Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you.
With a sigh, I turned and glimpsed into the full length mirror that adorned the wall beside me. After a final overview of myself, I turned back to Jaden, forcing a small smile. "Okay, let's go."
As I took a step toward the front door, Jaden held her hand out, stopping me in my tracks. Reaching her hands up to my neck, she tightened and straightened the black silk tie I was wearing. "Thanks sweetie," I said sheepishly before adding, "everything else look okay? I mean, at least presentable?" I questioned, referring to the black and gray suit I was wearing.
Giving me a quick once over, Jaden smiled proudly, adding a nod. "You look great, Daddy. What about me? Do I look okay?" she asked, spinning around slowly in front of me so I could take in her entire ensemble of a plain black dress, stockings, and open toed black heels.
This time, it was my turn to nod before answering, "you look great, Jade."
Taking my hand into hers, she spoke again. "We better get going then. The director said we had to be there by eight thirty and it's almost quarter after already."
After clenching my eyes shut tightly for a moment, I squeezed Jaden's hand and said, "alright. Let's do this." Then we walked out the front door and down the stairs, Jaden leading me by the hand all the way to the car. The drive to our destination was silent, both of us dreading the upcoming event more than we'd ever dreaded anything before in our lives. But, neither of us had the option of staying home, we HAD to be there.
Funerals were never the kind of event any normal human being enjoyed attending, especially those of friends and loved ones. And even though Jaden and I had several months to prepare for this one, it didn't make it even remotely easier.
I'll never, ever forget the day we found out the tragic news nearly six months ago. Laney, my wife of over seventeen years, and Jaden's mother, had been sick for over a month, unable to hold down barely any food, was complaining of a headache that just wouldn't go away, and even having difficulty remembering simple things like days of the week or her loved ones birthdays.
When we first went to the doctor about Laney's problems, we were told that the headaches were more than likely only migraines and they were the reason she was throwing up on and daily basis. He took some blood work from her and scheduled an MRI, just as a precaution. While waiting for all the test results to come back, the doctor gave her pain medication to alleviate some of the discomfort until they were able to come up with a sure fire diagnosis.
But the medication didn't even touch the pain Laney was in and as we waited the nearly two weeks for the MRI results, her headaches grew worse and worse. So bad in fact, that at one point, I found her banging her head off the desk in my office, screaming in misery. When the doctor finally called, saying he had the results of the MRI, we immediately knew it was bad news, because he refused to tell us over the phone. Instead, he made us an appointment for nine AM the following morning.
I still remember it like it was yesterday, Laney and I sitting in a small conference room, her family doctor and another doctor, sitting across from us. I can still hear, clear as a bell, our family doctor saying, "Mrs. Way, we found the cause of your headaches and I'm afraid it's bad news."
After those words, everything else was an absolute blur. The only words I can distinctly remember hearing were "tumor," "inoperable," and "terminal," as I held Laney in my arms, the both of us sobbing uncontrollably. That day, they gave her four months to live and the world as I knew it, crashed down around me.
Everyone dies eventually, I know that. But knowing when you're going to die, that's the worst feeling in the world. After learning that Laney wouldn't be around for her next birthday, for Jaden's next birthday, it felt as if I were dying along with her. I didn't want to live anymore, not without Laney at my side.
After a few days of pure misery and heartbreak as I thought about everything Laney would never live to see, I found myself in total denial, convinced that the doctors were wrong. I drug Laney to another doctor for a second opinion, only to get the same prognosis a few days later. And when the second doctor didn't have the news I was determined to hear, I drug her to another doctor. Then another one. Then another one. All in all, over the next month, I'd taken Laney to seven different doctors and each one gave us the same answer, the only part that differed at all was how long she had left to live. That ranged anywhere from one month to three months and the one doctor that said three months was probably over optimistic.
When I'd realized that I wasted an entire month of her limited amount of life, I became angry. Very angry. Not just with myself, where I knew all the blame should lie, but angry with practically everyone and everything. By that point, word had gotten out all over of Laney's fate and every day, we had at least several visitors, each one offering condolences, offering prayers, offering help in any way it may be needed. It drove me mad, having to hear every single person who came to visit, cry tears of sorrow right in front of Laney, as if she were already dead. But as disgusted as I was with everyone, I remained silent, not wanting to give Laney any added pain or anguish.
One of the doctors I'd forced Laney to go to had suggested chemotherapy, explaining that it wouldn't cure her, but it could possibly extend her life a bit longer. And although I knew that she really didn't want to do it, she agreed to the radiation, knowing that it was what I wanted in order to keep her with me, if only for a very short time longer.
