Brain Tumor Stories

Years After Loss, Grief Still Surfaces as ‘Price of Love’

My husband, Tom Vinje, was diagnosed in March 2008 with a glioblastoma brain tumor. He passed away seven months later, in October 2008. We were together 11 years, married for nine.

Tom was one of those guys who could light up a room with his smile—and that laugh! Oh, how I miss that laugh. Thank God I have it recorded on video. Tom and I had so much in common. We were both from big families. We liked the same music, loved traveling, eating out and entertaining at our home in Minneapolis.

‘How Did You Get Through It?’

We had a lot of fun together and made each other laugh. He used to call me his “Lovely Little Snickerdoodle” or “Snicks” for short. I was 18 months older, but you would have thought it was 15 years the way he went on about it!

Throughout Tom’s illness, I had people tell me how strong I was and wonder how I was able to get through it. The honest answer is: I just did it.

I have found that when tragedy strikes, I am a person who springs into action and feels the emotions later. I want to know what I can do, what needs to be done—and then I do it. During Tom’s illness, I felt like a freight train that had no plans to stop.

I Had to Keep My Focus

I remember thinking that I couldn’t let outside influences and emotions get to me because I had to be there for Tom. He was my focus and greatest priority. I had to keep that focus so that I wouldn’t fall apart.

After his last significant hospital stay, I knew it was time to bring Tom home. While his Mom, Ginny, his sisters, and my family felt intimidated by how much care Tom needed, I knew with every fiber of my being that my husband needed to be home.

We All Became Caregivers

Never imagining ourselves as caregivers, everyone took shifts during the week while I was at work, and our nephew, Tony, took the night shift. But complications were setting in, and it became more difficult for us women to be able to move Tom so he could be comfortable and safe.

It was a Sunday morning when Tom transitioned into the loving and waiting arms of family and friends who had gone before him. While I was happy for him, I was sad for all of us. I knew the hard part was just beginning.

So Lost in Grief

Grief is a very unforgiving emotion. There is no question it did a number on me. I have never felt so lost in my life. All these years later, I can still tap into it, just by talking about what Tom went through. The despair, anxiety and inability to focus were something I had never experienced to that degree.

And, full disclosure, I am still struggling with my focus and decision-making processes on some levels. Despite years of therapy, journaling on CaringBridge—a lifeline for me—and re-framing Tom’s illness and death as I wrote my book about our life together, I still find that some things are not as easy for me as they once were.

Little Signs and Messages

Through it all, my honey has found ways to reach me from the other side. Over the years, he has sent me so many little signs and messages—through dreams, other people, the radio, his favorite bird, the eagle, and in other ways as well.

The day of Tom’s funeral was Oct. 31, 2008—Halloween. The sun was shining; it was about 70 degrees. We were at the cemetery after the service, a group of us standing around after Tom’s buddies did a 21-beer salute to him.

As I stood alongside his casket, looking at the eagle ornament I had asked the funeral director to put on it,  I heard Tom’s brother, Gary, say, “There’s an eagle!” We all looked up and everyone started clapping and cheering.

A bald eagle flew from a leafless tree, and as it soared above us, I heard Tom say in my mind, “I’m free!” I knew then that my husband was happy.

Can You Ever Fully Heal?

In the years since Tom’s death, I continue to take great comfort in all these subtle messages I have received from him. They mean everything to me. They were, and still are, an integral part of me knowing that he is around and watching over all of us.

And while I don’t think it is possible to ever fully heal from such a loss, I have learned to live with it. Doing things to help other people makes me feel close to Tom and helps my soul feel more whole again.

There is a quote about grieving I saw a few years ago that really touched me. I share it here so that maybe it will help someone else going through a loss like mine:

Grief never ends…but it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith.
It is the price of love.”

Comments (27)

