Coping With Cancer: Mom Was Right

By Margaret Nyman

November 6, 2009

Years ago, when Nate and I were in our 20s, we were invited to a slew of weddings back-to-back. For a couple of months straight we were attending a wedding every weekend. I complained to Mom at the time, saying, “I’m constantly shopping for wedding gifts, and it’s expensive. Besides, we’re so busy, we’re neglecting our weekend work around the house.”

Mom answered in a strange way. “Weddings are happy. Just wait till your calendar is full of funerals.”

Tomorrow we attend the wake planned in Nate’s honor. The next day is his funeral, and we haven’t been to a wedding in quite a while. Mom was right. These occasions aren’t happy.

The girls and I shopped for clothes today, having nothing appropriate for the wake and funeral of our husband/father. Shopping for clothes is usually fun, but this time the fun had been sucked out of it like air from a balloon. The guidelines for what to buy were based on the sad realities of a family in mourning. We tried on dark colors, mostly black, and fought sadness even in the dressing rooms. None of us are “happy” with our purchases.

Each of us has been peppered by thoughts of Nate being in the next room or on his way home. Even as I tried on my black dress I thought, “Nate will like this when he sees it.” That’s probably the hardest part of beginning the mourning process. The reality of his absence takes time to sink in. One minute we know it, and the next we’ve forgotten. Each disappointing “oh … that’s right … he’s gone” is a sledgehammer to the heart.

Yet Scripture tells us the truth about his death from cancer: “For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” Although we are suffering, Nate is not. He has relocated to his new home, where his agony has ended, which is the one bright spot in all this misery.

Facing his wake and funeral is both a fear and a fascination. I’m fearful of the emotional assault on our children and on myself. Will it feel like we’re being kicked when we’re already down?

Yet I’m fascinated as I wonder who will come. The funeral home wanted to know what size room we’d need. Bob said, “We have a small room that will seat 30, a larger one for 60 and the largest for 130. Unlike planning a wedding at which the guests are specifically invited and the RSVPs carefully counted, a funeral is a wild card. A small obituary goes into the newspaper, and you hope people see it. Beyond that, you can’t plan.

“The younger the deceased, the stronger the draw,” they say. Is 64 young? As Nate and I approached the Social Security check-drawing age of 65, we felt pretty old. As he anticipated death, our tune changed and 64 was young. We have no idea how many or who will come.

For those attending our wake or funeral it won’t be pleasant. It’ll be difficult to know what to say or how to act. The ones who come will be, I’m certain, our true friends. In this one way, funerals and weddings are alike. I’m looking forward to putting my arms around people I love but have not seen in many months or maybe even years. We will be coming together because Nate died, which is a horrible reason to gather. But we will also find gentle enjoyment in seeing each other, longing for more than lightning fast conversations in a receiving line.

If only Nate could be there, too.

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicles the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Her personal blog is at

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