The medical procedure

I went for minor surgery without Rick yesterday. He was always by my side, even in the doctor’s office when discussing the procedures or issues. He drove me, sat with me, took me for lunch somewhere to celebrate the fact that I had done whatever was required despite my negative feelings about anything to do with doctoring or medicine. I’ve always been medical-phobic, ever since being raised by a hypochondriac mother. I’ve gone more than 10 years at a time without tests or doctor visits…until age started affecting my organs and maturity dictated that I need to get the usual checkups and tests.

He was there every step of the way, holding my hand.

Yesterday, he wasn’t.

Once, during the summer, I had to go for a procedure without him. He was having some type of mental issues. He was in the hospital, getting weaker every day, barely able to walk, and quite suddenly, he began to become very dependent and clingy. He was no longer Rick. I’m not sure it was the effects of the brain radiation or just that in-hospital mental confusion that sometimes affected many of my other “older” relatives, but he was not the Rick I knew and loved.

I received strange texts from him, barely legible pleas for me to come be with him. I reminded him that I was at the doctor’s office, but that I’d get there as soon as I could. When I arrived at the hospital, Beccy was there talking to him. He looked up at me from his bed, saw me in the doorway, and started to sob. I ran to him and hugged him and he grabbed on and wouldn’t let go. He was like a child, and my heart hurt to think of him like that. My big strong husband was like a baby in my arms.

He eventually returned to himself, once we got him home, but he still had episodes where he was confused, disoriented, talking jibberish. It reminded me of my dad in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and it only added to the sadness and confusion that I felt watching him decline – first physically and now mentally. My Rick was slowly fading away.

And now he’s gone. And I’m alone. And I had my first minor surgery without him at my side. Brandon took me, and that also caused some mental adjusting on my part. I’m too young for my children to start taking care of me. All this “new normal” stuff is tough on the brain.

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

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