The last two years had been progressively worse. Jenny's health was the issue. The cancer had been caught but the cure was terrible. What was really bad was that surgeries and chemo didn't work despite the pain she suffered. Her death was a blessing for her because the pain was terrible until a month before the end.
We had prayed for healing. Our children had prayed. Our church had prayed. It was all to no avail.
After the last scan in the middle of July, the doctor called us in and said that the cancer had metastasized through her body and there was nothing further to be done. He gave us the number for hospice.
We went home and prayed and cried together. After an hour, Jenny said, "Paul, we have to move forward. I'm scared. You're scared. However, we are together and we have God. Our love for God and for each other will carry us through this, too. We're going to have to talk to April and May. We haven't lied or hidden the truth from them and we shouldn't start now."
"I know Jen. This situation just wasn't in our dreams. We will get through it. We pick up the girls from camp tomorrow. We will tell them then."
We drove to the camp and met the girls. We took them to a picnic table. April takes after me. At eleven, she is tall and skinny. Her sister, May is nine. She is shorter and heavier though not by any means fat. May looks like pictures of her mother at that age. Jen had developed, by the time I met her, into a beautiful woman.
We told the girls that the doctor had found more cancer and that it had spread to the point where there was nothing more to do. Jen said, "At least, I won't have another operation or more chemo that won't work and will hurt me or make me sick." All of us had tears in our eyes. She continued, "Your father is going to need your help to get through this time. I will be getting weaker as the cancer eats my body." She shook herself.
"Girls, it's too late to save me from this disease. I hope that one of you might find something or help someone to help other mothers in the future. I'm not the only mother who won't see her daughters grow into the beautiful and wonderful women you will be. Your father will need you to hold him when I can't so he can cry.
"This was not our plan and God didn't cause it. The world is evil and things in it can cause us to suffer losses. I hold Paul's words and I, too, will run the good race. Elsewhere, he writes, 'To live is Christ and to die is gain.' We have time to say 'good bye' and to care for each other as we always have. I love your father and each of you very much."
We drove home and proceeded to live but to prepare for Jen's end. In church, we prayed for healing if that was God's will but more than anything else we prayed for peace. Jen wasn't given healing but she was given peace. Marie Jones was our assigned hospice worker. She told us that she had never worked with a cancer patient who had less pain than Jen. I thanked God for that. There was little else at that time that was good to me.
In mid September, Jen passed away in the night. I woke up next to her still body. We had still been able to sleep together. I realized she was gone and leaned over to kiss her lips one last time. "Good bye, my love. I will watch over the girls." I prayed and then got out of bed to make the calls as we had been instructed. Marie came with a doctor from hospice. The coroner came to take her body away. The girls got to kiss her one last time. Jen and I had talked about that with the girls. Jen told them that she would be watching from heaven in her glorified body.
Jen and I had also talked about another subject. She wanted me to be open to another marriage. She said, "The girls will need a mother and you will need a wife, Paul. I love you too much and we have been too happy for you to avoid romance. I won't ask you to promise anything other than just to be open." In November, April told me that Jen had made May and her promise to be open to a new mother and for me, their dad, a new wife. April said, "Dad, she told me that our new mother wouldn't be her but would love us if we would let her just as much as she does.
"Dad, what did she mean? I can't love someone else as much as Mom."
I hugged her and we cried for a bit. "Your mother is a very smart woman. She doesn't expect you to forget her but to allow someone to carve out a new space in your heart for your love. She has told me the same thing.
"Ape, one day you will meet a young man who you will love as your mother loved me. Does that mean you will love me less or your mother less? No, a new area in your heart will be opened for that young man. You just have to be open to that new person and allow them that place."
Jen's parents divorced many years ago. Her father had gone off with a younger woman and her mother had never remarried. For years, she had joined us at my parents' house for the holidays. We celebrated Thanksgiving again the same as always at my parents' house with Jen's mother, my brothers and sisters and their spouses and children. It was fun though subdued. Christmas was, for me, even worse. We, the girls and I, managed to get decorations up but it wasn't the same. I just knew I was blessed with two intelligent, mature daughters who were strong enough together to help their father as he stumbled through this time in his life.
We stayed home for New Years' Eve and welcomed the year watching television and drinking non-alcoholic eggnog. Our church had been wonderful and we were kept involved through the youth activities and my Sunday school class. There were older men who could be around to listen when I needed someone to scream at. Fortunately, that wasn't often.
In our jobs, we had good benefits including life insurance. Early on we had bought policies and converted them to personal ones in case we changed jobs which Jen had actually done. There was plenty of money and I was paid well for my work as an Associate General Counsel. I had no intention of quitting because it was interesting work with plenty of intellectual challenge.
I buried myself in my work and my girls. It was lonely but I kept busy and only felt the real pangs of Jen's loss in the dark of the night in our lonely bed.
I visited Jen's gravesite often and talked to her while I knelt. I prayed to God and then talked to her. I always left with a warm feeling of her presence and love as well as of God's presence and love when I went home. Any time, either daughter wanted to go by herself or with me, I took them.