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Nancy PERRY Oct 09, 2020 5:16pm
There is a wonderful book, "Grief Recovery Handbook by James and Friedman. This could help the pain go away. I lost 2 husbands and know your pain well.
Barb Oct 08, 2020 7:31am
What a beautiful testimony if a heart-wrenching experience. Thank you for sharing.
John Sep 20, 2020 1:47pm
Thank you for such a beautiful and heart warming tribute to your husband. It really makes me so happy to know that he is remembered after so many years. I hope you will have continued success in your journey. I can sense how much you loved him and pray that you will be all right.
Terry L. Jones Sep 07, 2020 6:39pm
I wrote the note just below this. But I wanted to add. My husband died of esophagus Cancer. He did not let me know when he started having systems. The week before I found out he had just been to the Dr. and didn't say anything to him. He had lost 15 pounds sense the last time he had been there. He told the Dr. he had been dieting. He told me that he didn't want dinner because he was dieting. That I seen him come in and fix his lunch that he ate on the patio. The next week he lost a lot more weight. I confronted him and we went back to the Dr. They sent him to have a tub put down his throat. The Dr come out and said "I have never seen a tumor of that kind so big. He couldn't get the tub through to see if he had stomach cancer also." They put him in the hospital and put a baby tub down and than made a place for a feeding tub The night before the test he was having a hard time. He told me he hadn't been able to eat or drink anything for a week. I was so upset. I call 911 and they came but sense he didn't want to go to the hospital they didn't take him. My son and I got him in the car the next morning to go have the test. And some how God gave him the strength to get out of the car to have the test. He died 6 months later. After is death at first I was so mad at him for not letting me know there was something wrong. But one day all of a sudden I thought about what he said when he told me about his mom dying of cancer. He told me than that he never wanted to put anyone through years of that pain of watching him die. Than I realized WHY he didn't let me know. It took the being mad away, and just left me wishing I could talk to him in person. I know he loved me more than life itself. And I love him the same way.
Terry L. Jones Sep 07, 2020 5:44pm
Thank you for that quote. My Husband and I bought our house in 1992 and Married at our home in May of 2000. He died on April 2 2015. My mother whom had died in 2008 , her birth day was April 3rd. At the grave sight I looked up and said Mom I'm sending you your favorite son-in-law. Which was right. He treated both of us with such kindness and Great respect. On Sundays I would pick her up and take my Mom to the show and he would have dinner almost ready for us when we got home. And if she had any laundry to be done he would do that while we were gone. His mother died when he was 13. She had been in the hospital and in bed sense he was 9. He was so happy that he had a new mom. As you say I don't think Grief ever goes away. You just try and find a New Normal. My mom and dad had 2 sets of twins. Both sets boy and girl. All have passed away. but me. Believe me I know Grief. But I know also that God still has something for me to do. And to be the person for my nephews and niece, and there kids. Its my house that they come to on Christmas Eve and I can hear them telling their kids how the house use to be even more decorated than it is now. That was mine and my husband passion sense we moved in our house. Many wonderful memories. The one thing I wish I had is a recording of his voice. Thank you for your letter and the Quote.
Ed Bishop Sep 07, 2020 4:19pm
Thank you. My wife and partner of 29 years has GBM on the thalamus, right in the middle of her brain. My experience is very similar to yours and you validated my feelings and approach. We just passed the 6 mo anniversary of the diagnosis. I used to have sympathy for friends going through this or the loss of a spouse. Now I have empathy.
Catherine Valdez Sep 06, 2020 1:40am
Thank you for sharing your story with others. I am so sorry for your loss. Your photo captures everything you said about the two of you and your relationship. Since the passing of a dear friend's grandson who was diagnosed with glioblastoma in May 2019 and passed Dec 24th of the same year, I have heard of many others taken too soon by this devastating and horrible disease. I pray for those who are struggling with this horrible disease for which there is no cure as well as for their loved ones and caregivers who are alongside of them. I also pray for a cure. I will write your name in my prayer journal and pray for you - You are a very courageous woman.
Kimberly Golemme Aug 31, 2020 2:24pm
Thank you for sharing! I really like this quote, also. Sending you positive & healing energies! Take care
Marjorie Gutsch Aug 09, 2020 5:45pm
Thank you for sharing your very personal thoughts with us. I lost my husband almost 3 years ago to cancer. We were married 51 years. My husband was so brave throughout the 8 months of knowing he had incurable cancer. He set an example for me, our family and all who knew and loved him. One of my husband's best friends told me that he'd learned a lot of things from my husband over the years, but the most important thing was he taught him how to die. It's because of my husbands constant smile and his acceptance of his future that we were all able to be strong. Even after he passed, we were all strong, knowing that was what he'd want. Grieving continues, but we all know he's watching over us and we'll one day be together again.
Joan O'Keefe Aug 05, 2020 2:10pm
No one really understands...unless they have gone through it. For me it will be five years since's my husband's death. At times, it feels like I will never recover, but then there are good days. I too, have signs from him, this helps. The quote you listed is one that I often refer to as well. We just have to keep moving forward. We were together for as a married couple for 43 yrs .
Joan O'Keefe Aug 05, 2020 2:07pm
