Today, I gave away another piece of you. A piece that’s traveled with me for thousands of miles back and forth between Los Angeles and Canada and other places. A piece that’s been with me for 17 years.

In the days, months, and years since your passing, I’ve let go of small and big parts of you and of us. In the early days, I tore through the house, purging it of any sign of your illness. Perhaps I was trying to get us back to the time before your diagnosis when all was well…when you were well.

Weeks into grieving, I ripped apart your office piece by piece, claiming it for my own. I emptied your bookshelves, thoughtlessly giving them away and later regretting the rage that had fueled me to do so. I filled bins with notes and files and scribblings you’d never need again. I cursed the massive desk you’d had custom made for the space it ate up and the hours of memories of you sitting there searching online for something, anything, that might cure your cancer when traditional treatments failed you. I painted the walls white, opened the door to the backyard, and let the room breath.

Grief has its own timeline

A decade together. So many pieces and parts to embrace, to release, to celebrate, to grieve. With each step forward, I left more of you and of us behind. But I’ve kept the best parts. The memories, the lessons, the friendship, the love. I remember how you cherished me and honored me as your wife. I remember how you taught me to stand up for myself. I remember how you supported me to follow my dreams. Most of all, I remember how you loved me…and you loved me so very, very well.

Seventeen years later, very few pieces of physical evidence of you remain. But our wedding album and your art have endured my moments of needing to release the past. The wedding album is tucked away, but your art comforts me each day, greeting me in the morning as I awake, gracing the entry to my living room, and inspiring me from my office wall. I’m grateful that I can enjoy them now in peace – a sense of peace that I couldn’t feel in the early days of my loss.

True friends stay after loss

Last night, one of our closest friends came to visit. She walked around my home appreciating how well your art fit into my new life. She shared with me pictures of her Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home designed and built from nothing. Rooms of cocoa colored wood and white walls glowing in natural light reminded me of the home you imagined for us before cancer tore down any chance we had at erecting that dream.

I awoke the next morning, walked into my office, and took one of your remaining pieces from its hanging place. Much of this canvas is a rich, chocolate brown, heavy and thick. You can feel the burden of the darker parts. However, as you sink down toward the bottom part of the piece, the light breaks through. Streaks of white and orange and blue pierce the darkness. Hope breaking through grief.

I gave it with joy

“I want you to have this for your new home.” And with those words, a piece of you passed from my hands to the hands of our dear friend, accompanied by tears of gratitude. There are pieces of you I’ve let go in sadness and in anger. But this piece was let go with great joy. I know it will be cherished and loved and admired.

Pieces of Me

Seventeen years later, very few pieces of physical evidence of you remain but your love, your memory lives on with every breath I take. I have, over time, discovered pieces of me have filled into many of the holes and cracks and crevices your death rendered. I have become someone different because of your leaving. It is not better than or worse than who I would have been with you by my side…it is just different. I have floundered in my loss, and I’ve grown from it. I rediscovered my dancer self and my writer self. I transformed my love of caring for you into helping others. I’ve done the best I could with the worst that could have ever happened to me. That is something.

Though today, I’ve given away another piece of you, you are here with me. You reside still in my body and my mind and my heart. You inspire the who I’ve become without you every day. Your illness and death have become our legacy, and that is far greater than any of the things I’ve let go of over all these years.

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Tambre Leighn

Tambre Leighn is a published author, speaker, and outspoken patient/caregiver advocate. Her background as a professional athlete and her personal experience caregiving for her late husband along with her struggles with grief-related depression after being widowed inspired Tambre to become a coach. After years of coaching individual clients, she now provides consulting and training to healthcare organizations to improve the patient and caregiver experience. In her down time, she enjoys dancing Argentine Tango and writing.

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