And it would be one of my biggest regrets of her last weeks on earth.
We had been warned that the procedure could cause Laney to be physically ill and the of days the radiation would be painful and long. And the warnings were not at all inflammatory. After the first round of chemotherapy, Laney spent the entire day vomiting profusely, in so much pain that she was barely able to stay conscious. And she had to go through the absolute agony twice a week for three weeks, and as she was put through each misery, I sat against the wall in her room, sobbing aloud at the pain I was putting her through.
After the chemotherapy was completed, we learned quickly that it didn't help whatsoever, as another MRI revealed that the tumor didn't shrink even a fraction of an inch. I realized at that point that there was nothing that anyone could do to save her life. She was being taken from me and no measure of medicine or miracle could bring her back.
That was just over six weeks ago, when I realized that instead of trying to keep her alive, knowing nothing I could say or do would help her, I chose to help her spend her last bit of time here on earth as comfortable as possible.
The day after the radiation had concluded, Laney sat me down to work out her final plans. That was the single most difficult thing I'd ever had to do as I sat in a chair beside her hospital bed with a pen and paper in hand, writing down every detail she could think of for her funeral and burying. She'd told me she didn't want to be buried in the ground, that she wanted to be burned and gave me two options for her ashes. I could either keep them with me or I could take them out to the shore at Asbury Park and let them fly away in the breeze, out to sea.
She also explained to me that she didn't want some long, drawn out funeral with everyone in attendance crying for her. She wanted just a short eulogy read, one that celebrated her life, not one that mourned for her death.
After explaining what she wanted for her funeral and burial, she asked me if I'd be able to take her home for her last days. She said she didn't want to die in a hospital; she wanted to go in the place that made her the happiest, and that was our home. Without hesitation, I agreed to her request, but I had some serious doubts about my capabilities to care for her properly.
Two more agonizing days after she'd given me her final wishes, I'd worked out her in home care with the Hospice program through the hospital and an ambulance brought her back home, allowing her to spend her final days with the people she loved most, Jaden and myself.
As the days slowly ticked by, Laney got worse and worse. The nurses with the hospice program had taught me how to change her IV bags and give her her doses of morphine to keep her comfortable. And as long as her veins held up, I was able to complete the tasks with ease.
Wanting Jaden to spend as much time with her mother as possible before she passed on, I pulled her out of school temporarily, explaining to the principal what was happening and he gladly agreed.
The last few weeks of Laney's life, the three of them spent every waking moment together and as her last days closed in, she became less and less aware as to what was happening. There were times that she didn't recognize me, there were times where she didn't recognize Jaden, and there were even times when she laid on her bed, bawling for her mother, who's been dead for eight years, as if she were a child.
The day before she died, Laney suddenly seemed as if she were getting better. She knew where she was, she knew who we were, and she knew what was going on. As Jaden was making dinner for us that night, Laney called me over to her bed and began speaking softly to me.
"Gerard, I just want you to know how much I love you and I want you to know that you are the greatest husband that any woman could ever have. I feel so blessed to have had you in my life for nineteen years and I wouldn't trade that for anything."
She paused a moment and I took that opportunity to wipe the tears from my eyes as I said, "you are the greatest wife in the world also, baby. And I have no idea what the hell I'm going to do without you."
Laney smiled up at me and weakly lifted her arm as she began to stroke my cheek. "You are the bravest, strongest, man I've ever met in my life and you're going to be okay. And I want you to go on with your life, Gerard. Go find another woman who will love you as much as I do."
I shook my head adamantly. "I'll never love anyone the way I love you. I can't imagine ever trying to find someone to take your place. You are the love of my life, Laney, and I don't ever wanna forget that."
She'd managed to hold back her own tears until that point. "I'm not saying I want you to find someone to take my place, honey. But what I am saying is that I don't want you to spend the rest of your life alone, pining for me. There's gonna be a point in your life when you're ready to move on and no matter what you do, just remember that you have my blessing."
I shook my head again, my tears falling freely at that point. "I can't do that to you and I won't."
She released a sigh of frustration. "I won't spend my last days arguing with you over this. If you choose to spend the rest of your life alone and miserable, then so be it. But when you open your eyes and realize that you need love in your life, never forget that you have my blessing."
Shortly after that conversation with her, something happened, causing her to become incoherent again. And this time she'd never get back from it. All night long, she whimpered and softly cried for her mommy, only dozing off for a few minutes at a time.
I'd drifted off the sleep at some point in the middle of the night and when I awoke again, I saw that it was 9:38am. Then I looked over to Laney, finding her with her eyes closed and her mouth hanging open. I quickly put my hand on her chest, praying for it to move, I wasn't anywhere near ready to tell her good bye yet.