No one really understands...unless they have gone through it. For me it willbe five years since's my husband's death. At times, it feels like I will never recover, but then there are good days. I too, have signs from him, this helps. The quote you listed is one that I often refer to as well. We just have to keep moving forward.
Shirley Light Aug 05, 2020 12:35pm
The thing I have learned is that the love grows deeper and the memories grow sweeter as the years go by. So continue to live on, love through memories and continue sharing your story. It does help the healing process.
Maria Avila Jul 31, 2020 2:33pm
Praying that day by day you get stronger and stronger. Do not give up. One day you will see him again! It seems that you had a good life with him. He most defenetly would want to continue to embrace and continue to enjoy life. God has you in the palm of his hand, Jesus is Caring you through this difficulty time. God bless my sister.
B. M. Jul 27, 2020 8:31pm
I Think This Quote from C.S. Lewis said it pretty well too.. "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear...other times it feels like being mildly drunk...there is sort of an invisible blanket between the world and me" (Very well said, I must agree)
Ronnie McKee Jul 26, 2020 6:49pm
I lost my wife after 33 yrs. of marriage 7 years ago. She fought her cancer for 3 years. We went from OKC to MD Anderson at Houston to NIH in Washington DC. They were tough times, but we were together, so they were special times. I still struggle every day, but my faith and kids help get me through it. We had a caring bridge account. The encouragingly words helped so much.
Pat Cox Jul 10, 2020 4:13pm
The price of love! How very very beautiful. I have found that after 5 years the grief can still be overwhelming, a commercial a saying a sound can set it off. The lady that got a card from the Dr's office hit very close to home. My husband was in rehab when he passed and they sent me a lovely book, but all of his nurses and even the other people that were around him signed it all with a short note about him. That meant so mcuh to me.
Jhon Edmar Jul 02, 2020 2:10pm
thanks for sharing your story
Peggy Olson Jun 17, 2020 4:14pm
My husband died five years ago this May 14th, and it was as hard for me this year as it was the first year he was gone. We had over30 years together and I still wish we could have had 30 more...just not like his last few years. I know I am supposed to be glad he was released from his deteriorating body, gradually losing his ability to hear, see, walk, feed himself, and finally talk. I am glad for him, but for me? I know he is here. I feel him when he sits on the bed at night; I see him when my blue-eyed cat jumps up on the desk and sits down in front of the computer monitor, staring at me because I have been at the computer too long; or I sense him when I do something stupid and trip or fall down that he is shaking his head and muttering under his breath! He is with me when I hear a particularly beautiful piece of music, or see something in a movie or TV that he would have loved, or talk to one of our grandchildren all of whom he was specially fond. All those senses bring Dick back to me, but what I really want is HIM next to me with the hugs or kisses that were always so rewarding. You are right with the poem about grief....it never does end, but it does change! As I get older, I hope he continues to bless me with his silent presence; that I continue to feel him here with me till I reach the day when I can finally join him.
Mickie Odom Jun 14, 2020 5:35am
Chrissy: Just saw your post on caring bridge and I know of the feelings you have for I lost my husband December 3, 2009 after 43 years of marriage. You just feel them with you some days. Now my son-in-law has cancer and is fighting it. He's had to have 18 pts of blood and will have chemo Monday and Tuesday. Keep the good fight and be among friends and remember those special times with him . Stay safe! Continue on with your life and enjoy it.
Debbie Bozeman Jun 05, 2020 11:07pm
Thank you for sharing your story. I am the main care giver if someone with glioblastoma brain tumor.
Pamela Kallimanis May 18, 2020 3:51am
My 17 year old daughter was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. We're using this site, but I honestly don't know how to keep up with any of it. She's four weeks into treatment, and it's so hard. Thank you for your kind words.
Cheryl Millard-Nutt May 11, 2020 3:31pm
Chrissy~ I randomly came across your post as I was sharing this Caring Bridge resource with another. So many of the things you wrote about hit home with me. Sound like me. A bit like my experience with my husband. It is not often (thank goodness) that I come across someone I feel "can relate". Wow. My husband had a GB(multi-form) & was on an 18 year journey. I was a freight train...taking care of business for a very long time. I can sure relate. It wasn't until about a year later I let myself feel any greave (someone had to take care of stuff, right?). Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.
Candace McCown Mar 06, 2020 5:38pm
WOW, you are so good at articulating how you feel and bring me along with you. So glad I was living across the street thru this and was able to help out when needed. It is true, I miss his laugh, giggle and fun! Love & hugs to you Chrissie!
Tracey Williams-Dillard Mar 06, 2020 7:45am
Chrissy I never got a chance to meet Tom but do to all your post over the years and after reading your story I feel the love that you two had and your love was very strongl. My heart goes out to you because I know the pain is still there but I'm proud of you for being able to move on and to share your story to all of us. I love you
Beth Timm Mar 06, 2020 6:23am
I know Tom is looking down on you with pride! I am sure this will help others who are struggling and bring them comfort that they, too, will find a way through the darkness and sadness.
Roxie Chudy Mar 05, 2020 8:13pm
Love you Chris. Your sharing your life with others is one of the many things I admire about you. You are full of grace and love. The quote you shared is spot on. XO
Randy Smith Feb 28, 2020 3:20pm
Thank you for sharing this. I started to say thank you for sharing your story, but this is not a story, it is your life. I love the saying that you shared, I am going to pass it on to a dear friend. Her husband passed one year ago. I Pray that if I am ever in your position I can have the strength to do the right things for my husband as you did🙏🦅