lela die well, rather than just trying so very hard to compel her to live?

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How to enable family caregivers to understand that the time will come when their greatest act of caring can be helping their loved one die a good death?

Tell us about your work experience:

I lived most of my life in a world of finance and business, yet evolved beyond it with a global view of care for all.

If you participated in an End of Life Storytelling Event, tell us which Chapter or city you came from:

San Francisco


Join the conversation:

Photo of mike

Don, thank you for this piece. I imagine that there are many reading it who know the impossible balance and the painful dance that both you and Mary Oliver wrote about. From Blackwater Woods: "To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go." Best, Mike Rabow

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