So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time…
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while…
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life. ~ Green Day, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
July 2003: We didn’t like each other too much, to say the least.
Not terribly unusual, though: after I all, I was the estranged wife; she, the new (younger) girlfriend.
That’s when I first met Danielle, my estranged Cancer hubby’s first new girlfriend after our separation. And, being an Aries who needs to be Numero Uno with everyone (I know, totally unrealistic), I was not a happy camper.
Nevermind the fact that I was in a new relationship with my current Gemini/Cancer cusp man — the happiest relationship I had known in my life! Nevermind that he treated me like a princess; better than anyone before ever had.
No. All of the above was irrelevant. I had grown accustomed to my estranged Crab calling me umpteen times a day, tearfully begging me to give us “one more chance.” To let him come home. He cried, he pleaded, he told me he would do anything if we could just work things out. He promised to change, that “it’ll be different this time, you’ll see!” And it was the hardest thing in the world for me to have to repeatedly, yet gently, turn him down, only for him to plead with me all the more. I thought it would kill me. I sobbed as I apologized to him and explained that it was just too late. I also encouraged him to get out and meet someone new, reassuring him that he’d likely find someone so perfect for him that he would wonder how he had lived without her all this time.
Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for…
After four solid months of these pitiful, daily depressing pleas for a reconciliation, one morning in April 2003 my Crab called to announce he was about to head to work but just had one quick question for me: were we, or were we not going to work things out; was I going to take him back? I sighed and told him I was sorry, and although I would always love him, I had moved on. His voice didn’t break a bit as he accepted my response and informed me that was all he needed to know and would talk to me later.
Little did I know the reason behind that question.
He had met someone new.
Danielle — or Dani, as many knew her — was an 18 year-old coworker who had caught the attention of my ex-Crab; twelve years younger than me, eight years younger than him. Not only was I crushed that he had met someone new (which I had naively encouraged him to do in order to move on, silly me!), I felt old, ugly, and decrepit — she was twelve years younger than me! I didn’t want or need to know anything else about her: I didn’t like her. Not even a little bit. All I knew was her name, her age, and where she worked…and I hated her with every fiber of my being. We had it out via Yahoo! IM and email more than once. I wanted her to die. Literally. I wanted to kill myself and take her with me. I was beyond infuriated, filled with rage and hurt. After all, he was my husband (estranged or not) and regardless of the fact that I had moved on and was happier than ever before, he shouldn’t be healing: he should be pining over me for the remainder of his days! How dare he find happiness with someone other than me! Ridiculous, I know. A total double standard, I know. And I knew it then. I also didn’t care. I wanted to move on and be happy but I didn’t want my ex-Cancer to do the same!
But as the months passed and summer turned to autumn, the anger began to fade and Dani & I spent a lot of time on the phone talking over our differences, each making a genuine effort to empathize with the other. We acknowledged both of our roles in our ongoing dispute, identified ways to avoid problems, cleared the air, and agreed to be friends.
For the most part, from that day forward, Dani and I rarely had an issue. There were a few bumps in the road that cropped up from time to time, but for the most part it was a smooth ride, particularly as the years passed. My three children spent summers in West Virginia with my former Cancer hubby and Dani, a gentle Libra for whom conflict was truly uncomfortable. My Scorpio teenage daughter in particular became very close to her “stepmother” (which we referred to Dani as, although she and my ex-Crab never actually married), spending lots of time with her and because of only a seven year age difference between them, Dani was almost like a big sister to her as they shared secrets and hung out, scrapbooking, becoming fast friends. Over time as I came to know her better, I began to see in Dani the beautiful soul which had drawn my former husband to fall in love with her…and I told her so.
In late November 2004, Dani gave birth to a beautiful Sagittarius daughter, giving my progeny a new baby stepsister. And they adored the feisty little Archer as they continued spending summers in West Virginia with them, at least until 2008 when, sadly, the relationship between my former hubby and Dani came to an end.
Fast-forward, 2010: Dani married a new man and although everyone was moving on, including my ex-husband, my kiddos stayed in touch with her and with their stepsister as well, watching the ornery little Sadge grow like a weed via Facebook and occasional pictures Dani would send to the kids in a “thinking of you” card. Even Dani and I were Facebook friends, and I was truly glad for her and the new life she had begun. She was glowing in her wedding pictures; she radiated happiness. As Facebook “friends,” I “liked” and commented on the pictures she frequently posted of her new little family. She, in turn, regularly “liked” and commented on my photos and status updates. One time in particular, while I don’t recall the nature of the status I had posted, I remember vividly what Dani commented; not verbatim, but something to the effect of, “Jen, you told me something years ago that I never forgot: that every single person we cross paths with in this lifetime, no matter how brief, is for a reason; maybe they have something to teach us or we have something to teach them, or both. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s changed the way I look at things.” I remembered having told her that at least five years prior, and it meant a lot to me that what I said had made a positive difference in her life.
