For 49 years, I was fortunate to welcome the New Year with my beloved husband, Ira Z”L (1954-2023). In the early years, we celebrated quietly at home. Later on, we would travel during winter break or enjoy the family tradition of skiing at Keystone Resort on New Year’s Day.
This year, I am alone in my Colorado mountain home. Tomorrow, I will ski on New Year’s Day without my b’shert (my soulmate). My youngest son, Jordan, will drive up from Denver for the morning to join me. If for some reason he cannot come, I will manage on my own. This season, I have already skied a few times by myself and last week with my son, Aaron.
The majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains offsets a small percentage of the pervasive sadness that permeates my soul. Distractions cannot totally stop the tsunami of emotions that go hand in hand with grief and anticipatory grief. Prior to Ira’s passing, I endured three years of anticipatory grief while Ira courageously battled glioblastoma. His perseverance was impressive, especially after the recurrence of an inoperable tumor in January 2023 that significantly compromised his ability to walk.
Throughout his terminal cancer journey, I remained by his side until he gasped his last breath on July 21. With a limited amount of science and medical background, I researched a plethora of resources so that I could piece together a plan to help him beat the odds. The brain tumor, along with the ramifications of his 2010 traumatic brain injury, stifled Ira’s desire to learn more about his terminal brain cancer. I shared some of my research on my For Glio page.
Ira relied on me to figure out our next steps and to be his care partner. After decades of a loving marriage, he trusted me. It was important to locate and implement alternative treatments that complemented the traditional standard of care treatments offered by his medical team and second opinion doctors. I had to find ways to enrich our lives so we could keep moving and live our lives without regrets.
Unlike many terminal cancer patients who simply give up, Ira maintained a positive mindset that included his favorite motto–Keep Moving and Live Without Regrets. His positivity was just one of many things that helped him live longer than most people diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Even when I made the difficult decision to temporarily place him in a rehab hospital when he was losing the ability to see or when it was necessary to transport him by ambulance to a hospice hospital for his final weeks, Ira was unable to accept that the end was near. I struggled to accept the inevitable.
To live twice as long as the average glioblastoma patient, while simultaneously being able to ski and travel throughout the world is a major accomplishment. I am grateful that we could do so many active adventures together and that I could share these experiences with a diverse group of publications as well as on my two websites. My stories will hopefully encourage others to embrace life.
I had secretly hoped and prayed that Ira would reach the five year mark. He told many people that he wanted to celebrate his 70th birthday and our 50th anniversary. This ended up not being the case since Ira passed away just weeks before his 69th birthday and shortly after our 48th wedding anniversary.
I have spent the last five months trying to come to terms with being a widow and learning how to live alone. By far, this stage of life is harder than anything that I have ever experienced. From the time I was 18 years old, Ira was next to me whenever I faced obstacles. We complemented one another in so many ways.
My journey going forward will be solo. Unlike Ira who could hold my hand until the end of his life, I will need to continue without him by my side. I spend most of my waking and sleeping hours with my cat, Chloe. Far too many people (friends, business acquaintances, and relatives) chose to become aloof after Ira was diagnosed and eventually passed away. Busy work schedules and family routines offer limited opportunities to see my four sons and their families, which include seven grandchildren.
Based on what I have read and heard from other widows, the grieving process can be a bumpy ride filled with many unpredictable moments. Navigating these episodes takes patience. It’s impossible to change from living as a couple to being single overnight. While every widow must walk their own path, the most difficult aspect of the journey will most likely last approximately a year. Coping with “firsts” is challenging.
I have to adjust to being a widow and living as a single person while I cope with waves of debilitating sadness and intense loneliness. Fortunately, I have a handful of wonderful friends in Colorado and elsewhere who remain in my corner and connect with me on a regular basis. Their compassion and understanding have kept me afloat during several rocky moments. I am lucky to have these strong relationships.
Memories of my adventures with Ira always bring a smile to my face. Old school photo and modern digital albums record these amazing trips. I am grateful for everything that we accomplished as a couple. Ira’s last trip in April to Huntington Beach, California was the first whole family outing in over a decade. Our four sons’ business schedules and family priorities took precedence over spending quality time with us when we traveled in the years following Ira’s traumatic brain injury or when we visited our mountain home. Ira and I were told repeatedly by some of our sons that their parent’s old school expectations did not jive with their progressive views of family life.
In October, I embarked on my first solo riverboat adventure. Just three months into widowhood, I sailed from Basel to Amsterdam aboard Uniworlds’ River Empress. I explored Basel by myself for a couple of days without any issues and participated in shore excursion everyday. I rarely dined alone. The experience motivated me to write my first travel story after Ira’s passing. Jewish Chicago will publish this story in 2024.
As the remaining hours of 2023 draw to a close, I am happy to say good bye to a year that will be remembered as Ira’s last, as well as the year that brought the passing of Ira’s father, Bernard Bornstein Z”L (1927-2023) and his younger brother, Ian Z”L (1961-2023). Three Bornstein funerals within seven months was hard.
With hope and optimism, I welcome 2024 with open arms. I will ski in the High Country and hike in the Front Range throughout the winter months. In the spring, I will travel solo on a Mediterranean cruise. Chloe, my calico cat, will remain my constant companion when I am home. She always knows when I need some tender loving care. I look forward to seeing family members whenever their busy schedules permit.
Sadly, my second book, 100 Things to Do in Boulder Before You Die ,published in September 2022, was neglected as my focus turned to caring for Ira in January 2023 and then coping with his loss. I only had the opportunity to market the book for a few months and then my sales plummeted. Even though the University of Colorado and many contacts in Boulder were aware of Ira’s declining situation, little was done to help me promote this NATJA award-winning book. It’s hard to sell anything when your husband is dying and then when you are coping with his loss. If you know anyone who is heading to Colorado, it would be great if you could give the book a shout out.
Just like I am in the process of learning how to be a single person, I am trying to determine the best use of my background and skills. My career options remain flexible as I try to figure out what is feasible. Will ageism combined with many years of being a freelance writer as I addressed Ira’s needs prevent me from finding a meaningful part time position? While I have always been a lifelong learner (an undergraduate degree plus 2 graduate degrees), it doesn’t make sense to return to school when I am in my 60s. I considered writing another book about some aspect of our glioblastoma journey. I question whether this audience is too limited. Is there another way to give back to the terminal cancer community or possibly the Jewish community? I’m always open to suggestions from my readers. Please feel free to leave a comment or send an email.
It would be great if this posting inspires individuals facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, care partners, people coping with anticipatory grief, or anyone who has recently lost a loved one to keep moving and to live their lives without regrets.
May 2024 be the Best Year of Your life.
PS– Skiing with Jordan at Bergman Bowl on New Year’s Day
Even though Jordan was up several times in the middle of the night with his infant son, Oliver, he spent the morning skiing with me. We skied on the recently opened terrain at the Bergman Bowl. The views were awesome and the skiing was exhilarating. Oh so happy to start the year skiing with Jordan on these incredible runs.
Sandy is an award-winning author and lifestyle and travel journalist. She is the author of 100 Things to Do in Boulder Before You Die, a guidebook offering an easy way to pinpoint your best options in this sunny, high altitude college town. Sandy’s second book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. As a licensed Colorado teacher, she taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad. Sandy also taught college-level courses at Front Range Community College and the University of Colorado-Boulder.