Years After Loss, Grief Still Surfaces as ‘Price of Love’
Chrissy Betlach Vinje | 02.24.20
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.”
Chrissy, what a beautiful and loving tribute to your life partner. Your story is both moving and inspirational. My mother and father both died of Alzheimer’s Disease in the same year (2016). Caring for them began even before they were diagnosed. Like other caregivers, I became so focused on their care and comfort that when the end finally came it felt unexpected. My mother’s final two weeks were terrible for her and heartbreaking for those of us who loved her. My dad actually died suddenly of a stroke while he was a patient in a wonderful memory unit.I was blindsided by the physical toll grief had on my body and felt like I was walking through quicksand for over a year. I was closest to my mom – I’m the oldest and only girl – and STILL miss the sound of her voice. She was my greatest teacher, mentor, and cheerleader. I will always be grateful that I was able to be with her around the clock the last several days of her life. Being beside her as she slowly left this world was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done …..and the greatest privilege I have ever experienced. The end came so quickly for my dad that even though I made the 40 minute trip from my home to the nursing facility in 25 minutes I did not get there in time. Missing the chance to say goodbye has played a major role in the grief I have felt since then.The poem you quoted is one of my favorites. It is framed and on my desk, a gift from a friend.May the messages and signals from your dear Tom continue to bring you comfort and wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing your story!
Just what I needed to hear ,The love of my life since we were 15 just past away suddenly. We were married 64 years . I know I have to focus on living as he would want me to but a part of me died with him. His name was also Tom. And we loved each other so much
I have found what eases grief is memories. It’s the one thing you will have with you forever and it offers peace and comfort. It’s been 11 yrs for me and I still think about him everyday. I just do it in a more positive light by remembering all the fun and good times we had. Sometimes I will just laugh out loud rembering something funny he said or did while with me. God bless you, and keep you!?
Chrissy – you do not know me, although I am sure if we met we’d be fast friends. Throughout my life it seems as though I’ve been surrounded by grief. We first lost our mother, Rosalie, a mother of six, in March 1974 – I was 8 years old and the youngest. She was 46 & my dad turned 50 six days after she passed. I carried that grief with me my entire life. Then it got harder. Out of nowhere I started losing friends, young friends. My husband of 10 years passed suddenly in his sleep in September 2016. I found him on our couch with a smirk on his face. He was finally done with his struggles in life. Now fast forward to January 2020. My brother of 59 died of a massive heart attack. He was my best friend, my hero (saved my life twice) concert buddy, laughing partner and closest in age to me. I cant let it go. February I lost my first roommate & brother away from brothers, after 30 years ago when I moved to VT I had just spoken with him two days prior- massive heart attack. There were more, but it would take too much time. I wish you light & love. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that we are never alone! Just reading your journal entry made me realize I have yet another kindred spirit because we have this grief in common. Love & peace to you. Soar with the eagles, Tom!!
My brother will be gone 2 years, February 16th. March 10, 2019 he thought he was having a stroke. Ct scan showed a tumor the size of a goose egg, on the right side of his brain. He was transported to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. Surgery was Monday, he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma. About 80% was removed. Wednesday he had a blood clot form in the empty space, and they went in and removed it. He went thru rehab, chemo and radiation. Nothing stopped it. The only option left was the Optimus head gear that was showing positive results, at killing the cancer cells. He was going to do do it, but changed his mind at the last minute. He passed away February 16, 2020. A few months after, Cleveland Clinic had a Cure for the Glioblastoma. September 1, 2019, our Dad had multiple strokes, that left him with no use of the left side of his body. And Sundowners Syndrome. I have always felt the stress from my brothers brain tumor, brought Dads strokes on. Dad passed away December 10, 2020. One was Sr., the other Jr.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and quote. My husband died unexpectedly 10 years ago. It’s hard to believe it has been that long ago. I recall it so vividly. Life rolls on swifty and I get through it by focusing heavily on my work. I greatly miss my husband and what we had together. He was such a good guy. I know one can’t look back, one needs to hold on to the love and cherished memories in order to forge ahead. When I am feeling blue, I tell myself, I am lucky, because I was able to experience a beautiful love and some people never do. Your story tells me you were a lucky one too. You are a very strong woman to be such a loving and supportive wife when I am sure you had to hold back tears to be strong for him. He was lucky to have you as his wife. May you go from Strength to Strength.
Hi Chrissy,Two years ago my mother dies of Glioblastoma Multiform. She led an amazing life—through WWII in the underground bunkers of London to her husband in Mississippi. She was tough and never complained. Now, my sister was just diagnosed with it. What are the odds? My sister, just a few years older than I is also tough, but remains more private about her situation. I, on the other hand, escaped Glioblastoma through a recent diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I get to serve 4 fun full weeks in isolation as they start hardcore chemo. I will be fine, but have recognized that I will not see my sister again as she nears this end without me. This is not about me, though. I will be fine, but wanted to let you know that I read your story and was greatly touched by it. It is hard to think about at times, but their souls are good—even with all of our sins (I hope so for myself 🙂 ). Every so often, remembering the good times together makes all of the difference to me. Hold strong and keep marching forward :-). All the best!!
As I read your post, tears were streaming down my face. Your husband was your treasure. You were with someone you loved and now you are not. Every time I hear the term Glioblastoma I just freeze. My husband and I were together for 50 years and married for 48 years. He died 4-1/2 months ago (Aug.15,2020) of an Glioblastoma – inoperable. He decided not to have treatment and I had to honor his decision, although difficult. He died 4 months after being diagnosed. He was so brave and never complained or felt sorry for himself. It was so difficult because due to the Coronavirus friends, neighbors and relatives were not able to be with him. After he passed away my whole world stopped. I am still trying to grasp his horrible diagnosis, let alone his passing. He is at peace and I am left to find a way to heal from what feels like a train wreck. I also feel out of balance, scattered and can’t concentrate. I love the quote you wrote about grieving-thank you. Interesting – my husband always said that he wanted to come back as an eagle. Chrissy – maybe our husbands are flying around together watching over us.
That was wonderful and so eloquently written. I can tell the love for your husband ran and still runs deep. I hope you and your family continue to find strength in the coming years. Happy Holidays and all the best for 2021.
Dear Chrissy, Thank you for being brave enough to write this post. There will always be a hole in your heart, a place missing at the table, a memory not made. But moving forward is honoring his memory. Making that one step, just one step to the next minute or hour or day tells Tom you are honoring – and sharing his memory. What better tribute can there be?
Thank you for sharing. I’m a new member of the Caring Bridge. I too feel lost sometimes as I continue to pick up the pieces to move forward remembering the passage above. Grief is the price of Love.
This pandemic Time be brave time will passed stay strong and healthy.
Chrissy, my husband of 16 years was diagnosed wth GBM 11 days ago, and made it through 2 surgeries to remove it this past Monday. We are both still reeling from the news, and the what are the next steps. Your words have given me so much to hold onto. Thank you for sharing your “Piece of Love” in this way. God bless you!
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.
What a beautiful testimony if a heart-wrenching experience. Thank you for sharing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for sharing! I really like this quote, also.Sending you positive & healing energies! Take care
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
thanks for sharing your story
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.
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.
Thank you for sharing your story. I am the main care giver if someone with glioblastoma brain tumor.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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