Relief washed over me as her chest rose slightly, and I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek then whispered, "I love you, Laney. Forever."
Her hand slowly inched it's way up to mine as it rested on her frail body and without opening her eyes, she spoke, her voice very hoarse and barely a whisper. "Love...you...Way." Then she relaxed her hand and would never say another word again.
Tears flowed down my cheeks as I watched her breathing become shallow and infrequent. She was dying right then. Bolting off the chair, I ran to the bottom of the steps and called for Jaden. "Jaden! Jaden!" I yelled through my tears.
Seconds later, practically in a panic Jaden ran towards the steps. "Daddy? What's wrong?"
I sniffled then spoke softly. "You need to come down here, honey."
I knew that she instantly knew what was going on as she cautiously made her way down the steps. When she reached the floor where I stood, I took her hand and the two of us slowly made our way to the living room where Laney's bed had been set up. Once at the bed, I stood on the left side, and Jaden stood on the right, both of our eyes full of tears as we slowly moved our gazes from one another to Laney.
For the next several minutes, we stood at her bedside, Jaden holding Laney's hand, myself stroking her cheek. No words were spoken, just silent tears streaming down our cheeks as we stood over the most important woman in the world to both of us, touching her gently, as the life slowly left her body.
She took her final breath as 10:06am and Jaden and I completely broke down into sobs. Jaden moved her hand up to Laney's cheek and whispered through her tears. "I love you Mommy. Enjoy your time in heaven."
Jaden's words broke my heart even more and, using every ounce of strength I had left in me, I continued to stroke Laney's cheek as I whispered, "I love you Laney. Good bye baby."
For quite some time, Jaden and I stayed with Laney, crying together as we held each other tightly, trying to stay as calm as possible, reminding ourselves that it wasn't the end of the world. After saying our final good byes to Laney, I got on the phone and called the funeral home to come pick her up.
The rest of that day and the next was a complete blur. Phone calls were made to everyone, funeral arrangements were set up, and all the important things were taken care of as I forced myself to stay strong, if for no other reason than Jaden.
By the time last night rolled around, I was exhausted and for the first time in months, I had a good night's sleep. I wish I could say that the sleep made me feel better, but of course, it didn't and I'm sure I won't feel any better for a long time to come.
Jaden and I got to the funeral home with just minutes to spare before we had to meet the director. During out meeting he explained that instead of a normal eulogy, he would help us with Laney's final wishes and celebrate her life, rather than mourn her death. During the service, instead of prayer after prayer, a bunch of our family and friends stood at the front of the church and spoke about everything that they loved about Laney.
Jaden even went up, forcing tears back the entire time as she read from a piece of paper in her hand. By the time she'd finished speaking, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including me, and of course, it was my turn to go up.
As I reached the podium, I felt my heart begin to pound out of my chest as my palms grew sweaty. I had spent years singing songs in front of thousands of people and was never really nervous, yet here I was, my hands trembling as I opened the folded paper that contained everything I wanted to say. Refusing to let my nerves get the best of me, I took a deep breath and began to speak. "You know? I sat for hours yesterday, trying to figure out the perfect words to say to all of you to make you understand exactly how I feel about Laney, but then I realized that there was nothing I could say that each and every one of you didn't already know. She was the kindest, most caring person I've ever met in my life and I'm sure you would all agree with me. So, instead of saying all kinds of things that we've all heard over and over again, I'm just gonna say this." Then I paused, folding the paper back up as tears filled my eyes. After taking a deep breath, I said, "Laney, you made me the happiest man in the world when you came into my life. You jumped into my heart the second you smiled at me and you made yourself a permanent home there. And in the nineteen years we spent together, you showed me every single thing I could ever want or need to know. Even some things I never knew I could ever want. And I'll forever be thankful for you and the way you brightened my life for so long.
"I was angry when I first found out that our lives together were almost over, because I never wanted to have to let you go. But then I realized that God chose you for a reason. He knew that you were a special angel and that somewhere in this world; someone desperately needed your light and guidance.
"So, I'm gonna miss you, I'll miss you forever, but God knows what he's doing and he took you for a good reason, I'm sure. So, you enjoy your life in heaven, baby. And I'll see you again, I'm sure."
As I stepped down from the podium, I turned to Laney's still open casket and moved my hand to rest on top of hers that were placed on her chest. I squeezed her hands gently then leaned in and kissed her forehead before pulling back and smiling at her beautiful face for the last time. "I'll always love you, Laney." I whispered then walked back to my seat as I smiled. I know that she's watching over me and as long as she is, I know I'm gonna be okay.