The Pain of a Thousand Knives



One day I walked outside. Dean was in the shed, on his crutches, having a look at something. He looked up at me. Eyes like the most brilliant blue sky you’d ever seen. They shone at me. And he smiled at me with the sweetest, boyish grin. My heart sank deeper into the abyss of pain it was in. You’ve been such a monster to live with. You’ve been so mean. And now, right at the end, you’re an angel. Why do you have to go? You’re leaving me. How am I going to say goodbye to you? Oh babe…

The idea of him leaving was easier when he was being angry and impossible. But this…

“Penny for your thoughts?” He said to me. Eyes like beacons, illuminating my heart.

I motioned to the car so that we could speak in private. We never got any time alone. We were always surrounded by people.

I got in the drivers seat. He shuffled into the passenger seat, leaving the crutches up against the outside of the car. It’s time to be honest. The words gnawed at my throat.

He looked at me with such sincerity and love. “Honey, I’m praying for a miracle. Will you believe for that with me?”

I wanted to say yes. To enter this place where the Invisible Beast is defeated forever and we live happily ever after. But I couldn’t. What I knew in my heart was that I had to say goodbye. And I couldn’t understand it. And I didn’t want to. But it was the only thing I knew.

I paused. “Sweetie, we’ve been praying for a miracle for 4 and a half years. I’m sorry, but I really feel like the Lord is going to take you home.” My voice broke and tears fell. “I’m going to have to say goodbye to you and somehow carry on with the boys.” My heart’s vice grip cranked tighter.

He listened carefully. Nodded. His expression was understanding. Calm.

“I have peace about what you said.”

I grabbed his hand. We looked into each other’s eyes. With love. With pain. With longing. Feeling powerful and powerless at the same time. He was the boat, going off into the horizon. I could still see him now, but these were fleeting glimpses. Stolen moments, Haunted by the knowledge of eminent absence making them evaporate more quickly. Like the last sands in the hour glass that seem to run through with a quickening pace.

“I’m going to miss you so much…” I said as I squeezed his hand against my mouth. I could see understanding in his eyes. Thank you Jesus. Thank you that I can actually say what I think and feel. 

“Against all the odds, we stayed married. Most couples can’t survive what we’ve been through. That’s a miracle.” We laughed at how true that was and we both felt a strong victory in being able to navigate such troubled waters and make it to the end holding hands.

We lingered in the car a little longer. I was hesitant to get out. These moments alone were so few and far between. By the time we got out, I felt relief sweep over me. He knows I love him. He knows I don’t want him to go. But he knows that I know he’s leaving. Thank you God. 

Things were unravelling faster and faster. The boys and I moved out to the farm house. The place I had once loved. Hugged by paddocks and gravel. Traversed by cows, dogs, birds, and kangaroos. Lined with horizon in all directions. Dean stayed at his parents. I don’t remember why this happened. It’s a blur. I wanted it to be the four of us. I wanted it to be Dean and I and the boys at the farm together those last days. Maybe I didn’t communicate it well enough. Maybe I should have fought harder for that. It was frustrating for everyone. We were watching a family member die. We took our frustration out on each other. I suppose that’s normal. We all had so many thoughts, emotions, and opinions. I don’t think we knew how to verbalize them or work them through together. Dean’s family had theirs. I had mine. Thank God my parents were there. I needed them more than ever. We just kept trying to see the days through. Putting one foot in front of the other. Doing meals. Day to day life…waiting. Waiting for Dean to die. That’s really what we were waiting for.

One night he had quite a temperature. His liver was not functioning at all now. He was sweating and obviously very unwell. The doctor came to visit and said that Dean was trying to fight something off. He asked us if we wanted antibiotics or something to give to him. I was so frustrated. Here we are waiting for the Lord to take Dean home and people are still trying to keep him alive. STOP. STOP IT. 

“No. Don’t give him any medicine.” What don’t these people understand? WE HAVE TO LET HIM GO! Why would you want to keep someone alive in that state? To me, it seemed selfish. This isn’t life, it’s not even Dean. He isn’t even himself. He was already on that many different medications that he wasn’t himself. There’s a time to be born and a time to die. This was Dean’s time. I was becoming increasingly annoyed with anyone who was trying to interfere with that process.

The next day Dean was up and perky. Oh my Lord, will this never end? 

My anxiety issues were intensifying. I could hardly eat. I was so overwrought with it that I was nauseous all the time. My long walks by the ocean brought me some consolation. Talking to God. Away from everything. Everyone. They were stolen moments out of the pressure cooker. I sought relief in the breeze. The salt air. My rhythmic steps. Crying. Numbness. Breathing. Walking. Trying. To. Keep. Going.

