I’m sitting in Greg’s chair looking out at the spectacular garden in my backyard … the garden that he never really got to experience. We moved into this house shortly before he died. I had wanted a larger house that was easier to nurse him in, one with big, beautiful trees. I wanted him to sit in this chair and watch his grandchildren climb those trees.
Why did we move house so close to his death? Well, I had no idea how close it was. I thought we had months, maybe a year left together. Actually, I secretly thought “Maybe he will never die. It’s Greg after all, the Man-Who-Lived.” I didn’t know that two days after we moved here, he would lose consciousness and never regain it.
It’s been nearly two years since he left my side.
And it’s his birthday today, Jan 24th. I celebrated it by walking alone along the beautiful Swan River that he adored and eating his favourite breakfast, (minus the bacon 🙂
Then I borrowed a pen off a nice waitress and wrote down all the miracles that have entered my life in the past year. I stopped at number 33 cos I ran out of room. It made me feel better as my sad heart swelled with gratitude for this life I now live, alone, and for the life I shared with that remarkable man for 27 years.
We didn’t have a perfect marriage. God, far from it. And you know what? For most of that time, he was bloody difficult to live with! And he knew it, too. Actually I think he kind of reveled in it. You see, Greg was amazing, passionate, charismatic, funny, brilliant, creative, faithful, inspiring, eloquent and oh so independent. He lived by a strong spiritual code, but within that, he was outspoken and outrageous. He saw life as an unapologetic adventure, one in which I often had to the apologising 🙂
Then in 2010 he received a diagnosis that triggered the biggest, most transformative adventure of his life… And mine. Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma with Metastases. Translation: Incurable Kidney Cancer with possibly six months to live. That ‘oh so independent’ man was a ticking time bomb, stuck in wheelchair and completely dependent on me.
But by the time he died, nearly four years later, he had transformed himself into The Perfect Man. When I realised this, I was angry for awhile … why couldn’t I have had THIS GUY all those years? (I’m not proud of how long it took me), but I got over my anger, and began to see and appreciate what was truly happening to the man I had loved for most of my life.
Greg didn’t ‘battle cancer’. He lived with it, and then, gradually, even as his body weakened, he thrived on it. He leaned into his creative practice as a musician, and showed me the power of using creativity. He leaned into his spiritual practice as a Baha’i, and showed me the power of faith. He drew people to him, sharing his journey with them with the meager strength he had, and he showed me the power of friendship.
He was keenly aware that he was changing. In fact he called himself the new ‘cancer-improved’ Greg 🙂
I have cried many tears over my silliness and regret that I didn’t appreciate what he was doing, or how he chose to spend his last days. My focus was on keeping him alive. His focus was on Living. So there were times I really resented that we had to organise yet another musical production or have yet another visitor! But I think I ‘got it’ towards the end. Especially that very last concert, From Our Hearts to Yours, when he shared his music publicly for the last time, and thanked us all by name. One thousand people stood as one to cheer his life and who knows how many thousands more watched his story on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report. He died six weeks later.
I realise now that I learned more from Greg as he was dying than I did in my whole life previous to that.
What did I learn?
In the way he loved everyone, including grumpy, tired and imperfect me … I learned what Unconditional Love actually looks like.
In the way he loved life, yet truly wanted to offer up his in exchange for the well-being of his daughters’, I learned what Sacrifice looked like.
In the face of his unswerving calm, his absolute gratitude that he was alive that day, every time we awaited the results of a scan that would tell us if he was going to live or die … I learned what Acceptance looks like.
In the way he leaned increasingly into prayer and meditation when he could have chosen regret, anger or fear, I learned what Faith looks like.
This list could be much longer, but I’ll end with a little story.
I could always rely on Greg to tell me the truth. At times he’d just stay quiet instead of saying what he actually thought, but Greg never lied, not even to save my feelings. This drove me to distraction at times, but not this time.
It was Wednesday May 14th, his last day of consciousness. I was stroking his hand and saying my goodbyes. His skin was icy and I found myself gently exclaiming,
“Your hands are so cold!”
And he replied, his eyes shut, his voice clear as a bell,
“Your hands are so rough!”
Aaah Greg. You made me laugh as you were leaving me. And you were Truthful to the end 🙂
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