Fast-forward again, October 2011: I lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas and was single. My former Crab hubby and I decided to attempt a reconciliation, nearly nine years after separating, and he relocated from West Virginia down to Arkansas and moved in with my teen Taurus son and me. Sensing a conflict of interest — nothing more — I went into my Facebook account and quietly unfriended Dani. I knew she and my newly-reunited Cancer husband were not on the best of terms, and I only wanted to be Switzerland, not caught in the middle of any disputes involving their then 7 year-old Sadge daughter.
Late January 2012: Realizing our reconciliation was ultimately not doable, my Crab returned to West Virginia on good terms. We remained close friends, and with the exception of one falling out soon after our separation, during which time we didn’t communicate for about three months, we talked and texted often. By this time, I had moved back to Oklahoma and my ex-Cancer expressed his desire to also move back to Oklahoma, as it represented a seven-year period of his life during which he had been truly happy. But his father had recently passed away, his sister was battling a severe chronic autoimmune disease, and he felt he couldn’t leave his stepmother to deal with it on her own, which kept him from following through with his wish to return to Oklahoma.
January 1, 2013: My former Cancer husband was killed in a single vehicle accident less than one mile from home, leaving behind a grief-stricken 8 year-old
daughter and Dani — to whom I could absolutely relate, as my three children’s father had passed away from cancer almost 12 years earlier to the day. I told Dani, “I wish I couldn’t say that I truly know how you feel…but I do.” (That was the second time I had experienced such a death.)
Spring 2013: Some very disturbing information came to light, and her seemingly idyllic life was turned upside down once again, prompting a devastated Dani to quickly divorced her husband of nearly three years. I couldn’t begin to imagine the emotional hell she was living, especially in addition to still grieving the loss of her 8 year-old daughter’s father only a few months earlier. I wanted to reach out to her, but wasn’t quite sure how to do it…I never did.
February 2014: Dani, who had found love again — even stating “I’m so glad I didn’t give up on love!” — was now pregnant with her second child and, as she put it, “ecstatic.” Her Facebook posts were once again full of joy and hope, as she was engaged to the father of her child, a man with whom she was deeply in love, looking forward to giving birth to another child in August, and proudly boasting about her soon-to-be stepson’s and her now-9 year-old daughter’s achievements in school, proclaiming “you always make Momma proud!” She stated on one occasion that she knew she wasn’t perfect, and she had been through a lot of trials and tribulations in her life, but overall she was “proud of the woman [she’d] grown to be.” Life was beautiful again, full of promise.
Then one day early in her second trimester, Dani collapsed.
She was subsequently diagnosed with advanced cardiac liposarcoma. A cancer so exceedingly rare that the Mayo Clinic sees, on average, one case per year. Let me repeat that: ONE case per YEAR. Dani underwent open-heart surgery to remove the tumor but the surgeons were unable to completely remove it. The prognosis was grim. If she underwent treatment immediately, she could survive from five months up to perhaps a year. But this would have required her to terminate her pregnancy, as her baby was not yet at a viable age in its development, and the recommended treatment Dani desperately needed would most certainly kill the developing fetus.
Instead, Dani opted to continue her pregnancy as long as possible so that her unborn child might survive, and she would begin treatment after giving birth.
