The Rose-Colored Glasses

In early 2016, I led a charmed life.

I was married and sharing my world with a man who loved me. We lived in our happy little home, and enjoyed the perks of having worked for years and years to have our tech gadgets and our pool and our vacations. Rick had just started receiving social security benefits and my career as a tech writer was flourishing, so the bills were paid and we were set financially. Our web design client list was at an all time high and Rick was busy keeping them happy, doing what he loved every day.

We had four lovely grandchildren to make us laugh and lots of family and friends to hang out with in our spare time. We were busy and content with the way things had turned out. We spent most of our time enjoying life and dancing to the music we made together. We were looking forward to retirement and spending even more time together, traveling and watching sunsets. I’d always been an optimist, and I viewed our lives through rose-colored glasses.

Then Rick got cancer.

In late September 2016, my life changed horribly. I awoke every morning with a different worry. My anxiety level hit an all time high. Every morning, the moment I opened my eyes, my foggy brain started up with the worries of the day. At first – Is it cancer? Then – It’s cancer; how long does he have? The worries continued to pile on: What should we do next? How can I help him through the chemo? How can I keep up with the demands of my job and care for him at the same time? How sick will he be today? What will the radiation do to him? Will it work? And then what? How soon will the tumors come back? What does he need? How much pain is he in? How can I save him?

The medical/practical concerns began to combine with the emotional onslaught...Is this my last fall with him? My last birthday? Our last Thanksgiving? Our last Christmas? Our last Valentine’s Day? Our last vacation? Our last sunset in Florida? Our last anniversary? Why is he still sick? What meds and shots and food and medical equipment does he need to help him? How can I make him happy in the time he has left?

And the big question, the looming question: How will I ever live without him?

Every freaking day. It was something every single, horrific, freaking day for 10 long months. Every morning, I woke up feeling dread. Every morning when I looked over at the man I loved lying next to me, I was filled with sadness and fear. How can I live without this man? How can I face life without him by my side? How can I face the future alone?

Then he died.

And it was a different kind of awful…a dread I could never have imagined. Every morning, I woke up and missed him and felt pain. Every morning, I had to face the incredible facts once again: he was really dead, and I must live without him, that the worst had happened and he was gone forever from my life. Every morning brought a new sense of dread, new painful memories, new reality. He’s gone. I miss him. Please, please, please let this be a dream. This can’t be true. My life is over.

As the months went on, it began to ease little by little, day by day. The writing helped. The counseling saved my life.

And I was one of the lucky widows. We had planned for the time when one of us would die (never dreaming it would be so soon). But the finances were okay, and I had a home and a car and a job, and I would survive without him – physically. I had a supportive, loving son and a family who surrounded me and drew me into a circle of love – people who would do anything for me. They were always there to love and support me, to help me through the long months ahead. I had my best friend from my childhood who listened to me cry or reminisce or vent every single night on the phone for months and months.

And I had my two other childhood friends – and other close friends I’d made in the past thirty years – who asked me out for cards and drinks and movies and parties and trivia. Or just called to listen to me cry. I had so many people there for me I lost count. I was blessed with a loving support group who helped me through the long, long months ahead. I even found strength and support from my Facebook friends and Hope for Widows group, and the numerous other widows who read my blogs and my books and reached out to me day after day, week after week with their own stories and words of comfort. The months following Rick’s death were overflowing with real-world and virtual hugs when I needed them most.

After a little more than a year, give or take a few months, I started to become myself again. A more subdued self. A sadder self. A different self. A wiser self. But, surprisingly, a hopeful self, and hope was something I hadn’t expected. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time, a time before the cancer diagnosis nearly three years ago.

And here I am today, and I’m okay. And now I’m becoming aware that – just maybe – my life can be even better than it ever was. Because now I know I’m not alone in this world, and never have been. Not only do I still have Rick’s love inside me, I have the added knowledge that I am blessed with so much good fortune – with those family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, local waitresses and shop owners – and even strangers – who were there for me throughout all of this.

So as I move forward in my life, despite the memories of those awful times, I have a deep appreciation for the good parts, the parts that shone through in the midst of all the darkness. In the aftermath of my greatest loss, I gained more than I’d ever dreamed.

Today I have on my rose-colored glasses, again. It took me a while to find them in all the junk that piled on top of them in those horrible couple of years. But, luckily, they weren’t lost forever. Luckily, they finally resurfaced from the awful pile of hurt and pain and hopelessness. Luckily, they still fit.

Because once I put on those glasses, my vision started to become clearer. What matters in my life came into focus, and I can see the truth: I am not the grieving, lonely, sad widow whose life ended when Rick died. I’m not the woman who lost everything and had no hope for the future. My life is not over. My future can be filled with all the happiness and hope and love that I discovered during the horrible couple of years I’ve just come through.

In the nearly three long years since those wonderful, blissful days with Rick, I found out how lucky I really am. And this morning when I woke up, I didn’t feel dread or fear or sadness. Today, when I woke up, I realized that I still lead a charmed life. It’s not the same as the life I had before, but the future looks rosy.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at


  1. Thank you for this three years ago today my husband was taken to hospital and in intensive care for 8 weeks and then diagnosed with vasculitis which had attacked his lungs, with no cure he passed away 13 weeks yesterday. I feel like I have been grieving for him for 3 years. Like you waking up each day wondering how he would feel each day, I lost a bit of him every day,. At the moment all I can see and remember are the past 3 years I want to start remember the good times we had but the memories are still of illnesss and hospitals. Thank you again for a lovely piece it gives me hope.

    1. I’m sorry I’m so late with my response. I had a really difficult time not picturing the bad – him sick, falling, wasting away, and of course, the defibrillator paddles and his death. It took me a long time to start remembering and cherishing the times we laughed and played and danced! Thirteen weeks is such a short time. I can feel the pain you are in now like it was yesterday! My heart goes out to you and thanks so much for writing. I’m glad I could give you hope, because so many other widows were there pulling me along to where I am today. I’m wishing you all the best. Keep focusing on the happy photos and wonderful times, because eventually they’ll give you comfort.

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