In the evenings I would drown my sorrowful heart in a scalding hot bath. When it’s hot enough it gives you an adrenaline rush that ushers in a sense of calm. The beat of my heart would soften and steady. I would almost feel a sense of peace. And I could try to pretend. Pretend like my life wasn’t about to shatter into a thousand pieces.

The nurse came in for her routine morning visit. It was June 16, 2010. She took me aside into the kitchen. She spoke to me quietly.

“Cassi, Dean is living without a liver. There’s no reason he should be alive right now. You have to tell him to go. You have to tell him that it’s okay. You have to tell him that you and the boys are going to be alright.” She looked at me with serious and concerned eyes. She was forward. And I loved her for it.

Dean was laying down on the hospital bed we had brought into the living room. He was unconscious. I crawled into the narrow bed next to him and laid my hand across his chest. I looked at his profile. Listened to him breath. Tried to just enjoy being by his side. I couldn’t escape though. The sickening and anxious feelings coursed through my body like thick poison. My heart, my stomach, my throat, my head; all swarmed with uncertainty and lament. God help me. I rested my head on the pillow next to his, with my mouth nearly touching his ear.

I whispered, trying not to weep. “You have to go darling. It’s okay. You can let go. The boys and I are going to be alright. We’re going to be fine sweetie. It’s time. It’s time to go now. I love you.”

He didn’t give any outward indication that he had heard me, but I knew that my words would somehow get through.

The next morning I woke up with unbearable Anxiety. It was inside of me, relentlessly shaking my core.

Dean was laying down in the living room in his hospital bed. He came into consciousness. My parents went into him. He was trying to speak. He hadn’t been able to eat or drink for a number of days, his mouth was too dry to get any words out. He kept trying and trying. My parents were straining to listen and understand. “It’s okay Dean. We are going to take care of Cassi and the boys. Don’t worry Dean. They’re going to be okay.” They sat with him and reassured him. I was so grateful they were there. So grateful they had the grace to bear it.

I was wrought with Anxiety. I could hardly stand. I couldn’t even go into the same room as Dean. The avalanche. The cliff. The thread. It was all so eminent. My body could hardly stand the emotional strain. Death like a bulldog barking on my front steps. Jumping. Scratching. Ferocious. Banging. Refusing to leave. Refusing to leave without Dean. The quakes. The trembles. They were intensifying. If I stood still too long the gravity of all the turmoil would pull me by the ankles down into an abyss of death and darkness and defeat.

Later that day my parents and I went out for a bite to eat. It was about five o’clock. My phone rang. It was my mother in law. “You’d better come home.” She said. I looked at my parents. Was he gone?

We silently drove back to the house. I went into the living room. There were quite a few people there. A dozen or so. Dean’s parents, brother, sister, auntie, and some other close family and friends. My Dean was there. Laying lifeless on the bed. Yellow. Bald. Still. Gone.

He’s gone.

The thread broke. I could see in slow motion as my doll house hit the floor. My life. Intercepted abruptly by concrete. Concrete in the form of an Invisible Beast. Bursting into an array of glass, wood, flooring, siding. Exploding outward. The glass confetti flying in all directions. It would have been beautiful if it didn’t represent the complete destruction of my life as I knew it. A house. A life. Reduced to splinters. Shards. Dust.

And then relief. Praise the Lord. He’s taken Dean home. I know where he is. I know he’s not in pain. I know he is restored. A sweep of simultaneous relief and indescribable loss swept over me. The burden lifted. I knelt beside him and slow tears streamed down my cheeks. Is he really gone? Is this real? Is it really over? Everyone was standing or kneeling around, grieving in their own way. I knew this day would come. I had known for a long time. It was finally here. The tie had been severed. I had done what I was called to do. I had a sense of accomplishment.

It is done. My love. Oh my love. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it had to be this way. I’m sorry you didn’t get to stay. I’m sorry for all the pain. I’m sorry for all of the terrible suffering. My love. Be free. Be happy. I miss you. 

The avalanche inside me was dropping huge sheets of ice. A ferocious thunder of snow. Coming for me.

The boys. The boys got dropped off and I ushered them into the living room. I wish I had asked everyone to leave. I didn’t think to do it at the time.

“Boys,” I tried to keep my voice strong and steady, “it’s time to say goodbye to daddy.” Asher looked stoic and unfeeling. I knew that he would process it later, in his own time. Maddox broke down crying, “I don’t want daddy to die!” He cuddled his dad and kissed his cheek. Asher awkwardly came over and gave a guarded, “Goodbye dad.” Watching my boys say goodbye to their dad, and at such a tender age (4 and 5), was the pain of a thousand knives. Navigating my own emotions and grief felt like a task beyond me, how was I going to watch them go through this loss and help them navigate it?

God, my god. How I need you.


At the age of 27, a widow.