Heart cancer survival rate is nearly 8.3 % in the early stages and in the medium and advanced stages it is nearly about 3% and 0.9 % respectively. When the patient reaches the third and the fourth stage, it becomes extremely difficult as the tumor has already damaged the surrounding areas and other parts of the body. If it is detected before the tumour reaches the spinal cord and the brain then heart cancer survival rate is around11 to 14%. Once the other parts of the body including the brain and the spinal cord are affected, the chances of survival from this tumor are less and hence the survival rate may be zero. ~ “What Is The Survival Rate For Heart Cancer?” http://www.cancer8.com
Sunday, May 18, 2014: With her condition rapidly deteriorating, Dani’s doctors made the decision to deliver the 28-week fetus, a 3 pound little girl she had already named Noella Justine. Thankfully, although Noella survived and is thriving, although she won’t be able to leave the NICU until around the time of her original August due date, Dani began to fade. She was placed on life support, occasionally breathing somewhat on her own, although sadly taking a general downward turn. She was not conscious, and had not yet held or seen her tiny baby girl…though at one point, little Noella was brought to her mother, lain across her chest, and her tiny hand reached up and touched her mother’s face. Whether or not Dani was conscious of this is unclear…
Sunday, May 25, 2014: As the cancer continued ravaging Dani’s weakened body, she began experiencing multiple organ failure. The decision was made to remove her from life support later that evening…and in an update I was told she was “breathing on her own and fighting.” I was racing northeast, desperately trying to get there, pleading with the Universe for a miracle; or at least to let me get to see her just one last time so that I could not only thank her for making such a positive impact in the lives of my three children, who still referred to her as their stepmother, but to also let her know that while I might have taught her something at one time, I had learned more about strength, grace, and perseverance in the wake of tragedy from her than she could possibly imagine.
Monday, May 26, 2014, Memorial Day, 4:30am EDT: Danielle Marie Long, age 29, passed peacefully into eternity, surrounded by family, friends, and her 9 year-old daughter…who had now tragically lost both of her parents in less than a year and a half.
I arrived in town at 9:30am EDT, where I literally ran from my truck down the driveway and up the sidewalk to the front door, tears streaming down my face, and into the arms of my late Cancer ex-husband’s sobbing stepmother.
When my mom was really sick just before she died, we asked her if she was ready to go to Heaven and be with Jesus. She [nodded her head yes.] And then she died. ~ as told to me by Dani’s 9 year-old daughter
During my week-long stay in Weirton with my late ex-husband’s family, I was blessed to be able to spend a great deal of time with my ex-Crab & Dani’s 9 year-old Sadge daughter. She became quite attached to me during my stay, and vice versa. I feel we actually helped each other. I never brought up anything about her mom, but when she initiated a conversation about Dani, I gave her my undivided attention: listening, commenting when appropriate, empathizing. And when she changed the topic, I followed her lead. This precious little fourth grader has experienced in the first nine years of life what many adults never experience in an entire lifetime.
My mom couldn’t talk but when I said ‘I love you,’ she started to cry. ~ Dani’s 9 year-old daughter
This precocious little Archer and I played games for hours: Simpsons’ Clue, Sorry!, Go Fish, War. She would say, “Jen, come here, I wanna tell you a secret!” and when I would bend down to her level, she cupped her little hands around my ear and whispered things such as “Y-O-U A-R-E T-H-E B-E-S-T,” “I ‘heart’ you,” “Will you stay up with me all night and play games?” and “Will you cuddle with me?” My heart melted, and of course I indulged her every request. When my 8 year-old fiery Leo niece, her cousin, came to stay the night with us, we even played “school.” I enjoyed and cherished every minute I got to spend with those little girls. It was therapeutic for all of us, in my opinion. I was fortunate enough to be able to somehow, albeit in a small way, repay Dani — as well as my late ex-husband — for being there for my three kids for so many years, and Dani’s daughter, aware that I “used to be married to her dad before he met her mom,” perhaps viewed me as a parental figure that wasn’t an aunt, uncle, or grandparent…and she seemed to desperately crave that. She cried her eyes out Saturday night when she knew I had to leave the next morning, and asked if she could cuddle with me and sleep with me, which she did. She was possessive of me as well: when my sister in-law or mother in-law expressed a desire to spend some time with me talking, this little girl angrily accused them of being “Jen hogs!” and demanded that they “stop hogging Jen!”
At one point, I called my Scorpio daughter and Taurus son in Arizona so that she could talk to her “sissy” and one of her brothers, which she was thrilled about. When her Leo cousin asked who she was talking to, this little Archer proudly smiled and told her, “My brother and sissy!” It seemed to give her a sense of normalcy; a connection to a time when things were as they should be; when both of her parents were alive and well.
It did the same for me as well.
At this point, I would love to move up to West Virginia not only to be closer to the girlies, but to the rest of the family as well. My current Gemini-Cancer cusp man isn’t against it; but the Gemini in him (sigh…) means he must take the time to analyze every possible aspect of such a move, where my spontaneous, let’s-do-it-right-now! Aries nature would already be there were it up to me alone. I feel a duty, a call, a need and a desire to be around for Dani and my ex-husband’s daughter. I truly believe she found comfort in being around me and that she needs me…because she told me she did.
And strange as it might seem, I feel like I need her just as much.