I got through the second Thanksgiving and Christmas with a little less pain. I was managing to make a life for just me and the girls. It was the next spring when things changed.
It was April. She was growing up. She was about to hit her teens and no longer appreciated being called, "Ape." She spoke to me about it and I had managed to stop calling her that even in private with very few slips. She was in the advanced placement classes and there was a new teacher for English. April liked the teacher and she told me that this new teacher was insisting upon meetings with each student's parents as soon as convenient. I told April to set it up for any time this week or two weeks out and let me know. I had to make a rare business trip that next week and had Jen's mother coming in to chaperone the girls. They were very capable as cooks and housekeepers. I had a service come in once a month to perform serious cleaning.
April came in the next evening with a paper from "Ms Watson" with an appointment for the week I would be out of town. I said, "April, I can't do this. That's the week that I will be in Dallas. It's not my choice of timing but I can't get out of it. At this time, I can't reschedule it either. Please ask Miz Watson to reset it for a week later or your grandmother will have to go in my stead though I don't like that idea. No, I will send her a quick letter explaining." We went into my study and I composed and printed a quick letter to her explaining my traveling for the next week and that I couldn't change my trip. The situation was resolved with a move to the next week.
I was not particularly looking forward to this simply because I preferred a "Miss" or a "Mrs" rather than the more nebulous "Ms" that was currently in favor. It conjured up an unpleasant picture of either an old prune either in reality or in training or of an independent and harsh married woman. I looked forward to meeting neither type of individual.
However, at the appointed time, I entered her classroom. "Miz Watson, I'm Paul Sanderson, April's father."
An attractive woman in her early thirties with dark, curly short hair was sitting at the desk. She stood and I saw that she was six feet tall approximately and almost my height with her heels. She said, "Mister Sanderson, thank you for coming." We shook hands. I still wore my wedding ring. She said, "Where is Missus Sanderson? Both parents are supposed to be at this meeting."
"Miz Watson, my wife is in heaven. It's difficult for her to make the trip."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know. When I saw your ring, I made an incorrect assumption."
I smiled. "That's all right. It's been over a year and a half since she passed from cancer."
"Your daughter seems to be doing very well under the circumstances. Did you put her through grief counseling?"
"No. She, her mother, and I all talked and prayed. She and I talk and pray now."
"Oh!" She said it dismissively.
"Oh, yes. We are that type. How is my daughter doing in your class?"
"I'm still learning my students after three weeks. Miz Jones pregnancy is giving her problems and she won't be back this year."
She stopped for a second and I said, "Mary is a missus and quite proud of her married status. She would not appreciate having it taken from her." I could tell that this meeting was not going well. I never did react well to being picked at or patronized by someone. Also, Mary and her husband, Rich, were members of my Sunday school class and had been very supportive. Her third pregnancy was giving her some difficulty. She had told us she was taking a medical leave for the remainder of the school year. I think Rich hoped she would quit. I thought to myself that this meeting wasn't going well and decided to try to get us back on track.
"Miz Watson, I monitor both of my daughters' school work and general welfare. April seems to be performing her school work at her usual pace. Her mother taught math at the senior high until she could no longer work. We both feel academic accomplishment is important."
"Most of the parents in her class feel that way though it's not surprising based upon the nature of the class. Your daughter does very well. She's one of the top one to three. Does she have a target for her academic work?"
"April turns thirteen in April." Miz Watson looked curiously. "April was named in jest but it's worked well. We always told her that she was fortunate that she was a girl since a boy named April would not have enjoyed it.
"At this age, we have wanted her to keep her options open though emphasizing English, math, and science. Her mother and I feel that a solid foundation in those areas will carry her in whatever direction she may later want to go."
"She is doing well in her class and is well-liked. She is quite tall but, seeing you, I understand how that came about. What do you do, Mister Sanderson?"
"I work for Johnston Brothers."
"They are a well-known employer.
"April should continue to do well in my class. You seem to be doing well raising her. You were traveling last week, do you travel much?"
"Fortunately, no. My boss makes most of the trips which suits me fine. I have time with my girls.
"April has a younger sister, May. When we named them, it was funny. Neither my family nor Jen's had any women's names that anyone liked. We have always spent time with our daughters and continue to do that now."
"Mister Sanderson, you speak as if your wife is alive."
"I guess I do. I talk to her in my mind and pray for her as I always have."
"You still wear your wedding ring, too."
"Yes. It feels comfortable still. My mother in-law has told me that she expects I will remove it when the time is right and that she will be all right with that. April has already suggested that it's time. May hasn't commented so I don't know her feelings. Jen had time and prepared all three of us for her passing."
"She sounds like she was a wonderful person. I am sorry for your loss though, in many ways, it seems that she is still with you.
"Your daughter is doing well and seems to be well-adjusted though a bit outspoken. She is gentle in expressing her views though. I have noticed her gentleness and views both showing in her creative writing."
"Thank you, Miz Watson. Is there anything further? I would like to get home to my daughters."
"No. Thank you for coming, Mister Sanderson. Enjoy your evening."
"Thank you. A good evening to you. Good bye."
I got in my car and headed home to my daughters and supper.